Sundance Interview: Luc Besson and Rie Rasmussen of Angel-A
February 6, 2007
One of my own inspirations is the great Luc Besson, who's directed 10 films including The Fifth Element and The Professional. His latest, and last US release, Angel-A, will be coming out in limited release on March 23rd and expanding throughout April. I had a chance to see the movie at Sundance in its first US premiere, which made my Best of the Fest, as well as sit down with Luc Besson and the gorgeous star of the movie, Rie Rasmussen. We talked about the atmosphere Luc brings to the set, as well as whether he may return to direct more movies and much more. Read on for the full transcript of the downloadable audio version.
Alex Billington from FirstShowing.net with Rie Rasmussen (L) and Luc Besson (R).
You can find my Sundance review of Angel-A right here.
Length: 13:45 | File Size: 6.3MB | Format: MP3
FS: Is this the first time to Sundance for both of you?
Rie Rasmussen: Yea
Luc Besson: Yep
FS: How are you enjoying the experience so far?
Luc: Yea, it sounds like this weekend was crazy because everybody was talking about 'oh my god, this weekend, it was horrible!' But we arrived, we were so happy, and it's so sweet, everybody's so cool.
Rie: I think everybody who was here this weekend Luc, weren't here for their films, they were here for other things. So that's why we missed it.
Luc: You went to the theater last night?
Rie: You saw Angel-A last night?
FS: No, no, I actually saw it this morning, at the press screening.
Rie: Oh ok, because there was a screening last night where we did a Q&A.
FS: How did it go?
Rie: That was so much fun.
Luc: That was wonderful.
FS: What was the reaction from the people seeing it, did they like it?
Luc: We had a standing ovation.
Rie: We were very happy.
Luc: We were very surprised.
FS: I honestly have not seen that yet.
FS: Yea, that is the first time I've heard that.
Rie: Cool, now we're even more excited! Well, this is the creator [talking about Luc]. I'm just riding in tail...
Luc: Maybe they were tired or maybe they were stretching their legs.
Rie: Oh stop it! [laughs] Humble as always.
FS: Has Angel-A opened in France already, I believe it has?
Luc: Yea, yea. All around the world in fact. This is the last country. We finish the tour [in the] US.
FS: When does it open here?
Rie: March 23rd, and then slowly umbrellas out into America through April.
FS: What was the reason you decided to shoot in black and white, is there a connection to the movie's message?
Luc: It's less expensive [joking].
Rie: No, it was the movie's message.
Luc: No, in the film everything is in contrast. She's a women, he's a man. She's tall, he's small. Blonde, brown. Outside, she's everything from outside, he's inside-
Rie: Introvert, extrovert. He wears big clothes...
Luc: Ying and yang, black and white, light and dark. Everything is in a position, so the black and white was perfect to match with it.
Rie: I think he's trying to show that two 'not perfects' makes a perfect together.
Luc: And also, you know color. The color is today, the color is real, the color is aggressive in a way. The black and white goes with the music. The two of them together and you're floating with it. You don't really know if it's true or not.
Luc: Because I have this moment were basically she's going to transform herself and then you have to believe it. So you have to prepare the people.
Rie: It has to be a fairy tale a little bit.
Luc: And it helps.
FS: I really love the black and white honestly.
FS: It's seen very rarely and I just saw The Good German in December, which is another black and white and I loved it, it's a great film. I would like to see more black and whites...
Luc: Honestly when you do it black and white, you really have to work your ass off. Because if you make it, make it good. Otherwise, don't pretend. So every material in the film, every costume, every tissue, everything was tested in black and white. It's a hard job.
Rie: It's funny because if you think about the cinematographers who branched out when it was [changing into] color, this is what they were thinking. Everything has to match, everything has to fit together, we have to have that beautiful symmetry and the colors - what a job.
FS: So Luc, what is your secret to directing beautiful actresses from Milla Jovovich to Rie Rasmussen?
Rie: Well thank you, thank you!
Luc: Do you mean that the actors are ugly?
FS: No, no, I'm just saying at least from my own standpoint a lot of your films have had beautiful women cast as leads.
Luc: For me it's never about the... I think if at a certain moment we see this beauty so much, it comes from the screen, from the way they act, from this energy, this love. That's why we think when we see that, 'oh my god they're beautiful.' But for me, I've never made a beauty shot, never.
Rie: I think you're best is the master shots, and you'll always have a perfect symmetry in your image and it's always perfectly framed.
Luc: Yea, but it's not a beauty shot-
Rie: What I mean is every shot is taken with care, for reaction and for power. I also think that like you said with Angela before, it could've been opposite, it could've been a little girl who was not so lucky and down and depressed and a big, tall, beautiful, handsome man. The story is actually really reversible, it's ying and a yang, we could switch it around. He chose it this way because he met me, I was doing a short film with his company, and he met Jamel Debbouze and we complimented exactly what he wanted to say with the script at the time. It could've been the other way. This one is actually really reversible.
