Sony Pictures Classics
What better way to start 2018, then an interview with the director of my favorite movie of 2017?
Granted, this phone interview with Italian filmmaker Luca Guadagnino took place last year, but we’ll know in a few weeks whether his movie Call Me By Your Name has connected with Golden Globe and Oscar voters over other 2017 films.
One of Italy’s more acclaimed contemporary filmmakers, Guadagnino began his career with the 1999 English language film The Protagonists starring Tilda Swinton, but he wouldn’t begin to truly receive international attention until reuniting with Swinton for 2010’s This is Love. In 2016, he once again joined with Swinton for A Bigger Splash, joined by Ralph Fiennes, Dakota Johnson, and Matthias Schoenaerts.
Based on André Aciman novel and adapted by Oscar-winning filmmaker James Ivory, Call Me By Your Name continues the filmmaker’s running travelogue of rural Italy, this time in 1982, as it follows 17-year-old Elio (newcomer Timothée Chalamet), who is aggravated with his father (Michael Stuhlbarg) and his new 24-year-old student Oliver (Armie Hammer). That frustration eventually evolves into a friendship with Oliver even more as both Elio and Oliver explore their own sexualities through each other.
The film first gained attention when it premiered at last year’s Sundance Film Festival, a pleasant surprise that few realized would stay in so many people’s minds through the end of the year when Sony Pictures Classics finally released it in November.
The Tracking Board spoke to Guadagnino in late Nov. as he was back in New York to attend the Gotham Awards with his cast, and before we wrapped, we did try to find out when we might see his remake of Dario Argento’s Suspiria.
I feel this film was a little bit of a secret, because you didn’t mention it while doing press for A Bigger Splash. Had you always planned on doing this movie before tackling Suspiria?
I was working on this movie at the time of Biggest Splash as a producer. We were trying to make it happen for James Ivory to direct it, and I remember that I was still doing that one before I realized it was completely impossible to get the financing. We had to turn down our ambitions in terms of time and cost of the film. Six months after the movie came out in America, I’m talking about, I started to work on this one as a director.
But you were involved as a producer on this even before James Ivory started adapting the book?
I was part of this project as producer basically from 2008, because I’d been approached by Peter Spiers (SP?), who is the originator of this project and one of the producers of this film. He and I worked on trying to make this happen with different incarnations, different writers, different directors. The version that we really wanted to make was the one with James, and unfortunately, we didn’t get the money to make it. That’s when people said to me, “You should do it. You should do it with a little budget. We want to see this movie happen because it’s been ten years in the making. We’re all invested in this story and the great book by André Aciman and these characters.” That’s where I started to put on top of myself also the jacket of director and not only the producer.
James Ivory is obviously an amazing director. I think he has three Oscar nominations for directing movies, so did he only want to direct it at a bigger budget?
I think that his filmmaking style calls for a bigger movie. That’s the point that we had to reach for a bigger budget. Basically, our budget shrunk to one third.
You shot the film in your own town as well? That’s all local locations in the movie?
Yeah, I shot it where I lived. We made a movie that is basically about the summer of the ‘80s in Crema. We tried to rebuild the image of those times. We went into the specifics of the place and the people in the place. They haven’t seen it yet, though, because the movie opens in Italy in February.
Sony Pictures Classics
For some reason, I thought that with your stature in your home country, the movie would have opened there over the summer. I also read that you saw this as the end of a trilogy to your previous two films even though this was based on a book. Besides having the beautiful Italian setting, what made this the third part of a trilogy for you?
Well, I didn’t originally conceive this movie as the third part of a trilogy. I actually realized that after I finished the movie. I was prepping my notes for the catalog of the Sundance Film Festival, and I realized that in a way I thought they’re all different portraits of desire. Desire as a quality that envelopes people’s lives, something that may destroy everything, may make you become a different person, a new person. That’s how I talked about these three films as a trilogy of desire.
When you’d been developing this over the years, did you have different actors attached? Was either Armie or Michael attached over the course of those years?
No, no, no, no, no. I met Timothée Chalamet when I was a producer. This was four years ago, and I talked to my colleagues and said, “The guy’s great. The guy’s genius. He has a clearly fantastic ambition to be a great actor.” He was perfect physically for the role, so I said to them, “We should hire him,” and when I became the director, I knew I wanted him as well. Timothée was part of the project before, and Armie and Michael, they joined the project during the preparation of it. I always wanted to work with Armie. He’s one of the finest performers of his generation in my opinion. I had always been enamored by his beautiful performances in films like J. Edger and The Lone Ranger.
