BESSONS COMING OF AGE WITH ARTHUR: Arthur and the Invisibles (or Arthur et les Minimoys, in French) took seven years to make, and Luc Besson says its probably the last film hell direct.
I started 30 years ago and have made ten films. Im tired. I feel like a sports guy can he beat his record every time? Maybe not. After spring and summer comes autumn and winter. I feel like autumn, says Besson. I have too much respect for myself, for moviegoers and for cinema in general I cant just go to Hollywood and take a big check and make a film. Its an act of faith. I give it everything my love, my life and it exhausts me. Out of ten films, there are four I finished completely collapsed on the ground really crying from exhaustion.
MERIN: Doesnt the creative process give you energy?
BESSON: Yes, of course. But not directing. Its too much like leading a small army that you have to solve every problem on every level, even the weather. I get so anxious, I cant even talk to my wife and kids. Thats not good. But I will still make films just writing and producing.
MERIN: Doing this animated family film is a real departure from your previous films in both theme and style. Why did you take this turn? How does Arthur fitting into your own arc as a director?
BESSON: Its difficult to analyze your own work, but I would say all my films are honest and are about where I was in my life at the time I made them. When I watch them, I get a sense of who I was then when I made them. I started when we were very clever and edgy, and I can see how I fit that description. But you change. You learn. You grow.
I see myself in a different phase when I watch Arthur. I feel that I want something for my kids, something that shows them the way they can be in a world thats very difficult.
I fell in love with Arthur as soon as I met him. It was while I was editing Joan of Arc, Patrice Garcia (designer on The Fifth Element) brought me a drawing of Arthur sitting on a leaf. I fell in love. I said we have to do this story. That was the start.
I think Arthur reminds me of my own childhood. Im Arthur (played by Freddie Highmore) and Granny (Mia Farrow) is my grandmother. That was a relationship that was very important for me. But, the adventures of Arthur, the stories, are pure fiction, of course, but I think theyre going to show kids that theres a balance in life, in nature that different creatures, the big and small need each other or the world is in disaster, and that there are consequences for what people do. They may not realize it right away, but their actions have big results that might not always be good. I feel thats something that needs to be said right now. I feel it for my own children.
MERIN: While you were working on the script and storyboard, you wrote and published the story as a book. Why?
BESSON: It had been so long since Id directed my last movie, everyone in France was asking me what I was working on, so writing the book was the best way to let them know.
Making the movie was very slow and demanding. It happened in stages: writing the script and story board meant creating Arthur and his world, which took a five person team three years doing about 15-thousand drawings. Then we shot the film with actors, but no sets, for capture motion. We invented a way to do it without using wires, so the actors were completely free to move. We filmed the actors one by one and that took seven months. Then I edited that film. Than I gave it to the computer guy who drew the characters and took it to 3D. And then we were also getting the voices in several languages. So, for Korean, for example, we had to shoot motion-capture close-ups with Korean-speaking actors so the animation would really work.
It was exhausting. I was there for five years, every day. It was physically less difficult because I followed a regular schedule from 9 to 11 AM. At first, that routine was difficult because Im used to working with actors and actresses, and theyre very dramatic. And Im used to having to cope with weather, which can be very dramatic. And here there was none of that. But the work was intense. In the middle of it, I had to break away and direct a live action film, I just had to.
MERIN: What film is that?
BESSON: Angel A. Its only in French its about a grown up man understanding hes not perfect, and that thats okay.
MERIN: I find that interesting very interesting that in the middle of creating this animated fantasy about elves and other extraordinary creatures, youd turn to making such a film. Especially since so many of your films The Fifth Element, Joan in The Messenger, Nikita and even, to a certain extent, Arthur, with the strong character of the princess, have amazingly strong female leads characters upon whose shoulders the future of the world rests. Why such strong female characters? And why do you now turn to the opposite with an ordinary man?
BESSON: I love women, and I believe always in the equality of men and women. So often women are not shown to be as powerful as they are. So, I like to do that in my films. Its wrong to do anything else. But for Angel A, I felt it was something I wanted to express about what Im learning about myself, in a way. What we have all to learn about ourselves that we are not perfect. I find that out. It is true. And its okay.
MERIN: In Arthur, your voice cast at least the English one is amazing. Howd you assemble so many huge stars in the cast?
BESSON: Im amazed and I am very lucky. When I saw all their names on the poster, I almost couldnt believe it. Because I never saw them all together until I saw that poster. I just saw them one by one over the course of four years. Madonna, I recorded four years ago. Robert De Niro four months ago. I was extremely happy to get out of the editing room come here to record Robert, and a few weeks later to see Jimmy Fallon. I didnt feel the impact of having this cast right away. Just when you see the finished film. Then, its wonderful.
They were all very gentle we drank a coffee together and they said yes right away. Madonna was fasted. Shes gorgeous that way. You call her up and she says, Oh, yeah. Okay. When? With David Bowie, it was that he liked the book. He has a child and he wanted to make sure the story is okay. I really like that about him and I felt good when he accepted.
Im glad Ive made other films they could watch and, based on them, decide to work with me on Arthur.
MERIN: Did you use their likenesses to develop the look of the animated characters?
BESSON: To some degree, but drawn characters arrived in their own time. Some characters came quickly, like Maltazard (David Bowie), Betameche (Jimmy Fallon) and Darkos (Jason Bateman) the bad guys. Bad guys are easier. The hardest was Selenia (Madonna), who we finished six months ago. Its like shes been in plastic surgery for three years.
MERIN: The title in French is Minimoys. Why change it to Invisibles in English?
BESSON: That was Weinstein. They thought it would be better. Im not sure why, and it wasnt an issue for me. Ive learned over the years, that the distrubtor often knows best. So, really, I trust their judgement.
MERIN: Arthur begs for a sequel. With the characters already in place, might we see you direct an eleventh film?
BESSON: Well, maybe. But that wouldnt be my eleventh. Its just a continuation of my tenth.