I think Milla is an extremely beautiful girl, you chose her for The Fifth Element because she seems like the perfect being. And Bruce Willis is not bad [laughs]. Jean-Marc Barr is a very, very handsome man from The Big Blue and Rosanna Arquette is too - well not a man.
Luc: And for example Rosanna Arquette, she's beautiful, but it was not about that, it was about, she's a little-
Rie: Not really there, loose.
Luc: Natalie Portman, she was eleven, she was beautiful but... Honestly, those were the characters at the time.
FS: Is there a particular style or atmosphere that Luc brings to the set when filming?
Rie: Yea, most definitely. Luc's been on a set since he was 17 years old. He's done everybody's job and he can do it better than them. So when he is on set there is an immense respect, because they know, 'if I fuck up, Luc's going to come, take it out of my hands and do it in front of everybody better than I can.' So everybody's on their toes. But not in a bad way, just for the fact that you've got to meet the standards, and Luc's standards are high. You come and you're prepared and you do your job and you do it well, because he can do it better than you.
Luc: Yea, the truth now. [laugher] I pretend, I let them think I can make it better than them. So the fear pushes them, but in fact I take very good people... I don't think I could do it better.
Rie: I will say this, you are very, very... I understand what you are saying, you're pushing your crew, which is what a director does, I totally agree. But maybe... When you take the handheld camera, you're great at it, you're fantastic at it, and people know that. Look, Steadicam guy knows that...
Luc: When I got the camera on the shoulder, they give me a nickname. They call me 'the tripod' because I'm kind of short and kind of strong. So if I take the camera and I lock myself, you think that you're on a crane. I can do everything I want, you won't see the difference. It's true. But it takes time, it takes practice - ten years.
FS: Do you encourage improvisation when working on set?
Rie: Not on Angel-A, that's for sure. We did a lot of preparation, we worked hard...
Luc: In rehearsal, if you're not comfortable with this word, or not comfortable with the page-
Rie: Honestly in Angel-A we changed 3 words between me and Jamel. But we played with the physical a lot, and that was fun, but we did it in rehearsal. We do it then and when we showed up, we knew it, we had it down. Because a lot of times we were not really sure if we had permission to shoot where we were shooting [laughs] so we better know our shit so we can get it done and get out of there.
Luc: What happens sometime is when you read the dialogue, it happens a lot to Jamel because that was not [Rie's] language, so she couldn't figure so much at the beginning.
Rie: It was easier for me to stick to the set dialogue because it was in French and I didn't speak it. So I was pretty locked in - change was difficult for me.
Luc: For example Jamel, sometime at the beginning, he read the line, and because he doesn't see how to say it, he thinks the line is wrong. So he comes and he says 'you know, I don't feel the line.' So I play it. And then suddenly the music I put in the line, he says 'ah, ok, I understand.' If you say the line this way, then he understands. So it's very important to explain a lot in rehearsal.
Rie: Obviously you're the writer, and this is what's so great about being a writer/director, you know how it's going to be said. But that is the actor's medium, it is to play with the line, and to put the pressure somewhere else. And we know from great American actors also that they have a way that they say a line, and they'll always have the same pressure and the same way in each sentence and that makes them them. Jimmy Stewart, or Orson Welles, or Marlon Brando. Even more contemporary, like George Clooney. They have a way of delivering, a way of putting pressure on their words, and that makes it different.
Luc: It's true.
FS: I've got to ask, is this truly your last film? Or at least was Arthur and the Invisibles truly your last film?
Luc: I don't know.
FS: Because I would love to see you come back, especially after seeing Angel-A. I'm hoping you do more.
Luc: You know what. The truth is, it's a question of honesty towards myself and towards you. I won't be able to do a film just for bad reasons, for money or for - I just can't. If I have one more where I feel I can bring you something, I will do it. But after 30 years, I'm a little tired. And I'm not sure... It's like a sports car, can you beat your record every week? No. There's spring, summer, and then there's autumn, and then winter. So I'm in autumn now. Honestly, I won't block myself. And honestly to say, you know, I don't know if I can. But if I feel I can, nobody will stop me to do it.
Rie: It's to not sell out somewhere, and it was back then. And now you've achieved your goal without doing anything against your nature.
Luc: And you know what, there are so many directors, and I'm not going to give names, but they get older and they have nothing to say and they continue to film. And for me, I'm so sad because some directors, most of them are French, I loved them so much 20 years ago, and I just want to say 'stop, stop, you have nothing to say, just drop it.'
Rie: Yea, live your life, experience something, and then you're going to have a lot of things to say. But if you hang around in Hollywood, then you're going to say the same thing as everyone else - nothing.
Thanks to both Luc Besson and Rie Rasmussen as well as the publicists at Sundance for this wonderful opportunity! Both Luc and Rie are amazing people and I can't wait to see Angel-A again. Make sure to go out and see Angel-A when it opens on March 23rd!