Luc Besson Interview, Angel-A

Posted by: Sheila Roberts

MoviesOnline caught up with legendary French director Luc Besson ("The Professional,” "La Femme Nikita,” "The Big Blue”) at the Los Angeles press day to promote his new film, "Angel-A.” The film stars Rie Rasmussen ("Femme Fatale”) in her first lead role and Jamel Debbouze ("Amelie”), one of France’s leading comedic actors who delivers a surprising turn in this dramatic role.

In "Angel-A,” a man meets a woman in Paris. Down-on-his-luck petty criminal Andre (Jamel Debbouze) has reached the end of his rope. Irreversibly in debt to a local gangster, with no one to turn to, his only solution is to plunge himself into the Seine. Just as he is perched to do so, a fellow bridge-jumper beats him to the water. Diving in, he saves Angela (Rie Rasmussen), a beautiful, statuesque and mysterious woman. As they pull themselves out the water, the two form a bond and venture into the streets of Paris determined to get Andre out of the hole he has found himself in. As Andre will find out, not all debts are financial, and sometimes the solutions to life’s problems are found in the unlikeliest of places. Is Angela simply repaying Andre for his kindness, or are there other forces at work beyond his comprehension?

"Angel-A” is an astonishingly beautiful black and white fantasy portrait of the city of Paris. Back behind the camera after a six-year absence, Besson explains, "My first great thrill in making this film was to rediscover Paris. Le Dernier Combat (The Last Battle - 1983) had allowed me to glimpse its flesh and bones. Subway (1985) took me down into its underbelly. What was left for me to discover was the true, beautiful Paris – the one that enthralls millions of tourists every year and that we Parisians walk past each morning, head down, lost in our own personal paradise. After all these years, I had a burning desire to film the wonders of Paris, which has witnessed, over forty years now, all my sorrows and joys.”

The director continues, "The second thrill was being face-to-face with actors again. I hadn’t been behind a camera in six years. I hadn’t really missed it. Shooting The Fifth Element (1998) and Joan of Arc (1999) consecutively, with barely a weekend between them, had tired me out and almost turned me off the whole process. On Angel-A, from the very first day of rehearsals, the pleasure returned. The pleasure of hearing the lines in somebody else’s mouth, wrapping the words in a thousand nuances or expressions, blending them infinitely, seeking, grasping, smiling, laughing and often feeling tears well up. The shoot went like a dream, thanks to an amazing crew, which bonded together as never before, and thanks to two wonderful actors.”

Luc Besson began writing "Angel-A” ten years ago. "I had developed the bare bones of the story but I was incapable of putting the words into my characters’ mouths, probably because I was too young. I wanted to tackle this subject but I didn’t have the necessary vocabulary. So I put my fifteen pages to one side and came across them again much later almost by accident. When I read them through, I found it very contemporary and decided to get back to work to see if I could write it this time. The script was ready two weeks later! I suppose you might say that I spent ten years and two weeks writing the film.”

Luc Besson is a fabulous guy and we really appreciated his time. Here’s what he had to tell us about his latest film:

MoviesOnline: Why did you cast Rie Rasmussen who doesn’t speak French?

LUC BESSON: Yeah, she didn’t speak French at all.

MoviesOnline: Why not use a French actress?

LUC BESSON: There is no one who looks like her in France. No, it’s an alchemy between, it’s not so much about finding her. It’s finding her and him at the same time because you can’t have one and not the other. You have to choose them in the same time almost. I met her as a director first because she wants to do her short film. So I never mentioned the film, I never talked about the film to her. A month later, I met Jamel. Then it starts to work in my head and say, "Oh, hold on a minute, him and her. That could be cool.”

MoviesOnline: After you took so much time off from directing, was it important to come back a make a film in French?

LUC BESSON: I know it looks like that from outside but I finished Joan of Arc, I rested for a couple of months, like two or three, and then I started to work on Arthur and the Invisibles. Actually, I started to work on the film when I was in the editing of Joan of Arc, some sketches and things. The making of Arthur was five years long. So that’s why. I was not on the beach, believe me.

MoviesOnline: You’ve done a lot of English language films. Why go back to make a French film?

LUC BESSON: Honestly, it depends on the story. Nikita looks like a kind of action film in a way but it was French for me in my head. It was French. It’s how the French government looks, very polite and buildings and things and how they can hide things. They are the specialists of that. They are worse than the Americans. But when I go to Leon for example, I love the fact Leon is from Italy and is an immigrant in New York and New York is so big and he’s so small that he’s invisible.
There’s multi-culture and Mathilda is, you know. I feel the film more in English in New York. I’m really driven by the story in fact. The fact that I’m pretty naked in this film. I’m 45 years old and I talk about this man who lied all his life and decided not to anymore, which is really the story of every man. So because I was so naked, I think the fact to be in French and in Paris was closest to me. I would lie a little more if it was in English in another city. It would be another way of hiding myself more.

MoviesOnline: Was there a place in Paris you couldn’t film?


MoviesOnline: You were allowed everywhere?

