French Canadian director Denis Villeneuve talks to Sarah Cooper about his busy two years making Prisoners and Enemy, which are both playing at Toronto.
With two films screening in TIFF – intense crime thriller Prisoners and intimate Toronto-shot drama Enemy – it’s no wonder that French Canadian director Denis Villenueve describes the last two years as “a rollercoaster”.
“I was working on Enemy as I was finishing [foreign language Oscar nominee] Incendies, but at the same time was reading lots of scripts and the one that rose above the others was Prisoners,” he says.
Written by Aaron Guzikowski, and tackling the difficult subject of child abduction, Prisoners had made it on to the Black List and into various Hollywood hands, before being bought by Alcon Entertainment, who approached Villeneuve to direct the project.
But Villeneuve desperately wanted to make Enemy - based on Jose Salamago’s novel The Double about a university lecturer who becomes obsessed with his doppelganger, and produced by Niv Fichman and Miguel Angel Faura - first.
“Enemy was like a cinematic laboratory for me, an experimental film. And, I wanted to make a smaller English-language film before making a big studio movie. So I asked Alcon if I could take a break and that was the wisest thing I could have done,” says the Montreal-based director.
- REVIEW: Prisoners
Villeneuve’s two films may be very different, but they both share a leading man, in the form of Gyllenhaal, who Villeneuve first cast in Enemy in both the film’s roles. “I loved working with him and for Prisoners I needed an actor who would take the part [Gyllenhaal plays the police officer investigating the abduction of two young girls] and create something that was unique.”
Gyllenhaal stars alongside Melanie Laurent and Sarah Gadon in Enemy, whilst he joins Hugh Jackman and a cast including Viola Davies and Paul Dano in Prisoners. “To put Jake and Hugh Jackman in the same frame and see them together, that was a lifetime pleasure,” says Villeneuve, who has made the switch from shooting in French to the English language.
“Once the actors understand that I speak very bad English they are very patient with me. Cinema is a universal language anyway. But I did use apps on my iphone for words I was looking for,” he laughs.
Due for worldwide release by Warner Bros from September 20, Prisoners has been creating early Oscar buzz following its world premiere screening in Telluride. “I’m very relieved. I knew I was on the right track but the thriller element, well, it’s just fate and you hope it will work. When people start talking about the Oscars, I take it as a beautiful compliment but it’s early right now and it’s a long run. I have no expectations.
Meanwhile, Enemy world premiered at TIFF, and looks set for a spring 2014 release, with Pathe International having secured a raft of sales globally. However, US rights are still to play for.
Rather than taking a well-earned break, Villeneuve has just signed a two-year deal to write and direct for Alcon.
He adds: “I know my next movie will define me as a filmmaker in some ways so I need to choose carefully.”