The Young Victoria Director Jean-Marc Vallée on True Love and Sigur Ros
After his 2005 film C.R.A.Z.Y. swept the Genie Awards and became an international hit, Montreal filmmaker Jean-Marc Vallée had Hollywood's red carpet laid out in front of him. He chose, instead, to make the last sort of movie he expected: a traditional costume drama exploring the romance between Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. The Martin Scorsese-produced, Jullian Fellowes-scripted The Young Victoria is the result, and in addition to attracting buzz for leads Emily Blunt and Rupert Friend, it landed Vallée an upcoming assignment directing Kate Bosworth in Lost Girls and Love Hotels.
So how did the irreverent filmmaker end up here? Vallée spoke to Movieline about how he brought his slightly anarchic touch to a staid genre, and how important two very unlikely influences -- Sigur Ros and Fergie -- were to getting it made.
Obviously, you must have been pleased with C.R.A.Z.Y., but when it ends up on Martin Scorsese's desk for him to view when considering directors, do you start to freak out?
Oh yeah. I was thrilled by that, excited. Not just knowing that Scorsese saw C.R.A.Z.Y., but his comment to someone else, "You're gonna love it!" The train passed by and I jumped on the opportunity to make this film, a classic, almost epic love story that was something so different from C.R.A.Z.Y. I didn't think about it, I just said, "Let's go." Once C.R.A.Z.Y. got released and I met with the agencies here and signed with ICM, it took a year and a half before I found The Young Victoria. I read so many scripts -- maybe two or three a week -- and I remember telling my agents, "Well listen, I'm gonna write my own thing because I don't think there's anything in Hollywood for me at all." And they said, "Read this. It's from Julian Fellowes." The funny thing is that it's not my type of film at all. I didn't know anything about the royal family or Queen Victoria, but when I read it and saw what it was, I thought, "Hey, maybe there is something here for me."
What was it about the project? Did you relate to Victoria in some way?
I wish I had what she got: a soulmate. True love -- so much that you're ready to die for it, you know? That you swear in front of God your love forever. I believed I had it, and I lost it.
How did this project come to Scorsese in the first place?
It was Sarah Ferguson's idea to make a love story about this man, Albert. It was her idea right from the beginning, and then Graham King came to Scorsese and said, "This girl came to me and she wants to do a love story for Queen Victoria." And Scorsese went, "Great, great! Yes, yes! Nobody's ever done this before. Let's do this, I'll produce it with you." It's just original to talk about queens in that way instead of just presenting the tough widow in black or the old woman.
I was really struck by the immersive, dark lighting. So often in these movies, it's as though the actors were lit by fluorescents, not candles. Was that a priority for you to get right?
Yes, totally. I'm glad you noticed that, and [director of photography] Hagen Bogdanksi will be glad, also. He spent a lot of time designing and trying to get the right, natural look and feel. We wanted the film to look real and not overlit. We had to not be afraid to let actors be in the dark and walk in and out of the light and be seen in silhouette only. Our references were Barry Lyndon and this Patrice Lecomte film called Ridicule. We also looked at the pictures Annie Leibovitz took of Queen Elizabeth, which were just perfect: using only daylight and what came in from the windows.
When I asked, I was thinking very specifically of that early, hushed conversation with Victoria and Albert where they're in near-silhouette. You lean forward to see them, to focus on them, just as they are doing with each other, and it's very intimate.
Yes! You saw everything, man. I should bring you into the editing room to help me sell the movie. Yeah, that was it exactly. In fact, at one point, I was wondering if I should reshoot that moment because I didn't have time to bring a light in and there was an out-of-focus problem on the camera. Once we looked at all the takes, one or two of them were good and production was ready to reshoot that entire sequence. I said, "No, fuck it. It's nice that it's not the perfect Hollywood shot, that they're in the dark.
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