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Little White Lies - Guillaume Canet interview

Writer-Director Guillaume Canet

Interview by Tim Carson

FRENCH filmmaker Guillaume Canet talks about some of the inspirations behind his acclaimed drama Little White Lies, starring Marion Cotillard, and why it represents such a personal undertaking.

He also discusses some of the film’s locations, its lengthy opening take and getting a big French star like Jean Dujardin to appear in the movie, albeit briefly…

Q. Where did the idea for Little White Lies come from?
Guillaume Canet: I had always wanted to do a friendship movie and I realised after spending a week with some friends at Cap Feret – where we shot the film actually – that you can spend time with friends without really having a deep conversation. You’re having fun, you’re joking around but you don’t really ask the others if they are feeling fine. I wasn’t feeling that well at the time and I realised that nobody would care and that was the start of the idea for the film. Also I’d always wanted to do a movie about the little lies people tell when they don’t want to hurt someone else. It’s like the dust you put under the carpet and pretend everything is fine. Those two things came together and I realised it would be a good idea.

Q. And had you always planned to write something that you would direct yourself?
Guillaume Canet: Yes, I was sure I was going to direct this one. Right now I’m writing a script for a film I’m just going to act in and it’s really weird. Usually when I’m writing I have another page where I’m doing all the cuts of the movie – every shot, the music, everything – like I did on Little White Lies. So it’s really complicated for me right now as I won’t get to do that with this script.

Q. Are you not tempted to direct that film too?
Guillaume Canet: Yes, they proposed the idea but it would be too much work. I’d be too tired!

Q. You’ve known a lot of the actors in Little White Lies for a while, did that help with filming?
Guillaume Canet: I’ve known them a really long time and been friends with them for many, many years. They know me very well so they know exactly what you’re talking about in the film which is a big advantage. So on one hand it’s really good but on the other it’s really complicated.

Q. Why is it complicated?
Guillaume Canet: Because you bring together all those people who’ve known each other for a very long time and they have a lot of fun. You have the bad role because you have to remind them that you’re making a film. Sometimes it was difficult for me to ask them to bring some life into the scene and then, when I’d say cut, to get them to stop – you know they’re not machines. I would be trying to direct them but they wouldn’t hear me so I was like: “Gilles (Lellouche who plays Eric) shut up!” And you wouldn’t normally say that sort of thing to an actor but because I’ve known him 20 years you can tell him to shut up. And he can come back at you. So we had some friction sometimes because we know each other very well. And sometimes it was difficult for me because I just wanted to have fun with them!

Q. You spent some time in the beach house at Cap Feret before you started shooting why was that and what was it like?
Guillaume Canet: It was really good. We did it because in the film I refused to have any flashbacks to help you understand the connection between the characters so we had to build that before filming. We used the time so the actors would get used to the house, so it would feel like they knew the house. The other point is that we rehearsed during that week and I gave the actors a lot of information of how their characters met. For example, why Marie and Antoine would never sit together. Marie likes mature guys and he’s not mature and she’s also close friends with his ex-girlfriend Juliet. That then helps me when I’m going to do a dinner scene I don’t sit Marie next to Antoine because they wouldn’t do that naturally. It helped when we started the film as they would know each other’s characters very well and they would know exactly what to do in certain situations.

Q. You’ve said this is a very personal movie and there’s a little bit of you in all the characters – did you find you had to censor yourself at any time?
Guillaume Canet: As soon as you start writing a script that’s close to you it’s true that sometimes you don’t want to tell everything. But you are forced to be true and honest otherwise you can’t make a movie about lies and lying! Sometimes I was writing things and I thought: “Should I be talking about this?” I quickly thought: “Stop asking questions and just write it and the characters and the film will tell you if it’s important to keep it in or not.

I finished a script at the end of last year with the director James Grey and he told me “put yourself in the story”. And he’s really right because once you start creating something you cannot help putting yourself into it. That’s why it’s important to keep your private life for yourself when you’re an actor because you give so much of you already. Once you give your private life you have nothing else – and you become crazy and a jerk.

Marion Coutillard as Marie in Little White Lies

Q. Did you cut anything from the film that you were sorry to lose?
Guillaume Canet:A lot! The first cut of the film was four hours. I was really scared that when we watched those 4 hours my editor, who’s a really good editor, would turn to me and say it’s good! And you can’t have a four hour film. When I finished the script I told my producer and distributor that it was really long. I asked if they wanted me to cut it before we started shooting but they said no shoot the movie the way it is and we will see. And they saw – when I told them the movie was four hours! I had to cut some scenes that I really loved but they will be on the DVD. I put everything back in!

Q. The opening few minutes of the film is done in one amazing long take – was that difficult to do?
Guillaume Canet: It was because there were lots of details that made it complicated. I wanted this particular light in the morning and it doesn’t last forever – because the sun goes up very fast – so we had to do those shots very quickly. Plus we had to do the one long shot outside the club and through the streets which we had to block off. Plus we had a little problem with the take we used in the film.

Q. What was the problem?
Guillaume Canet: When the character Ludo is driving away on his scooter, we see another scooter going across and stopping at the light. And Jean Dujardin (who plays Ludo) stops next to him. But that wasn’t supposed to happen. It was 5 o’clock in the morning and the guy was so drunk that he’d driven through the cops who were blocking the streets – he didn’t even see them. He just went across the street and stopped at the light. I was in the car with the camera that stopped next to him and I was signalling madly at him not to look at the camera. Suddenly he’s realised something’s wrong. He’s looked up and seen the camera and the guy with the sound and you can see him thinking: “What’s going on here.” Then he looks at Jean and recognises him and he’s in a state of shock. But luckily he kinda of realises he just needs to keep going, so when the lights change off he goes. I knew the shot was good so I was very relieved it worked out OK.

Warning the next questions contain slight spoilers for the film

Q. And why did you want to do the opening scene in one long take?
Guillaume Canet: I wanted this shot to be as smooth as possible. For me this shot was a representation of life. You know you live your life without questioning, just going along and hiding your eyes and suddenly something knocks you. You may get really bad news in your life and suddenly time stops for you and I wanted the shot to be like that until the accident.

Q. How did you get such a big French star like Jean Dujardin to take what is a small part in the film?
Guillaume Canet: I’ve known him since the first grade. And after Tell No One he called me and said he’d like to work with me because he really liked it. When I finished the script for Little While Lies I knew we’d have to have someone very charismatic and sympathetic to play Ludo because the other characters are not nice – they are lost.

If you take just one of them they’d be interesting and very nice but the group makes the decision to go on holiday [as planned leaving Ludo in the hospital after his accident]. If they’d been alone I think they’d have stayed with Ludo but because they are together it gets them out of the guilt. That’s the purpose of the film to show them lost because in their lives they are just thinking about themselves they are not really asking how everyone else is. And I think Jean understood this when he read the script. I told him it’s small but it’s a really great character – people are going to love you so please do it. He really liked the script and he told me: “I think I’m going to be very frustrated not to be with the group but I want to their friend.”

Read our review of Little White Lies