French director Olivier Assayas walked a tightrope with his 1996 unclassifiable, meta-moviemaking drama “Irma Vep.” It starred Hong Kong icon Maggie Cheung as herself, starring in a French film whose director was played by cinema legend Jean-Pierre Leaud, as they attempted to remake Louis Feuillade’s classic silent film serial “Les Vampires.” A treatise on Hollywood? A lampoon of the French film industry? A meta exercise in the negotiations between a major actress and a serious director? All of the above.
Now, Olivier Assayas is remaking his own movie for television with “Irma Vep,” coming to HBO and HBO Max on June 6 and now with Alicia Vikander in the role originated by Cheung. The show is first set to stop off at the Cannes Film Festival — Assayas’ stomping grounds with films like “Personal Shopper” and “Summer Hours” in competition and also the original “Irma Vep” in Un Certain Regard — before hitting the small screen.
“Irma Vep” is produced in partnership with A24 and here finds Vikander playing a disillusioned American movie star reeling from a breakup who comes to France to star in “Irma Vep,” itself a remake of “Les Vampires.” Set against a crime thriller backdrop, the lines begin to blur and where Mira ends and her character begins… well, we’re in Assayas territory, so don’t expect the ground to stop shifting beneath you.
Assayas is no stranger to the streaming space, even if his projects are all defiantly uncommercial. His last film was 2019’s “Wasp Network,” which went to Netflix.
Along with Oscar winner Vikander (“The Danish Girl”), the series also stars Vincent Macaigne as the film-within-the-film’s director, named René Vidal. Jeanne Balibar meanwhile plays Zoe, Mira’s ex-assistant and ex-girlfriend; Devon Ross is Mira’s current assistant Regina; Carrie Brownstein plays Mira’s agent Zelda, who isn’t supportive of the “Les Vampires” project; and Fala Chen is Cynthia Keng, Mira’s co-star. Tom Sturridge plays Eamonn, Mira’s ex-boyfriend. Previously, Jerrod Carmichael was attached to star in the role but wound up being replaced by Sturridge due to scheduling conflicts.
The series is executive produced by Assayas, along with Vikander, Sylvie Barthet, Daniel Delume, Ravi Nandan, Hallie Sekoff, Kevin Turen, Stuart Manashil, Sam Levinson and Ashley Levinson. Turen, Sam Levinson, HBO, and A24 also collaborated on “Euphoria.”
Watch the first trailer for “Irma Vep” below.