The Italian director behind A Bigger Splash, Call Me By Your Name and Suspiria talks flies, flesh and Timothée Chalamet in his horror-romance Bones and All.
Italian chronicler of desire Luca Guadagnino takes a road trip across Ronald Reagan’s America in Bones and All, adapted from a young adult novel about a pair of cannibals who fall in love while trying to find themselves. Combining the horror of Suspiria with the delicate romance of Call Me By Your Name, his latest film is a tender, tragic, timeless love story that sees him reunite with Timothée Chalamet. After a rapturous premiere at the Venice Film Festival, audiences are set to fall in love with Taylor Russell, who plays recently abandoned teenager Maren, as she sets out to find the mother she’s never met. We caught up with one of the busiest men in Hollywood as he works on the final cut of his next film, tennis drama Challengers.
LWLies: You were a little hesitant to take on the script for Bones and All, even though you’ve worked with David Kajganich a few times now. Why did you change your mind?
Guadagnino: I was hesitant because I was busy and I had so many things on my plate, as they say. I felt that in engaging, in reading the script and giving a false promise to David about being interested, I could make him lose time, and I didn’t want that at all. Because I love him. He kind of insisted and my school of thought is when someone asks you more than once to something, then you have to surrender and say yes.
So I said ‘Okay, I’ll read it’ but with a caveat that I was reading it because I wanna read something written by him, not because I was going to consider it. Of course, once I started reading it, I felt so powerfully pulled into this world of drifters, of the disenfranchised, in this fable through America, which reminded me of the Grimm Brothers’ stories about Europe. The characters were so beautifully fleshed out, so precise, the vernacular was so inspiring… and the opportunity that the script gave me to think of Timothée as my partner for this. All of these elements made me completely surrender and say yes.
How did you approach Timothée about the opportunity – did you have to sell it to him, or did he jump at the chance to reunite?
I don’t have to sell anything to him. I just called my friend Brian Swardstrom, his agent, because my rule is even if you are friends with actors you cannot approach them directly with the proposal. But I also have the privilege of being friends with him. So I said ‘Brian what do you think about this?’ ‘Oh, I love it’. ‘Should I give it to Timothée?’ ‘Sure’. So we gave it to him. He was in Rome, I was in Milan, so I went to Rome. We had a beautiful conversation that led to another conversation, a few days afterwards, that led to another conversation and gave me and David and Timothée the beautiful chance to spend time together, elaborating on these ideas, and turning David’s script into the script that we eventually shot.
What did Timothée contribute to Lee’s character?
I can give you an example – he didn’t think that Lee had to feel protective in the life of Maren, the way it was coming across in the first draft. He thought that Maren and Lee, both of them, had to feel lost and fragile. A beautiful idea. That’s a real Chalamet touch.
Were there any films or cultural reference points you gave to Timothee and Taylor?
I gave them Sans Toit Ni Loi, by Agnes Varda, which is Vagabond in English, Germany Year Zero, by Roberto Rosselini. Chantal Akerman’s Jeanne Dielman, Bresson’s A Man Escaped. I like the Akerman because this character doesn’t do anything. Akerman is almost clinical in following this woman’s routines. I think that is an amazing performance, both in terms of how the director understands the performance and the character, and the actress understands the character and performance. It was important to me that Taylor knew I wasn’t looking for the drama, I hate drama.
I hate when you see actors acting. I don’t believe in acting, as much as I believe in performance.
What would you say the difference is between the two?
Performance is in everything and becoming and behaviour – acting is resorting to the toolbox that you might have learnt in some theatrical acting school or what you think is the way you think an actor should act.
Having done Suspiria, you must be quite au fait with practical effects by now. How do you manage to create convincing cannibalism on-screen?
By portraying it as a matter of fact thing. By knowing exactly what would happen in reality. So I spoke a lot with pathologists – they told me that the tear the skin of someone it is not easy. It’s very tough. They need to have very strong jaws, that difficult and also the… taste is not great, the better taste is around the white part of fat, because it have more taste. That’s why it can be dangerous, because if they eat like they do, feasting on the body, they can be scratched by the bone protruding. In fact, you see they have a lot of scars. Like animals. Sully doesn’t have part of his ear. Jason Hamer, the Prosthetic Make Up Artist and Fernando Perez, the Make Up Artist, they did such an incredible job there, and so it was fun. And the flies, did you like the flies in the movie?
I loved the flies. So was that CGI, or did you have a fly wrangler?
No, no. When we shot, we knew that we were going to put some CG flies and the sound of them in the scenes, but then suddenly a couple of flies showed up, because of the syrup we used for blood. So you see, that was great, because we filmed the real flies and then once we had to enhance them, the visual effects people could see how the real flies moved and just replicate that.
You had some flies desperate to star in the new Luca Guadagnino film.
Yeah. You know that because of the Humane Society, if you want to have a fly in the interior you have the create a cage around the set, so that you can catch the fly and release it in nature. So that meant that we have to make a cage in the living room set, and itwas very complicated so we said no. We’d use CG. But then the flies came by themselves.
You collaborated again with costume designer Giulia Piersanti on this film. What was her vision for Maren and Lee’s style?
Giulia had this idea that a lot of the clothing is random, that they find in houses, in places that they roam. Maren for instance, she wears this Barbour coat that belonged to her father and that he left behind when he abandoned her. It’s a symbol of her hugging him even if he left her. And then the more she falls into love with Lee, she peels layers of clothing off, and she becomes more and more feminine. Then for Lee, Giulia had this idea that Lee was one of the first of the grunge generation, as epitomised by the tragic figure of Kurt Cobain. He encompasses this impossibility and this desperation, the emotional fragility of that generation. You see that in him.
Published 22 Nov 2022
Taylor Russell and Timothée Chalamet play a pair of young cannibals on a trans-America road trip in Luca Guadagnino's sweet, squelchy horror romance.
Luca Guadagnino’s scintillating follow-up to A Bigger Splash is a touchy-feely screen romance for our time and for all time.