The New York Film Festival comes to a close with the world premiere of “French Exit”, starring Michelle Pfeiffer and Lucas Hedges.
Adapted from Canadian author Patrick DeWitt’s novel, the story follows an ageing Manhattan socialite (Michelle Pfeiffer) who moves into a small apartment in Paris with her son (Lucas Hedges) and her cat, as her inheritance runs out, in the surreal-yet-heartfelt film.
Filmed in Montreal, Pfeiffer says it was the characters in the script that immediately drew her to the project. Though the characters on the page “could be caricature-ish” according to the actress, DeWitt and director Azazel Jacobs managed to make the characters “three-dimensional.”
“I read the script first and immediately followed up with the novel,” she says. “Halfway through I was just like, ‘I’m in.’ You know when something is really special because it just doesn’t come around that often.”
Her co-star Hedges felt the same way about the script when he first read it.
“I’ve just fallen in love with stories and worlds and the different rules that accompany them. And I had a very distinct feeling that this is a world that I love and had a voice that I love,” he says. “I felt that way in the first two pages in the script.”
Hedges continues: “It was clear pretty early on that it was pretty different and that’s because of Patrick and his voice as a writer. I was really taken by the ways in which the characters through and spoke. I loved the script and then I got to meet Aza and that was the perfect marriage because he’s such a humanist director and artist.”
The “humour and humanity of Patrick’s writing” is what drew director Jacobs to the story. For DeWitt, it was the chance to work with his friend.
“My work is very dialogue-heavy,” DeWitt says whose book The Sisters Brothers has also been adapted into a movie. “I really enjoy collaborating with Zaz because we’re such good pals but he’s really such a helpful presence,” he says. “I think we had one argument which is not that bad for an entire screenplay,” he jokes, explaining that it was the ending that caused them to butt heads as the movie goes in a different direction than the book.
“I think I actually yelled at him. I’m sorry, I’m apologizing in front of the whole world,” DeWitt adds.
“A compromise is inevitably reached even if we disagree on something,” says DeWitt. “It has both Patrick and Aza’s stamp on this, it’s this sort of odd world filled with odd people who are… Aza you said they’re some way likened to people marooned on an island who end up finding each other,” Pfeiffer says.
“I would definitely put it up there [in] my top 5 wonderful filmmaking experiences,” she continues. “The cast was extraordinary, the writing. It starts there. We worked hard and long but we laughed a lot and had a lot of fun.”
Part of that fun included working with a scene-stealing feline co-star who, as the cast and crew found out, can be a bit of a challenge.
“It turns out that a cat works on their own time,” Jacobs says, joking about the difficulties of working with a feline co-star. “In the end that cat got comfortable around us.”
A release date for “French Exit” has not yet been announced.