Considering the sad state of the American romantic comedy, it makes sense that France, home of the proverbial “language of love,” would produce one of the most brilliant concepts for a romantic comedy, maybe ever. Directed by Pascal Chaumeil, Heartbreaker stars Romain Duris as Alex, a smooth-talking charmer whose way with the ladies allows him to front a business that specializes in convincing unhappy women to break up with their less-than-perfect boyfriends and husbands. When he’s hired by a wealthy businessman to seduce his beautiful daughter (Vanessa Paradis) away from her British fiancé, Alex instead finds himself falling for her charms, making this his toughest job yet.
Although Duris is a well-known commodity in France, this is a very different type of role for the actor then what American Francophiles may be used to, especially in recent years when he’s been appearing in serious dramas from the likes of Jacques Audiard (The Beat That My Heart Skipped) and Francois Ozon. Instead, Heartbreaker returns Duris to the lighter times of his early hit L’Auberge Espagnole, though this one involves a lot more physical comedy as well as a dance sequence that will thrill fans of Dirty Dancing.
Check out ComingSoon.net’s Exclusive Clip from the movie below:
A few weeks ago, ComingSoon.net sat down with Mssrs. Chaumeil (on left) and Duris to discuss the film, which was one of the true crowd-pleasers at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival.
“Good comedy doesn’t have to be played by a comedy actor, especially for the main character,” the director suggested when asked about the unconventional casting of Duris in such a comedic role. “I could see Romain had some skills for comedy, you can see that in ‘L’Auberge Espagnole,’ and also I knew that the would bring something more real to the character, some depth to the character. It turned out that when Romain read the script, I think he liked it, but he felt that the character was a bit lacking of depth. We needed something more and we needed to make him more real, so that’s how I came to choose Romain. I think it’s good when you’re acting comedy to play it seriously.”
“It’s not calculated,” Duris told us when asked whether he consciously wanted to get away from the darker roles he’d been playing. “I just read the script, but it was on the set when I played some of the scenes, and there was a moment when I told myself, ‘Wow, it’s been a long time since I’ve felt light on set and that I’ve smiled.’ It was great to feel that pleasure.”
“In France, the audience likes to see an actor doing different things,” Chaumeil confirmed. “Often, you hear, ‘Oh, he’s doing the same thing again,’ and I think it’s good for an actor. I know Romain doesn’t calculate it, but I think people like to see people doing something different. It was difficult to do the budget of the film, we had problems financing it, because the people who financed it hadn’t seen Romain do this kind of film, and they went, ‘This is a comedy, you should have a real comedy actor to do a comedy,’ and we thought, ‘No, the good idea is to have someone who is not a comedy actor.'”
“Of course the audience of these kinds of movies, maybe they don’t go to see every style of movies, but the audience of ‘The Beat My Heart Skipped’ goes to see that, because they’re interested in seeing everything,” Duris agreed.
Duris elaborated on what Chaumeil said earlier about him making suggestions on ways of bringing more depth to his character. “I think it’s a good way to get involved with the process of doing the same movie as the director and to understand also why the director is doing this movie. I think it’s a good way to meet someone, to discuss the script and to give him your opinion and to add stuff. I think the director feels that maybe the way the actor wants to go in which direction. I know that for this movie, for example, when we discussed it, we wanted to believe in the romance. I think in a comedy like that, it’s good to have a place to move things…”
“And to have some truth,” Chaumeil continued. “For example, in the original script, this company, The Heartbreakers, they were in a very nice apartment near the Champs D’Elysee, and Romain said, ‘I don’t know. I think we should show that this guy has some trouble with money. It’s a job, he makes a bit of money, but he’s not so successful in this job.’ Romain wanted to add some truth and say that he’s not a ‘superhero of seduction’ but it’s a small job and they have a hard time getting the money. He doesn’t even have an apartment in the story. He lives in his office, which is a bit of a mess. This is the kind of thing he wanted to add, which is very good when you have a concept that’s so oddly believable. It’s good to have some truth, and I think Romain wants to rely on something solid when he starts.”
And that’s the thing. Having people whose job it is to convince women to break up with men they’re not happy with sounds exactly like something the world really needs right now, so it’s surprising there aren’t actually people out there doing just that.
