Los Angeles Times

This pair of teens caught on quickly

Eden Dambrine and Gustav De Waele — the novice actors of Lukas Dhont’s ‘Close’ — display a natural ability.

- By Gregory Ellwood

IT ’ S H A R D T O imagine two Belgian teenagers experienci­ng anything during the last 12 months like Eden Dambrine and Gustav De Waele have. The pair walked the red carpet at the Cannes Film Festival last May. They have gone from complete anonymity to being recognized on trains and walking through airports. Still, the impact of the success of their feature film debut, “Close,” didn’t fully sink in until it landed an Oscar nomination as Belgium’s submission in the internatio­nal film category in January.

De Waele, who turns 15 next month, set an alarm to remind himself of the announceme­nt during a dance lesson. Dambrine was also in school. He recalls, “I was in Dutch class. I was watching on YouTube, and when I heard ‘Close,’ I was like to my friends, ‘Oh, my God, oh, my God.’ I started crying, I’m like, ‘Can I go to the toilet, please?’ I was falling on the ground, jumping up in the air. All the emotion came into my body, which was kind of scary, but it was great.”

And if you’re curious how Dambrine’s teacher wasn’t aware he was looking at his phone, the 16-year-old snaps, “I’m a pro. I do this every day.”

Directed and co-written by Lukas Dhont, “Close” follows two young teenagers, Léo (Dambrine) and Rémi (De Waele), who have formed a friendship that is emotionall­y resonant. A friendship you rarely see with boys their age. When the pair return to school after a blissful summer break hanging out together, peer pressure begins to affect the relationsh­ip in dramatic fashion. The drama was awarded the Grand Prix, effectivel­y second place, at Cannes and has driven audiences to tears around the globe.

Dhont says he and his team spent months visiting Belgian schools searching for the right actors to play Léo and Rémi.

“We just spoke to a lot of young people and invited them to do a casting if they wanted to. And we met many, many great people just like that,” Dhont says. “I mean, Gustav I know because Oliver [Roels], who did these castings with me, had worked once with Gustav during one of those workshops. And he remembered Gustav as someone really with a lot of talent.”

Dambrine, on the other hand, was a true Hollywood discovery. The filmmaker was on a train to Ghent when he caught Dambrine in the car interactin­g with his friends. The youngster admits he was a little suspicious after Dhont approached him but was intrigued by the offer to audition for the movie. He recalls, “When he was gone, I called my mother directly. I was like, ‘OK. So, there was a man on the train and now he’s asking me to go to a casting for his new movie.’ She was like, ‘Who is he? Run out of the train. Go out. Run!’ I was like, ‘No, no, it’s OK.’ So, my mom gave me permission to go, but she had to meet Lukas first.”

The casting process featured 20 or so prospectiv­e actors participat­ing in small improvisat­ional exercises. And whether paired together or not, Dambrine and De Waele instinctiv­ely gravitated toward each other. After landing the roles it was important to Dhont that they develop a true friendship before filming in summer of 2021.

“Lukas didn’t want us to learn lines; he wanted us to write the words in our heads while playing,” De Waele says. “He wanted the words to come out of our personalit­ies so the words we were saying were words that in real life we would use also. So, at the rehearsals, we met a lot of people [working on the movie]. Lukas wanted us to create bonds with those people before shooting. And when he was casting my mother in the movie, he asked me to be there. It sounds silly, but he asked us to bake a cake together.”

Dambrine spends half his day in dance classes, and De Waele had some theater training, but Dhont was laser-focused on making sure they never became too selfconsci­ous about their characters or the moviemakin­g process.

“I never want them to feel the technique. I never wanted to see the lights. That’s why we always take the lights outside of the [acting] space,” Dhont says. “I never want them to feel worried about the [dolly] tracks or the things on set. I never created like the mark on the floor and say, ‘You need to stand here.’ We didn’t do anything like that. I have a great team; they all know that we want to prioritize the energy of the actors.”

The Oscars are, effectivel­y, the end of the “Close” journey for the teens. But they are both understand­ably excited about attending the ceremony. Dambrine hopes that Timothée Chalamet attends and would be happy to run into Austin Butler again after a brief exchange at Cannes.

De Waele too will be on the lookout. “Maybe I would love to see Steven Spielberg. I really love all his movies. And Tom Hanks.”

 ?? ?? FROM TOP: Dambrine, De Waele and Dhont.
FROM TOP: Dambrine, De Waele and Dhont.

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