Bel Ami Production Notes: The Directors Dish on Georges, the Casting & the Feel

Georges ‘Bel Ami’ Duroy

The central character of Georges was a complex and captivating subject for Rachel Bennette, as she explains. “Georges is a difficult character, that’s what makes him so fascinating. He’s quite enigmatic in certain respects and he’s not a typical character in many ways. He’s very reactive as opposed to the active protagonist that you’re used to. So it was a question of trying to get the measure of him.”

“He never works and he still gets it all. That’s what’s so maddening about Georges Duroy,” Donnellan concurs. “He gets the lot with no effort and it’s something we have to live with. Georges has a talent to get to the top and he’s a businessman with one commodity to sell. Another thrilling thing about Georges is his emptiness; people can project anything into him which is another reason why he’s so successful.”

Bennette concludes: “I find Georges really compelling, even if I don’t always like him. There’s something about his audacity, and his daring, and his absolute refusal to be told his place. And there is something quite appealing about that: essentially it is a kind of mad courage that he has.”

Casting

“We asked actors that we really wanted to work with, people that we have admired for a long time, explains Donnellan of their casting choices. “Kristin Scott Thomas we know of old. Uma Thurman, Christina Ricci and Robert Pattinson we have always admired. There’s also Colm Meaney, a wonderful Irish actor who plays Rousset and Phillip Glenister. They are all actors we love.”

Ormerod and Donnellan were thrilled to be working with such a diverse cast. Donnellan describes the moment that the actors turned up for rehearsals. “It was absolutely fantastic to see them arriving one after another. They are all incredibly professional and great fun with wicked senses of humour in their own different ways; Uma, Kristin and Christina are all very different people. We had a ball, an absolutely wonderful time because the material was so fantastic, the roles and screenplay are fantastic. Everybody felt like they were being stretched, especially us because it was our first movie. Kristin, Christina, Uma and Robert would all agree that they were doing things they hadn’t done before, which was what made it so thrilling.”

The look and feel

Compared to their previous experience working in theatre, the two directors found it interesting to have more control over the detail involved in film. Ormerod elaborates: “What is wonderful are the crafts people you work with in film and the amount of detail that goes into the recreation of a newspaper, the graphics, the tiny little props which feature. The work there is just phenomenal and the people were amazing and of course you do see right up close which is fantastic. You walk into a space; you’ve seen it empty; you picked the location. Then you arrive on the day and it’s just completely phenomenal! The recreation of the [newspaper] office for example; it was really moving and astonishing.”

Donnellan further explains their reaction to the differences between the disciplines of film and theatre. “The extras, how they would be turned out, the beautiful attention to make-up… It’s not us! We are just given these amazing people to work with to get over the shock of the attention to detail necessary for the set design!”

Odile Dicks-Mireaux, the costume designer talks of her experiences on BEL AMI: “It’s a real joy to have been asked to do this film as it’s a very beautiful period to do. We chose to do it a little bit later than the book, 1890s, and we wanted this very elegant, not too over-stylized look for our leading ladies. The principle concern for us really was the ladies. We decided that the men would stay in a sort of uniform of black and cream and neutral colours, and that the women would sort of shine through the piece. We tried to keep it very elegant. The French generally were slightly more sombre in their colourings than the British, so they would pick these puces, and greys, and greeny-greys. You know there is nothing bright or brash about the French when you look at it.”

For the female characters, Dicks-Mireaux and the directors came up with specific colour palettes that would reflect each of their characteristics. She explains, “Uma’s was a colour scheme of greens and creams and blacks. She was to be a sort of cooler character; that was the aim. Kristin’s character was to start darker and slightly more sombre, and then break out into paler tones, and then go into black when she is thrown aside by Bel Ami. And then Christina’s character was to sort of fit in between those two characters and be the slightly livelier character as she is the mistress.”

Dicks-Mireaux further explains the look that she and the directors and the producer devised, partly based around art. “We discussed that we wanted very clean lines on the evening wear, no big jewels or anything like that. Uberto [Pasolini] and I particularly liked the Boldini pictures I liked the [John Singer] Sargent pictures and you know that was how it evolved but it was a combination of a lot of different factors that then come together. I chose to have them made and cut by Daniele Boutard who knows this period extremely well and who comes with couture training so our aim was to be elegant at all times.”

Dicks-Mireaux explains how the costumes she designed for Georges help to tell the story of his progression throughout the film. “He wears black virtually all the way. Maupassant writes very clearly about starching, and we spend a lot of time and effort on the shirts. This period is a very transitional period between the boiled shirt and the pleated shirt so we’ve done a combination of the two. We’ve engineered this ingenious way of making sure we can always have the stiff cuffs. I’ve gone for very high collars on Robert because he suits them really well and it makes them all stand up correctly. If you look at the British royal family they seem to wear a slightly broader look. You look at the French drawings and they seem to have a much tighter, narrower look – a bit like Christian Dior suits: that very pinched, nice, narrow, elegant, long lined leg. He had a journey and then right at the end of the journey he sort of dips and goes a little bit more bourgeois and slightly pompous. He thought he might have a moustache at the end.”

The production notes are long and you can read more information about the novel, the cast and crew here.  We will also be adding all the info to future postings.

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