Did Timothée already play piano and speak some of the languages he speaks in the film?
Timothée is half French, but he wasn’t French in the script. I made him French taught in America, because I wanted to use what was part of his way of being. Then he came to Italy for five weeks before shooting, and he learned Italian, he perfected his piano playing, he learned guitar. He became part of the environment. He’s such a wonderful actor.
He’s also in two other movies now playing in theaters, Greta Gerwig’s Lady Bird and Scott Cooper’s Hostiles, so he’s been out auditioning or did he do your movie and those others just happened to come afterward?
I think he made my movie, and when he wrapped my movie, he made Lady Bird and Hostiles after that. He’s an amazing actor.
The relationship between [Timothée] with Armie’s character Oliver is really the heart and core of the movie, so did the two of them spend a lot of time together beforehand to rehearse and create chemistry? How did you know the two of them would have the right chemistry for the roles?
I like to say that because I knew both, and I had great interest in both and there was a great trust between me and each of them, I had confidence that they were going to have a great trust between one and another. That was it. Armie came two weeks before, and they started to become friends immediately.
I also wanted to ask about working with James Ivory, who has made some amazing films, so were you a fan of the Merchant Ivory films?
Of course. I always loved the Merchant-Ivory canon, particularly the Indian period. I loved The Guru, I loved Heat and Dust. Yeah, I’m a big fan. They’re fantastic.
Sony Pictures Classics
You made this film independently so is that your nature to go that route or is that just the way things happened as you tried to get the film made?
I’m a filmmaker with my eyes and heart and arms wide open, and I’m happy to love, watch and embrace every kind of expression of my job and every environment in which I can work, as far as I am in a position in which I am passionate about what I’m doing, and I’m in control of what I’m doing. So it could be a big studio movie, it could be an independent film, could be a big budget, a small budget, but there is no difference for me. It’s just that I want to be sure that I know what I’m doing, that I love what I’m doing, and that I’m able to be in absolute control. If all these things align, I have no prejudice towards any way of production.
As far as recreating Crema in 1982 with music, was the Psychedelic Furs part of that time period for you?
Yeah, yeah. I remember all these songs very distinctly—I love that song—but of course, they were coming from my imagery, straight from the emotional baggage that carries with me when I think of music from my adolescence, sure.
I read somewhere that there’s been talk of doing a sequel to Call Me By Your Name. Is that a real thing and something you’ve talked about doing or is that just an internet rumor, some kind of wish fulfillment?
I’d love to do the chronicles of these people; I’d love to follow them through their life. I’d like to be with my cast as much as I can and to follow them growing into people, into manhood and womanhood, and follow them into their lives and see how they morph into their characters. I think Call Me By Your Name is a movie about a specific moment in the lives of a group of people, and I’d like to see more specific moments in the lives of this group of people. Maybe we’ll find ways of telling more stories about them, and if everybody is up for it, I will be up for it.
Have you already finished Suspiria and that’s ready to be released on the world yet?
We are starting mixing in January. We’re going to be done by the end of February, more or less.
I’m excited to see what you do with that because obviously, Dario Argento’s film is a horror classic, so how has it been working in that realm?
It’s an absolute cult, but it’s been great. Well, I’d been wanting to work on that film forever. This has been a dream of mine since I was a very young boy. Then we tried to make it with my buddy David Gordon Green, and unfortunately, that didn’t happen, so it became my movie again. But I always wanted to make Suspiria, because I know that’s part of my imagery, it’s part of my way of being as a person. It has been a very complex, tough journey. In a way, it has been a very excruciating process, because the elements are so many — there is dance and horror, there is visual FX and there are special FX and make-up. There is a lot to do in this movie. There are 38 characters, so it’s very complex, but also at the same time, it has been an experience that has fulfilled me completely as a filmmaker, and I had the great privilege of working again with my very dear friend and sisters Tilda (Swinton) and Dakota (Johnson) along with new people that I worked with like Chloé Moretz and Mia Goth and a great cast of women. This is a great feminist film. I hope that people will embrace the radicality of it.
Any idea when we might see it? Are you getting it ready for Cannes or Toronto or a particular festival?
Well, we’ll have to finish the movie and then we’ll see.
Call Me By Your Name continues to play in select cities and should continue to expand over the course of January.
Edward Douglas | East Coast Editor