LUC BESSON: Oh, I didn’t say I was allowed but if there is a place where I can’t shoot, no. [Laughs] There are some shots that had no authorization at all.

MoviesOnline: Do they look the other way in France?

LUC BESSON: It’s the good thing about being popular. A few times the cops arrived and I just smiled and said, "Hey, it’s me.” "Oh, Mr. Besson, can we take a picture?” They’re sweet in France, the cops honestly. It’s not tough as here. Here where they ask for my paper, I don’t crack jokes. I’m like okay. You really feel strong which is, in a way which is good.

MoviesOnline: Did you always plan on filming this in black and white and if so, why? What were the challenges that it presented?

LUC BESSON: Black and white because yin and yang, because tall and small, introverted extroverted, blonde brown, the good the bad, the black the white, everything is in opposition in the film. And I need the film to have this little poetry. Is it real? Is it a dream? Is it a fairy tale? So I have the black and white, I have the frame and I have the music to give a mood because I need the people to believe at the end that yeah, of course she’s going to have wings and she’s going to go. To make it believable, I need for an hour to relax you, like almost a massage. You have the music like do do do do. Kind of mood where you can actually just enjoy the scene and believe it. You say, "Oh my God, no, she’s going to leave.” So color is very crude. It’s the news. It’s 8PM, blood, war. It’s like ugh, it’s rough.

MoviesOnline: Your cinematographer Thierry Arbogast did a sensational job. Was it shot in color and converted?

LUC BESSON: It was shot in color but we treat the film at the lab before the shoot first. But the thing about the black and white is as you know, the green, the red, the yellow, they don’t react the same way in black and white so lots of tests, especially on clothes and interiors and clubs and things. We test every type of thing. But the main thing is the light in Paris, because as you know, they built the city at the time where the electricity didn’t exist. So they were very careful with light.
Very careful, the angle of buildings, they studied winter, summer, how it’s working so it’s such a pleasure to shoot in this type of city because you just have to wait for the right hour and it’s magical. So I send my assistant, for example on the bridges of Paris, every bridge, every hour, four pictures, north, south, east, west and I have big books of all the bridges at every hour and I knew, you decide which scene you shoot at what time on which bridge. So sometimes there is a scene where we have 40 minutes of the perfect sun. So we rehearse, rehearse, rehearse a few days before, then we arrived and we shoot very fast. Then we get out.

MoviesOnline: You took advantage of natural light?

LUC BESSON: Oh, it’s like all the bridges, there is no light on the film. None.

MoviesOnline: You’ve become quite a prolific producer as well. What’s going on with the B13 sequel?

LUC BESSON: We’re not going to do it.

MoviesOnline: Why not?

LUC BESSON: I don’t know, I don’t feel it.

MoviesOnline: Would you use those guys and that style in a different setting with the par cours?

LUC BESSON: I’d rather do District 13 2 with the same guys in France. We’re going to do a sequel in France. Oh, I thought you were talking about the remake in English. Ah, sorry, sorry, I’m sorry. We’re going to do a sequel. But at the certain moment, there’s a big studio who asked us to remake the film and I said no.

MoviesOnline: So what’s coming up for the French sequel?

LUC BESSON: It’s going to be just a little bit more funny, I think, the second one.

MoviesOnline: As a filmmaker, have you thought about shooting with the new digital cameras? Is that something you’d like to pursue?

LUC BESSON: It depends. I think it’s a tool so if it’s appropriate to the film, yeah, why not? If it’s not appropriate… when Jean Jacques-Anaud made Two Brothers, the film with tigers, he shot in digital and he was right. He has to shoot 15 hours the tiger before the tiger does what he wants. If he wants him to lick himself, he has to wait for two hours. To do that in 35, it will take forever. So at least he has a reel of two hours, he can shoot and it costs a few bucks and that’s it.

MoviesOnline: Did you really only shoot four hours a day?

LUC BESSON: Sometimes less.

MoviesOnline: How many weeks?

LUC BESSON: 7 weeks.

MoviesOnline: Were most scenes done in one take?

LUC BESSON: Not one take. A few takes but let’s take for example the scene at the end, before she goes in the air, just the scene where they fight on the bridge and she’s crying and she pushes him and they finally kiss, the entire scene is made in an hour. We rehearse so much. The funniest thing was in fact the day before when we go, just Rie, Jamel and me, the three of us on the bridge, at the real bridge by night, we don’t care, just to rehearse. There is always some Japanese tourists saying, "What are they doing?” Because they’re fighting and I’m just here watching.

MoviesOnline: How long did rehearsals go before shooting started?

LUC BESSON: Months. When we come, we know exactly- - they get out of the trailer, they go to the thing, camera comes, action. We know. It’s just like putting the stamp. And this scene for example, it’s two steadicam at the same time so watching the making of from far, that was insane. To see them screaming and the two steadicam going and the guy with the sun all on the bridge going up and down and up and down, it was very funny. And when they arrive to the place where they’re finally going to kiss at the end, I have a third camera waiting, so when they arrive to the right setup, with the two steadicams, then I take the third one. During the shot, I take a third one on the shoulder to have a close-up of the two.

