Cinema royalty, he went from advising, to producing to ultimately directing Call Me By Your Name...
How and why were you first attracted to the project? It’s a strange thing. I was involved with the project but was never
‘attracted’ to the project in the first place. I’d been asked by one of the producers to read the book while I was prepping for I Am Love because I’m Italian, the book is set in Italy, and he wanted me to advise them on where Aciman had set the story, because it never says in the book.
I read the book, loved it, and I said that if they would have more need of me, I would help them. Later, they asked me to do scouting with them, and we did so. One thing led to another. During these past eight years, I started to be more and more involved with the project. At first I was a consultant, then an executive producer, then I became a producer, and then, as many people passed by in the search for a director, without me even realising what was happening, I’d been asked to direct. I was attracted by the possibility of giving life to characters that I knew from a different perspective of having produced the film, but not having thought about directing it.
Was everyone cast by the time you
became involved as a director? There is not a world in which I will not be in absolute charge of the casting of my movies. So I would never make a movie if I could not cast the film. When I was producing the film I’d been introduced to Timothée, who was so clever and smart and so elaborate that I personally liked the choice. I said, ‘Whoever should make this movie should really consider him because he’s great.’ So when I became the director, I was really interested in Timothée. Michael Stuhlbarg was super, and the rest of the cast were choices made out of my passion for each of them starting with my absolute enamourment with Armie and his extremely sophisticated way of performing.
The chemistry between Timothée and Armie is incredible. What do you think those two in particular bring to their
roles? I think Timothée brings a kind of feverish restlessness and gigantic insight of human nature, for being so young. Armie brings an internal turmoil that he’s not scared to bring out to the surface. Together, they have a brilliant invisible chemistry that is invaluable.
Did you have any reservations about translating any of the scenes from the
book? For example, the peach scene...
I was concerned about the peach scene. I personally doubted the possibility that what I felt was a literary creation could become something that you could represent into the brutality of an image. I was doubting the actual mechanic of the masturbation with the peach, until I faced the fact that if I wasn’t convinced about it, it would never work. So I tried it myself and it worked, and then I decided that because it worked, it would work on screen. So that was my literal story about how to adapt a book into a movie.
Did you feel you had to tone down any of the nudity or intimacy in the love
scenes? No. It’s foreign, this line of reasoning. Because personally, that’s not how I approach my work. Everything you see in the film is exactly what I wanted it to be. There was no third degree of thinking – like ‘more nudity’ or ‘less nudity’. This movie was more about intimacy, without any kind of intentional decisions regarding nudity or not.
The actors seem very comfortable. I can say that I just don’t care if they’re comfortable or not, because I don’t give specific gravitas to a scene in which there is nudity compared to a scene when they are dressed. To me, a scene is a scene. I just don’t care. You get to do the scene the best way you can, that’s it.
Timothée’s reactions and his performance – how much of that was scripted or directed? In the book a lot
of that is left unsaid… When a director directs, he directs constantly. He directs without stopping. He does so in many different ways. By an act of dialogue, by an act of behaviour, by an act of entertainment – he directs people by many means. They can be borderline manipulative or they can be outspoken and frank.
I think that the good news is that Timothée has an incredible, marvellous intuition of human nature, to a degree that is astonishing for his young age. So it was a beautiful dance for me to see and witness – the one between him, the camera, myself, the rest of the cast and his own intelligence of a young man. The same can be said about everybody in different and distinctive ways.
A sequel to the book was never written… No it has not, but the characters of the book and the characters of the film can now go into different directions if they want. These characters are great – I wouldn’t be surprised to see more movies about Oliver and Elio.
Stupid people are criticising the age gap. Was that ever something that
crossed your mind? I would say that the father and mother of stupidity are always in activity to create more children.
I don’t care. I think that I can’t think of dealing with addressing politics that are completely irrelevant, hypercritical, and not linked to the movie. Life is too short, there are many more interesting things out there and I think that to even step into addressing those topics is giving and unleashing these kinds of arguments that are completely out of the blue and out of reality.
I live in Italy. We’ve seen the rising of a different sense of public ethics with Berlusconi for years, and like a slow poisoning, we started to accept the quality of the discourse from that side of the world, where you should refuse. By acknowledging it, you start to give worth to this reality, and now the reality is everywhere. And now you have Donald Trump in the White House.
I’m not particularly keen to exorcise problems by indicting a singular people, but yes – the symbols they represent, in a way, is such that they can be summarising a general illness of the imagery and the public discourse. So for me to address topics like ‘there’s an age gap’ are ridiculous. Someone told me… ‘You remember Dirty Dancing? She was 17. He was 25. Who cares that Elio and Oliver have the same ages?’.
How does it feel knowing that you’re going to have an impact on a whole generation of LGBT+ who see it, and that this could go down as a classic in
queer cinema? I like that and I’m proud of that. I like the word queer, because the word queer means everything that is strange and everything that is different. It’s a sort of idea of the parts of the whole living in its own otherness, and I like that a lot. So ideally it would be embraced by any kind of queer people, not just the LGBT+ people.
Your original edit was four hours long.
Will this be released? We’re not going to do any different cut of the movie, because the movie I made is the one I wanted to make.
For me, probably we will make some deleted scenes. I remember there was a lovely scene in which Elio and Oliver meet the two girls in the corridor of the house and they decide to go down to the lake. I’m sorry that was left out It was very nice, and had a lovely performance by Victoire Du Bois who plays Chiara in the movie. I hope that will see the light of day in the future.
Did you ever have concerns that you were casting straight actors, or that you’d get a backlash for not casting gay
actors? I can tell you that the ways of desire are so deep and so unexpected that I have never ever in my life categorised anyone by their sexual identity in a way that you can define someone by saying they’re straight, gay, lesbian, etc.
I am every day more surprised by the immense variety of how the individual expresses their own identity. In particular, sexual identity. For me, there is not so much a concept of a ‘gay’ man, or of a ‘straight’ man or anything like that. I’m more interested in knowing the person and seeing what happens to that person. I think that the idea of categorisation of people into boxes is quite foreign.