French director Thomas Bidegain is setting the record straight about Jake Gyllenhaal and Vanessa Kirby’s exit from his project “Suddenly.”
An interview with Bidegain that ran last week in the French magazine Technikart got international attention, with the headline “Four Days to Bury a Movie.” The interview suggested that Gyllenhaal and Kirby had left the film in the last stretch of pre-production in Iceland, which resulted in a loss of $26 million.
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According to the story, Gyllenhaal dove into the freezing ocean, demanded multiple rewrites and rehearsed scenes in a mocking “Pepe Le Pew-like accent.” Though Bidegain wouldn’t address those specific claims, he tells Variety that he parted ways with Gyllenhaal and Kirby over a creative clash, rather than unprofessional behavior on Gyllenhaal’s part. He also claims that, contrary to what is suggested in the French article, the company which financed “Suddenly,” Studiocanal, didn’t lose $26 million because the project wasn’t in production when things fell apart with the leads.
“People don’t understand how a film is made. We were not shooting, and we were not in pre-production. The tentative date of the shoot was eight weeks away,” Bidegain says. “This project came together during the pandemic, so we had only discussed via Zoom. We would talk every week, but we had not met to talk about the film.
“So I came up with the idea of setting up that week in Iceland to read the script together, with Jake and Vanessa,” Bidegain continues. “I thought it would be good to meet there, since it was where we were thinking of shooting the movie, and it’s a beautiful place.”
Over the course of a year, Gyllenhaal had become a producer on the film — along with Alain Attal’s Tresor Films — and he was looking to have more creative input.
“I’d send the updated script every week, and had a nice back-and-forth with [Pulitzer Prize-winning author] David Lindsay-Abaire, who was working with Jake on the development,” Bidegain says. “We had just done a new version of the script that incorporated the latest changes, and I did a lot of Zooms with Jake and Vanessa, so I thought the three of us were on the same page. So when we met in Iceland, I assumed that we would just put the finishing touches on it.”
Confiming one part of the Technikart story — about the stars’ rewrite demands — Bidegain says: “But when we started reading the script in the same room, we realized that we didn’t have at all the same vision of what the film was meant to be. They wanted more and more changes. It’s normal when there are changes to the script before shooting, but this was different. We each had our own idea of what the message of the film was. I tried to smooth things over once, twice — and then I just realized it wasn’t going to work out, so it had to stop.”
After four days, Bidegain left Gyllenhaal and Kirby in Iceland and returned to Paris. He says he remembers “driving down, and seeing Jake and Vanessa in a car driving in the opposite direction.”
The article said the breaking point came after Gyllenhaal had an epiphany during a walk in the wilderness where he encountered a horse, and decided “it shouldn’t be a film about love, but a film about love of nature.” Bidegain recounted in the article that Kirby, meanwhile, wanted the film to have a more definite feminist edge with a radical ending. Bidegain says his vision of the film rested somewhere in the middle: “It’s a film about love, but also love of nature, and it does have a strong female character.”
Some time after this clash, Bidegain says Kirby contacted him to inquire whether she could buy the script from him. “She was interested by the script. She has a production company,” he says. “I said ‘no.'”
“Suddenly” did end up getting made, but with a French cast including Gilles Lellouche and Melanie Thierry — at roughly half of the budget. The French producer, Attal, and financier/distributor Studiocanal stayed on board. Titled “Soudain seuls,” the film was released on Dec. 6 in France, and had a fairly modest run at the box office, selling about 250,000 tickets.
Bidegain is one of France’s most successful screenwriters. He notably co-wrote Jacques Audiard’s “A Prophet,” as well as “The Sisters Brothers” (which also starred Gyllenhaal) and co-wrote Tom McCarthy’s “Stillwater,” the Matt Damon film set in Marseille. Bidegain made his directorial debut with “Les cowboys” in 2015 and went on to direct a segment in the omnibus film “Selfie.” “Suddenly” was meant to be his first English-language film as a director.
Studiocanal commented on Gyllenhaal’s exit from the project, saying: “Creative differences are very normal, if unfortunate, regularities in film development. In this case, there were concerns which simply could not be overcome despite great efforts on both sides.”
Bidegain says part of the challenge he faced on “Suddenly” came from the fact that he had never worked with an actor who is also a producer. “It’s a very strange experience when you work with an actor-producer who doesn’t have the same vision than the director — in France, the director is the one in charge of the telling the story, and he’s in charge of the script, the set design, etc.,” Bidegain says.
Ultimately, Bidegain attributes the split to that clash, adding: “We have very different ways to make films in France and in the U.S.”
A spokesperson for Gyllenhaal declined to comment on this article. Representatives for Kirby did not respond to a request for comment.
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