When the director of Trouble at Timpetill turns his attention to the cheeky schoolboy in a red bellboy outfit, the result is a touching film full of mischief. Meet Nicolas Bary, expert in portraying impish kids on screen.
Young Spirou’s screen debut
Where did the idea of a film adaptation of Le Petit Spirou (Young Spirou) come from? — When I was 24, I wanted to make a film based on Soda, another comic book by Philippe Tome, co-author, with Janry, of Le Petit Spirou. In the end, that didn’t happen. But years later, the publishing house Dupuis, having seen my first two full-length feature films, asked me to adapt Le Petit Spirou. I loved the comic book, which I used to read as a child, and, as I knew the author, I said, “Let’s go!” How do you turn a comic-strip format into a movie? — The comic book consisted of individual one-page stories, not the obvious material for the plot of a fulllength feature film. I didn’t want to change the spirit of the comic, but I needed to find a link so that the film wouldn’t be just a series of sketches. The scriptwriter Laurent Turner and I reread all the volumes in the series, noting the pages that seemed the most appropriate, as well as details such as the lift cage, which appears anecdotally in the background on one page. The idea of a lift used as a prop by the grandfather when coaching his grandson developed from there. The outfit the hero wears is the film’s central theme… — This theme is never really explored in the comic, where the red bellboy outfit is taken for granted and never gives rise to questions. Whereas on the big screen, if one ignores why the hero wears such an outfit, it might be perceived as simply a disguise. That’s why we made it the core theme of the film. A purely realistic, literal universe would have been too offbeat; we thus moved in a stylized, but not too bizarre, artistic direction! Outwardly a light-hearted comedy, the film nevertheless tackles serious subjects: inheritance, determinism, freedom… — In all films about super heroes, the costumes they wear are highly symbolic. In the comics, the mother and grandfather are dressed as bellhops, and we envisaged the costume as an allegory of family heritage, how things are passed on. Character building as a child involves either
appropriating this heritage or, on the contrary, deciding to reject it, to free oneself of it to avoid being smothered. Why did you decide to make young Spirou less of a scamp on celluloid than in print? — In spite of the very naïve, childlike aspects of his character, it’s true that, in the comics, he sometimes finds himself in situations teenagers are more likely to face. We didn’t want to remove his roguish side completely; there’s an air of mischief in some scenes, but we couldn’t let it be the dominant trait of a film meant for children. We laid the emphasis instead on the problems he has with his friend Suzette, for example, or on the fact that he’s a little bit in love with his schoolmistress… What can you tell us about the way you cast the film? — I wanted droll, offbeat characters, with a touch of tenderness. François Damiens was perfect to play Monsieur Mégot and I saw Pierre Richard as the fun and poetic grandfather as soon as we started writing the script. Funnily enough, one night I dreamt of the film shoot and in my dream Natacha Régnier was playing the mother. She doesn’t usually play this sort of role, but she immediately accepted it. As for Sacha Pinault, my young Spirou, he was spotted in a park on the last day of casting. He had never acted before, but he understood what it was all about straight away. He had no qualms about dying his hair red to slip into the skin of his character. How did you transpose the comic-book atmosphere into the film sets? — We told ourselves that there’s always a modern element in comics, so we didn’t want to make a period film set in the 1950s. Updating the concept of a bellboy seemed interesting. We shot the film all over the area surrounding Paris. The disaffected school was in Le Raincy, the chase took place in Le Vésinet, some scenes were shot in Meudon, the house was in Garches… I wanted it to look a bit like San Francisco, especially for the stunt scene; the up and downhill slopes of the streets in Meudon and Le Raincy did the job pretty well. Do you see a little of yourself in young Spirou? — Yes, I did put a bit of myself into young Spirou! I grew up in a family of musicians; I played violin and clarinet… I was raised to believe that I’d have a career in music; Spirou was brought up to be a bellboy. He chose adventure and I chose the world of film!