MoviesOnline: Is there going to be a Transporter 3?

LUC BESSON: Yeah. Probably March/April.

MoviesOnline: Will you still be involved in writing the story?

LUC BESSON: Mm-hmm. It’s too much fun.

MoviesOnline: Will you ever go back to sci-fi or do something like The Fifth Element again?

LUC BESSON: Maybe. I think I think of it.

MoviesOnline: Is that something that’s in your brain right now?

LUC BESSON: Yeah. Not before two or three years, but I’ve got an idea I think.

MoviesOnline: Can you tell us anything about it?

LUC BESSON: No, just I could say no but I tell you the truth so at least you know that. I start to have the ending which is good. Let’s not blow out the flame.

MoviesOnline: Is there any chance of you getting Chris Tucker again?

LUC BESSON: No, I don’t know yet. I don’t think so. It won’t be the sequel of The Fifth Element for sure. But in fact, I did The Fifth Element at probably the wrong moment because it was just a little- - I was so frustrated to see that a year after that, the tools that we had to do special effects went from five to 50. For me it was a nightmare. I have to work 12 hours to do one still shot with the blue screen and the thing. I was so frustrated to see two or three years later how easy it was.
Even on Joan of Arc, I did some handheld during the battle and the guy could put back the fortress in the background. He tells me, "No, no, shoot. Don’t worry. I will do it after.” I say okay. I was used to putting the camera aside for six hours and having to wait on things. So that frustrated me and I really would love to do another sci-fi where I can be much more free with the special effects.

MoviesOnline: Are you also attached to the Hitman movie based on the video game? What appeals to you about the video game?

LUC BESSON: Yeah. I have a very good relation with Fox and they have the rights of Hitman and they want to shoot the film in Europe. They called me and said, "Can you do it with us because you know Europe better than us.” And I said yeah. I was flattered that they thought about me and I like them a lot. They are very good guys over there.

MoviesOnline: Do you know how to make a good video game movie?

LUC BESSON: No, I don’t know how. I don’t have a computer so I don’t play games at all.

MoviesOnline: Is there a film you’ve always wanted to make that you haven’t made yet?

LUC BESSON: No, I don’t think so. Otherwise I will. [Laughs]

MoviesOnline: If you had one day in Paris, what would you recommend?

LUC BESSON: I will say the Musee d’Orsay. Le Louvre, okay, it’s great, La Jaconde and everything, okay. It’s wonderful the Louvre, but Orsay, the pieces that are in the museum are in fact, like for example, three centuries ago, a little town hall in the middle of France, they asked a painter to do a painting for the hall. So it’s the state who made the command, please do a painting, please do a sculpture and that’s all the things that belong to the state that went into this museum. So it gives you such a deep reflection of what was France. -- not only the big, big Modigliani and things but just like the people from the place actually who did the thing. It gives some- - and it’s an old train station, the museum in fact. Before it was a train station and they turned it into a museum, so you have such a feeling of it’s probably the one that represents the most who we are.

MoviesOnline: I can’t wait for your sci-fi film.

LUC BESSON: Well, you will have to. It’s probably too soon.

MoviesOnline: James Cameron said he’s coming back to do a new film because of technology.

LUC BESSON: It’s new tools, you can really do anything you want now.

MoviesOnline: I loved The Fifth Element.

LUC BESSON: I’m going to try to do it again. I’m going to try.

MoviesOnline: You’re doing two more Arthur and the Invisibles?

LUC BESSON: Yeah, this summer.

MoviesOnline: Back to back?

LUC BESSON: Yeah, two and three. But you know that Fifth Element, which is 10 years ago, was a trilogy. And my producer didn’t have the guts. Finally, I’m the only one but I have to mix the three together to only one.

MoviesOnline: So we watched all three in one film?

LUC BESSON: I had to squeeze the three scripts into one.

MoviesOnline: Could you do more effects with the money now?

LUC BESSON: It’s not so much a question of money. It’s a question of imagination and how to be able to do it. You have an idea but before, you can’t do it. The Fifth Element was a nightmare. Some shots, just her jumping with the cars, you do that now like this [snaps fingers.] It took us a month. It was a nightmare.

MoviesOnline: What do you have planned for the future?

LUC BESSON: I’m producing another film called Taken with Liam Neeson with the director of District 13. They are shooting here. I was there last night on the set. That’s good. Liam Neeson’s going to be wonderful in it. It’s an action film, pretty intense. I have another one, Transporter, probably March and April next year. Then another one called From Paris with Love which is an action film we’re also going to shoot next year. Then two other animated films, one called A Monster in Paris which is a great film from the guy who did, it’s a French guy who works on an animated from Dreamworks but I don’t remember which one. And we did another animated film called Ruby Tuesday with the Rolling Stones. It’s an animated film with 12 songs of the Rolling Stones. It’s going to be great too. And a couple of French films.

MoviesOnline: You have so much on your plate?

LUC BESSON: I swear, that’s why I went to holiday last week.

MoviesOnline: I’m looking forward for your next sci-fi movie.

LUC BESSON: Wait for it.

"Angel-A” opens in theaters on May 25th.


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