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August 18-31
VOL.14 ISSUE. 26

Music Man

Jorge Ignacio Castillo
Published Thursday April 2, 06:05 pm
Canadian director François Girard needs to make more movies



As a filmmaker who’s also a classical music buff, Montréal-based François Girard has a particular set of skills that differentiates him from other Canadian auteurs. The time-spanning drama The Red Violin and the audacious collection of vignettes Thirty-Two Short Films About Glenn Gould are proof of this, as are the two Cirque du Soleil shows and the many operas he’s directed, including Wagner’s Parsifal at the Met.

Clearly, Girard is much in demand for various artistic endeavours — which is great for his pocketbook, but which has also affected his filmic output. Seven years have passed between his previous effort (the critically panned Silk) and his latest film, the crowd-pleasing Boychoir. But he managed to draw an impressive roster of character actors into Boychoir: Dustin Hoffman, Kathy Bates, Eddie Izzard, Josh Lucas and notorious nonconformist Debra Winger. All of them are working around newcomer Garrett Wareing, who plays Stet, the gifted but troubled soloist at the centre of the film.

On the phone from Montréal, Girard promises to pick up the pace, since film is his favourite medium and first love.

Unlike in your previous films, you didn’t write the script for Boychoir. How did you enjoy the process?

Very much. With Boychoir, I wasn’t as possessive as I normally am with my own scripts, trying to protect every line. I was closer to an audience point of view. Whenever I felt something didn’t sound right, I would turn it around on the spot, with the actors. I’ll try to remember that next time.

How difficult was it to accommodate dissimilar acting styles in the same movie?

The work of a director is to get the best of every actor, so you have to adapt and give them the support they need so they can perform. The discussions are never the same. Dustin is detail-oriented: he needs to get the small stuff right in order to perform. Eddie’s approach is completely intellectual. Kathy Bates wants to know everything about every word and master that text. There was no improvisation.

After playing so many innocuous roles lately, it was a pleasant surprise to see Dustin Hoffman show some bite. Was that your goal?

Dustin is older than a choirmaster on the edge of retirement would be, but he’s also very vibrant. To me, he brings lovability to the character. Even when he acts mean, the audience doesn’t discard him, but wonders about his motives. There lies the engine of the narrative and the reason why I thought he was the perfect choice for the part.

Debra Winger is surprisingly warm as Stet’s school principal. Considering that she doesn’t work all that often, was it hard to bring her on board?

We became friends after she saw my production of Parsifal at the Metropolitan Opera. We had a meal together and she mentioned she would love to work with me. I offered the part and she jumped on board. Shooting with her is fun; she can turn a casual line into something edgy and keep you on your toes.

Next to the world-spanning Silk and The Red Violin, Boychoir feels almost intimate. Are you becoming more introspective with every movie?

No. In fact, right now I’m writing a script that spans over 750 years. I don’t think I would have written Boychoir myself. The architecture of time and space in Boychoir is simpler than in my other films, but it was a counterpoint I was happy to explore, something that doesn’t rely on a big intellectual concept, but instead [on] heart-beating characters.

Will we be waiting seven more years for your next movie?

I’m determined to be more productive. I still have theatre ahead of me, but I’ve walked away of a lot of things to make myself available and triple my cadence. I still haven’t been able to secure a film for this year, but I’m writing one for 2016.

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