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Denis Villeneuve on Seeing 'Enemy' For the First Time at TIFF and Pushing Hugh Jackman to the Limit in 'Prisoners'

Photo of Nigel M Smith By Nigel M Smith | Indiewire September 11, 2013 at 9:26AM

After doing Canada proud by earning a Best Foreign Language Film Oscar nomination for his 2010 thriller "Incendies," Quebequois filmmaker Denis Villeneuve returns to the Toronto International Film Festival with not one but two new features, both starring his new muse and bud, Jake Gyllenhaal.
Prisoners, hugh jackman

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?


Hugh Jackman, Prisoners

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.

This article is related to: Denis Villeneuve, Denis Villeneuve, Denis Villeneuve, Jake Gyllenhaal, Prisoners, Enemy, Toronto International Film Festival, Interviews, Awards, Academy Awards

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