"I’ve always been attracted to the challenge of making a musical," said director Joe Wright, but it wasn't until he saw a workshop production of Erica Schmidt's musical adaptation of Cyrano at Goodspeed's smaller second venue in Chester, Connecticut (led by the film's stars Peter Dinklage and Haley Bennett) that he decided to take on that challenge.
"I was really knocked out by their performances and by The National’s score, which was unlike any musical that I’ve ever heard before. It was intimate and full of yearning and full of delicacy. And so I went back again and again and watched it again and again until I finally asked if I could adapt it for the screen."
The screen adaptation, due in theatres February 25, keeps the majority of that original team together: Dinklage and Bennett reprise their roles as Cyrano and Roxanne, Schmidt has penned the screenplay based on her stage musical, and The National returns with the film's score (music by Aaron and Bryce Dessner with lyrics by Matt Berninger and Carin Besser).
Playbill talked with director Joe Wright about making the film. Read the Q&A below.
The official video for "Someone to Say" was just released [watch it above], and with some of the aerial views in the number, it seems reminiscent of an old MGM-Busby Burkeley musical. Can you talk about making that particular scene?
Wright: A lot of it is down to a wonderful choreographer that I’ve worked with for a number of years, Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui (Jagged Little Pill). We worked together first on Anna Karenina, which I always kind of conceived as a ballet with words. He works kind of with numbers; he’s almost like a minimalist choreographer in the sense that it’s all about repetition. It’s quite mathematical, what he does, so it lends itself to that top view.
Working through the pandemic we were trying to recruit dancers from as locally as possible [the production filmed in Sicily], and a call went out, and all these dancers came from all parts of Europe to work with Larbi.
The song and the whole idea for that sequence is really inspired by a concert I once went to of a band called The Stone Roses. It was like 40,000-50,000 men in the audience, all kind of singing, these tough guys kind of singing, “I wanna, I wanna, I wanna be adored.” And, I found it very moving. I liked the idea that these tough soldiers suddenly become these delicate, yearning flowers, really.
How did you adjust your filmmaking skill set for telling story through song?
I think one had to keep the momentum going. If a song, if the lyrics weren’t necessarily moving the story forward, then the action needed to be. Sometimes the cast is singing a feeling, it’s about an expression..about their internal lives, and yet the camera, the mise-en-scène, is pushing the narrative forward, so those two things are happening at once.
Was there a moment in the film that stands out as special to you?
The last scene. The film is quite expressionistic in many ways, but finally the film narrows and boils down to two people on a bench telling each other the truth or trying to. And shooting that scene... Pete and Haley doing what they do so beautifully and the cameraman beside me and the focus puller behind me, and every time I wanted him to pull focus, I’d give him a little squeeze on the leg, and he’d pull focus from Haley to Pete or Pete to Haley...it was just this kind of perfect moment of synchronicity and unity of purpose. This idea of the importance of telling each other that we love each other. It was really simple.