Jean-Marc Vallée, ‘Big Little Lies’ and ‘Dallas Buyers Club’ Director, Dead at 58

The Emmy winner was known for his skill with performers and a naturalistic filming style.
Jean-Marc Vallée
Jean-Marc Vallée
Daniel Bergeron

Update: Sources at Deadline report that a heart attack was the likely cause of death of 58-year-old filmmaker Jean-Marc Vallée, likely on December 25 before being found the following morning.

Earlier: Jean-Marc Vallée, the Canadian director and producer who helmed the films “Wild” and “Dallas Buyers Club” and HBO series “Sharp Objects” and “Big Little Lies,” has died December 25 at age 58. The cause of death is not yet known, though representatives revealed that Vallée died in his cabin outside Quebec City.

His producing partner, Nathan Ross, released a statement regarding his death. “Jean-Marc stood for creativity, authenticity and trying things differently. He was a true artist and a generous, loving guy. Everyone who worked with him couldn’t help but see the talent and vision he possessed. He was a friend, creative partner and an older brother to me. The maestro will sorely be missed but it comforts knowing his beautiful style and impactful work he shared with the world will live on.”

Known for his naturalistic approach — Vallée favored natural lighting and handheld cameras and long takes — the director made a name for himself by guiding famous actors through performances that radically transformed their images and displayed previously untapped skills. After directing two well-received films in Canada (1995’s “Black List” and 2005’s gay coming-of-age tale “C.R.A.Z.Y.”), Vallée made a splash in 2009 with “The Young Victoria,” a luxe period drama written by Julian Fellows and starring Emily Blunt as a young Queen Victoria that earned three Academy Award nominations. But it was the one-two punch of “Dallas Buyers Club” in 2013 and “Wild” in 2014 that catapulted Vallée to the next level.

Both films were based on true stories. In the former, Matthew McConaughey played a Texas rodeo rider who is diagnosed with AIDS in 1985 and battles to bring illegal, life-extending medications to the United States. Both McConaughey and co-star Jared Leto picked up Oscars for their roles; the film was nominated for six, including Vallée for editing.

In “Wild,” Vallée directed another pair of performers to Oscar nominations with Reese Witherspoon and Laura Dern, starring as daughter and mother, respectively, in the adaptation of Cheryl Strayed’s best-selling memoir about hiking the Pacific Crest Trail solo. In it, Witherspoon tackled sex and addiction in a way she had never done previously, and earned some of the best reviews of her career in the process. A producer on the film, she was so impressed by an early cut of “Dallas Buyers Club” that she sought Vallée out specifically to direct “Wild.”

Vallée reteamed with Witherspoon and Dern a few years later with the “rich people doing bad things” limited series “Big Little Lies” for HBO. As executive producer and director of the seven-episode first season, Vallée guided a quintet of actresses to some of the best reviews of their careers, including Nicole Kidman, Shailene Woodley, and Zoe Kravitz. The series ultimately won an Emmy Award for Best Limited Series, with Vallée, Kidman, Dern, and Alexander Skarsgard taking home trophies as well.

A second season, which Vallée did not direct, was not as successful. But a 2018 adaptation by Marti Noxon of the Gillian Flynn novel “Sharp Objects,” which Vallée directed, wowed critics and audiences, scoring Emmy nominations for stars Amy Adams and Patricia Clarkson, as well as a nomination for Outstanding Limited Series.”

“It’s all about creating this space of freedom and using this space,” Vallée told IndieWire of his directorial style. “I want to shoot 360. I want the actors to have the possibility of using this space and I just followed them. And, everybody’s behind the cameraman. I asked some things … the boom guy, to get out of the room. There’s no room for you here. So, we used just the little mics hidden in their shirts or dresses. And then, they used the space. And, they had no marks. And, there was no light. And there was no flags. They just go. And, as they go, we get creative.”

Born March 9, 1963, in Montreal, Vallée is survived by two sons, Alex Vallée and Emile Vallée, and siblings Marie-Josée Vallée, Stéphane Tousignant, and Gérald Vallée.

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