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by Nigel M Smith
September 11, 2013 9:26 AM
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Denis Villeneuve on Seeing 'Enemy' For the First Time at TIFF and Pushing Hugh Jackman to the Limit in 'Prisoners'

Watching "Prisoners," I was not just fearful for the characters, but for the actors as well. The one-take scene where Hugh Jackman threatens Paul Dano's character with a hammer was especially tough to watch. How do you go about creating a safe environment for the actors on set?

It was a scene that was not in the screenplay. It is a scene that I asked Aaron Guzikowski [the screenwriter] to add. Our work on torture with Hugh was a lot about showing different modes of his vulnerability and his inner moral conflict. He goes berserk, but he's still a human being and he's still struggling. He's not a sadistic man. He just wants to find his daughter, and that's what I love about this scene. You feel just how helpless he is, he just wants to find her, but there is a limit that he can't cross.

To answer your question -- first off, the sink was fake. It was designed to be broken without being dangerous. Secondly, Hugh is a very precise actor. The thing about safety is you need to work with someone who is in total control of their gestures. He's a dancer, he's someone who is in total control of his body. Paul trusted him and everyone trusted Hugh. I know the first two takes were not what I wanted. I think if we had 15 sinks, Hugh would have made 14 not good takes. Not that they were bad, they were just not what I was looking for. I was looking for him to lose control. I will remember all my life when he came to me and said "Did you get it?" I said, "Yeah it was great, but it's not what I want." Then when he did another take there was a massive silence on set. One of the producers shouted "Touchdown!"

Are you yourself a father?

Yes.

Were you therefore initially wary of taking "Prisoners" on?

Yes, I was deeply scared of the material at first. When I read it, as Maria Bello said a few days ago, when you make such a film you don't necessarily think about your own kids because you will go away from it so violently.

But I was just out of "Incendies" when I read the script and I said "No, it is too much." I felt that it was too much darkness, too much violence, and I was looking for something different. But it was coming back, coming back, coming back -- sometimes you are doomed.

The thing is about filmmaking is that you follow your inspiration. You don't do what you want. You do what you can do.

I was very afraid of going through the process of shooting. I was very anxious about a lot of scenes and there were a lot of scenes I was afraid of. I kept saying to myself all of the time, "We cannot fall into that cliche." We were walking a fine line and I was so lucky to work with Roger because he helped me so much staying on the edge of the cliff. We were just walking on the edge all the time.

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