TORONTO — Oscar-nominated Montreal director Jean-Marc Vallee never thought he’d work in television. Now, he adores it.
After helming HBO’s hit series “Big Little Lies” and the new southern gothic mystery “Sharp Objects,” he says he “absolutely” wants to continue working with the network.
“I feel I’m part of the family and I want to keep developing the relationship,” Vallee said in a recent phone interview.
“It’s all about people, and when you find your people, you just don’t want to change. That’s why I’m introducing to my American friends all my French-Canadian people that I’ve found and that I’ve been working with so many years now.”
Vallee was referring to the Montreal team he used on both “Big Little Lies” and “Sharp Objects,” an eight-episode series premiering Sunday on HBO Canada.
Five-time Oscar nominee Amy Adams stars in “Sharp Objects” as Camille Preaker, an alcoholic reporter who returns to her Missouri hometown to write about the murder of a preteen girl and the disappearance of another. Patricia Clarkson plays Camille’s chillingly judgmental mother with whom she clashes as she battles mental-health issues.
The cast also includes Chris Messina of “The Mindy Project” as a detective, up-and-comer Eliza Scanlen as Camille’s younger half-sister, and esteemed star Elizabeth Perkins as a town gossip.
Marti Noxon created and co-wrote the murder mystery, based on the novel by Gillian Flynn.
Like on “Big Little Lies,” Vallee insisted HBO allow him to edit the series and do post-production in his Quebec hometown with his local team. Montreal cinematographer Yves Belanger, who got an Emmy nomination for his work on “Big Little Lies,” also lent his skills to “Sharp Objects.”
HBO also let Vallee make each series like a film, shooting the entire project before cutting, rather than going episode by episode as is often the case.
“(HBO) are the best partners ever,” said Vallee, who won a directing trophy for “Big Little Lies” at last year’s Emmys, where several of his Montreal team were also up for hardware.
“They’re so creative, they’re aiming for great content and … we’re looking for the same thing. We want to tell great stories and they’ve developed this sandbox where they’re inviting feature film people — from actors, actresses, writers, directors — to come and play.”
Yet TV was never a goal for Vallee, whose 2005 coming-of-age Quebec drama “C.R.A.Z.Y.” led to a string of high-profile films — from “Dallas Buyers Club” to “Wild” and “Demolition.”
“I wasn’t thinking I was going to do that in my film career,” he said. “I was aiming to make feature films.”
But then Adams invited him to helm “Sharp Objects” and Reese Witherspoon pointed him toward “Big Little Lies.”
“I said, ‘Wait a minute — if these actresses want to do that, I want to follow them,”‘ Vallee recalled.
“I don’t see any difference except that (TV) is longer and we have more time to explore and develop these characters.”
For Vallee, that process is an organic one with no rehearsals and no cinematic spotlights — just natural and handheld lighting. He also likes to start shooting as soon as the cast arrive on set, with virtually no crew nearby, and roll cameras for the entire time without cutting.
“The main thing is to capture the magic of these actors and touch the heart and this is what I aim for and live for,” he said.
“This is what I love the most on the set, is to say ‘cut’ when I have a hard time saying it, because I’m so moved and it feels so amazing — whether it’s beautiful or horrific or it’s scary or it’s violent.”
Should there be a second season of “Sharp Objects,” Vallee said he’d love to direct — but only if it were far down the line.
At the moment, he’s planning to take a six-month break before moving on to direct two films.
“TV series, two back to back — physically it’s a marathon,” Vallee said. “So two marathons back to back, I’m exhausted right now, and I sure don’t want to run another one.
“So that’s why I’m happy to go back to the feature film world. I’ll have only a 40-day shoot and that will be, like, so easy,” he added with a laugh.
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