So how is the film world treating you?
Donnellan: The red carpet in Berlin was absolutely amazing. We’d never had much intrusion from Robert’s fans, and Rob’s really serious – he insisted on rehearsing for a whole month before we started to shoot. There was no intrusion on the set. The thing they had in common – all the principles came from completely different background in cinema. They all had one thing in common, in that they were doing something they’d never done before – the roles stretched each of them. Then we hit Berlin… [laughs] It was incredible fun.
Ormerod: We expected something fairly extraordinary, and it was amazing.
Donnellan: Nick burst out laughing one morning when he was reading the emails. He couldn’t stop laughing, saying “we had a letter from Hugo Boss, asking permission to dress us in Berlin!”
Ormerod: This is a Hugo Boss jacket!
Were there changes from the novel?
Ormerod: Obviously you have to leave out whole great chunks of a novel. Part of the story is an opposing newspaper, and he has a duel with one of the journalist. We focused on what we felt was the heart of the story, which is his relationship with the four women.
Donnellan: And his profound love affair with himself! That’s the love story at the heart of Bel Ami!
Ormerod: The politics are there, but the point being that Georges Duroy is not interested in the politics. He couldn’t give a – this isn’t on the radio, is it? – about the politics. So they bubble up, but only in as far as they direct his pocket basically.
Georges has no redeeming qualities at all – I enjoyed how brutal he was.
Donnellan: Rob was completely fascinated by the fact he has no redeeming qualities. The other thing is that he’s not really ambitious for money, and he’s not really that bright, and hasn’t got any ambitious grand plans. He just wants what you’ve got. He’s completely reactive to what the other guy’s got. He’s so completely consumed by envy. I think he’s got one huge redeeming feature, in that he wants to live. That’s why we fought to keep in the death he witnesses at the heart of it. For me it’s really important that he sees this one thing that makes him think, “I’m going to fucking live.” I think that’s a completely admirable quality for a human being. It’s very tough, as not everybody wants to live that much, because we’re a mixture of wanting to live and wanting to die, and he so purely wants to live.
Can I ask how you get such a cast on a relatively modest budget?
Ormerod: The more you hear about film, you realise that people [actors] aren’t well-paid and they will do a project they want to do. I’m glad to say they wanted to work with us, but they also loved the script – Rob really grabbed at it, and loved the character.
Donnellan: We know a lot of movie actors – the ones you can imagine we know – and it’s very interesting how little they get paid. All the interesting projects don’t pay very much. All the gazillion pounds that you hear tends to be for other kinds of movies, the type that famous actors do, if you see what I mean. People do do things for very little. You hear it cost 9 million euros, and that sounds like a huge amount but it really isn’t once hundreds of people are paid and you have to move from one location to the other. I’ve never been on Easyjet so often! It wasn’t glamorous, I can tell you!
What was it about Rob that you liked?
Ormerod: I think he’s perfect for the role. He has those matinee idol good looks, the sort of gigilo looks that those women completely fall for, and yet he has a darkness, and interest, and a vulnerability sometimes too.
Donnellan: He’s very bright too, and he understood the character. Rob’s got an enormous amount of talent, but we’re all fascinated by this character who has no talent. It’s a modern story – the person who gets to the top with no talent. A journalist asked us the other day, “was this the first time the two of you have worked together?” You do start asking, how did they get the job? When I was young, it was really difficult to get jobs, and I think a lot of people get jobs because… I don’t know. There’s this fascination with how people get to the top of their jobs. They get there because they’re empty, because they have no imagination, so other people can pin fantasies on them.
Ormerod: In every organisation you see them – their one talent is to get to the top.
Were you under any pressure to tone down the sex scenes when Rob came on board, in terms of attracting a wider audience?
Ormerod: No, the film is about sex. It’s not titillating sex.
Donnellan: It’s about a guy who sells his body, basically. All these women are in comfortable marriages, and none of them want to get divorced. Their relationship with him is essentially sexual.
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So how is the film world treating you?