One striking thing about the film is that despite mostly being in French, it has an American co-writer in Jeremy Doner, who had written a couple episodes of the FX series “Damages.” Chameil didn’t think that it gave the movie an American flavor particularly, but it certainly helps the movie be easier for American audiences to appreciate than other French comedies. “When you do a romantic comedy, you really want to make it funny and you want to make it romantic,” Chaumeil suggested, stating what one might think would be obvious, though apparently not to American filmmakers. “If you don’t do it, it’s a mess. It was very important for me that it would be funny and it was important for Romain that it would be really moving.”
“For me, ‘Ocean’s 11’ was a reference we had in terms of style and music, and also in terms of energy,” the director confirmed about the film’s influences. “I really wanted the movie to be almost choreographed with a lot of camera moves and Romain’s character is almost always running in the shots. He’s always rushing. It’s a comedy but we wanted to have the energy of an action movie.”
When asked whether he’d ever done stunts before, Duris responded, “A little bit, but not like that, because the energy and the rhythm of your mise en scene goes with the action, so I felt that it was very rhythmic. I like doing stunts and physical action with comedy is good to play.”
“There was something also a bit crazy about the stunts he had to do, there was something wild about them,” Chaumeil added. “I worked as a second unit director on some films, so it’s always good to believe something that is almost impossible, so it’s funny for a director to think about how you’re going to do this kind of scene. It’s one of the things I like to do.”
Chaumeil also commented on how he knew whether Duris could handle any of the stunts himself. “We didn’t discuss this aspect so much, but for a director, it’s better if an actor does a stunt on his own, because you have better shots, so it’s better for a film, but we really didn’t discuss it. Usually, Romain likes to do them, and he likes the challenge really. You have to keep him busy on the set.”
So was it hard for Romain to be running around so much while making the film? “No, no, it’s more difficult to stay still,” he joked.
Duris himself doesn’t normally interact much with his fans or go online to see what they (or the critics) have to say about his performances. He said that once he’s finished filming, he’s moving onto the next thing, yet he was thrilled with the reaction to the movie. “The critics when they saw ‘Heartbreaker,’ they really loved it, so we were like, ‘Wow, cool.”
“We had good reviews from the most serious movie magazines to the really popular magazines,” Chaumeil chimed in. “I think there is an audience in France who often go to the cinema who likes to see auteur films, but who also likes to see mainstream films. If they can see that it’s well-done or it’s a good mainstream film, they go see it. People will see Jacques Audiard and they also will go see James Cameron’s ‘Avatar.'”
And what about the star’s unwitting romantic interest Vanessa Paradis, better known as Johnny Depp’s Baby Mama? How did Duris and the beautiful former child star build their relationship for the film? “It was very natural for us,” the actor said. “We spoke on the phone at the beginning about the script and what ideas we had about our relationship in the script, and we agreed, so it was very natural to play with her and easier to create something magical and romantic.”
Even so, Duris wasn’t at all intimidated by Paradis’ celebrity boyfriend or living up to such lofty competition. “I think a film set is a place where everyone forgets your life–actors, directors–it’s a place where the outside doesn’t come,” the director interjected on Duris’ behalf when asked about this. “Somebody asked me if it was difficult to work with very famous actors or actresses, and I said, ‘No, because when they’re on the set, they’re just like the rest of us.’ Everybody’s there to work and do the film and at the time of the filming, I think we forget what’s around us.”
The actor told us his next move would be to do some theater, and though Heartbreaker could clearly make him a hotter commodity in the States, his only interest in going to Hollywood will depend on the characters presented to him, since he has no interest in being the “French lover” or the “French bad guy.” “Like in France, I want to find a good character where I can create something,” he told us.
Currently, Jeremy Doner is working on an English language version of Heartbreaker for Working Title Films, but Chaumeil having worked in the past with Luc Besson, a filmmaker famed for milking a franchise dry, we wondered whether they had any thoughts about making any sort of sequel to Heartbreaker. “I don’t think so. We never really thought about it,” he admitted. “It’s a romantic comedy, it’s funny and the character is good but it’s a love story so how can you do the same thing with the same character, what’s going to happen? They split up then get back together? She could join the team but what carries it is the love story so if you get rid of that, they would have the mission or something to do that would be funny and entertaining, but I don’t think it will have the same strength, because what keeps you in the film is whether they will fall in love with each other? I wouldn’t like to do it either way.”
Clearly, Chaumeil has learned an important lesson from seeing Ocean’s 12 as well.
Heartbreaker opens in New York and L.A. on Friday.