Produced by M. Night Shyamalan, the series “Servant” returns to Apple TV + with a season 2 starting January 15th. The first two episodes are signed Julia Ducournau, the director of “Grave”. Interview.
She had turned the stomach and the head of the Croisette in 2016. Since then, no one has forgotten Julia Ducournau, nor her first film Grave. After its release, this cannibalistic student story became a worldwide hit. She also revealed the actress Garance Marillier and established the director as one of the new faces of genre cinema. The impact is such that the feature film won six César nominations in 2018. A feat both works of this radicality are rarely honored by ceremonies.
Three years and a pandemic later, Julia Ducournau is preparing her second film, Titane, with Vincent Lindon. Before finding her on the big screen, she returned to television with season 2 of Servant, a series produced by M. Night Shyamalan. She directs the first two episodes, entitled Doll and Spaceman. Live from the UK, where she is continuing post-production of her new feature film, the filmmaker has taken a break to AlloCine, time to answer a few questions.
AlloCine : How did you get on the show Servant, your first project across the Atlantic?
Julia Ducournau: It all started when M. Night Shyamalan saw Serious. He had posted a tweet about the film and a few days later he emailed me to tell me he wanted to work with me. Since then, we have continued to exchange. He has come to France several times to present his latest films, and he has always invited me to screenings. We were able to meet, talk to each other and the flow went well. He suggested to me Servant during the year 2019. The shooting dates coincided with a hiatus in my preparation for Titanium. It was a window of a month and a half, I was available, so I accepted.
What relationship do we have with M. Night Shyamalan’s cinema?
I am a huge fan of his work. Especially Sixth Sense and Unbreakable. I must say thatUnbreakable slapped me hard. It was very daring and free in the direction, especially for a film that was shaping up to be a blockbuster with Bruce Willis. It is above all an author’s film. M. Night Shyamalan is one of them. He is someone who does not cover himself, who takes a lot of risks, even with general public ambitions.
M. Night Shyamalan gave me carte blanche in everything.
What did you think of the first season of Servant?
It was very intriguing. Always very daring. Already, the subject is brilliant and the premises are very strong. I accepted M. Night Shyamalan’s invitation because I found that each episode was thought out, and well cut. There is a real writing and not necessarily a charter. I was just telling Night that we immediately recognized his style when he was directing one of the episodes. As far as I’m concerned, he gave me carte blanche on everything. Of course, I wasn’t going to do anything that was going to denote with the rest of the series, but in my way of telling the story through my shots, I did absolutely what I wanted. He chooses authors for what they are and for their vision, not in a delirium to conform them to his project.
A series must keep a certain coherence, which sometimes leaves little room to infuse its sensitivity. However, in one of your episodes, there is still a scene where it is about a wound in the hand and a character who tears the skin himself. It’s very Julia Ducournau that!
(laughs) I love this scene. Still, she was very short in the script. The character played by Toby Kebbell removes his bandage and discovers his blackened hand. This wound illustrates psychological suffering. He disgusts himself and that is his way of getting revenge, of purging his guilt. I got the idea to use tweezers and scissors. It was funny because I saw the footage the day after shooting with M. Night Shyamalan and he said: “There is only you to do this.“
How did you approach the format of the television series? Does it change the way you work?
The case of Servant is special because the script is not mine, whereas I am used to writing and directing. I lived this experience as a technical challenge. I had to figure out how to tell the story my way when it wasn’t mine. It’s different because for a personal project, these questions are vital. It was more comfortable here. There was an obvious pressure because it has to be successful, but it’s not the same issue. I had a lot of fun.
What was the pace of the shoot?
I had eight days of filming per episode. I had long days, 12 hours minimum. It was a big, very intense and tiring sprint despite everything.
The story takes place mainly in the couple’s apartment. Looks to me like you’re shooting in the studio. Does this represent a constraint?
The unique, pre-existing decor is both a plus and a minus. The advantage is that you can transform it at will. All the walls are moving. If I wanted a particular plan, I would ask the team what I wanted and 4 hours later, they would come and get me to say: “It’s ready, come take a test.“Everything is fast. There is a form of ease. The difficulty is to find a way to film this setting from another angle. It has been shown so many times that it has to be renewed so that we do not Don’t fuck. The scenes in the nursery for example. With M. Night Shyamalan, I was looking for a new way to film her when it was just the thousandth time that we saw her. I tried everything: the tracking shot, in diving … But it’s fun because you always find ideas.
Could the prospect of a new project in the United States interest you?
It interests me, of course. Especially since this experience reassured me a lot about the functioning of the American platforms. We make a world of them here because they work in a very different way. The codes are not the same. I liked to adapt, it made me feel good. However, I will never settle there permanently. I will always continue to make films in France, with a few projects in the United States if I have the possibility.
Titanium is a film in its own right.
Your second film, Titanium, is eagerly awaited. Can you tell us something about that?
I am currently editing. It was an absolutely incredible shoot, in the true sense of the word. Cheerful, but also very difficult. We have passed through the drops of COVID-19. We were stopped during preparation with the first containment, but not during filming. So it was less painful than for others, but the stress was permanent. And it was great to work with Vincent Lindon.
Will Garance Marillier be there?
I can’t tell you anything … (laughs)
Do you feel more pressure?
Yes, of course. In general, and for all directors I believe, the second film is more difficult. I especially felt it while writing. The preparation allowed me to let go a little. Titanium, it’s a movie in its own right. It should not be compared to the previous one and accept its uniqueness.
Interview by Thomas Desroches, in Paris, January 11, 2021.
Discover the soundtrack of the series, signed Trevor Gureckis: