A wolf, a lion and a young woman who bond with a strong friendship, this is what tells Le Loup et le lion which lands in theaters today. Director Gilles de Maistre spoke about this astonishing meeting at our microphone.
After Mia et le lion blanc (2018) which explored the relationship between a young girl and a lion in South Africa, Gilles de Maistre again set about recounting a friendship between a woman and a feline but this time adding a wolf to the equation! The result: the family film The Wolf and the Lion which shows that brotherly love can take many forms.
AlloCiné: A lion and a wolf who interact in a film, it’s unheard of in the cinema, how did you come up with this idea?
Gilles de Maistre: It’s true that it’s unheard of and that’s also what excited me when the idea came up on the set of Mia and the White Lion (…) with the person who took care of the lions, who’s called Kevin Richardson and he’s a really great guy. And Andrew Simpson, who is the gentleman of the wolves, who is really a star in all that is working in the cinema with wolves (he made films with Jean-Jacques Annaud, Game of Thrones and Belle et Sébastien too, with dogs) came to see me on the set.
We were all three: the gentleman of the wolves, the gentleman of the lions and I, we walked in the savannah (…) and the two talked about their experiences, their passions. They were very enthusiastic. I watched them both and that’s where it came from, I said: guys, why don’t the three of us make a movie? It would be fantastic, we would have this kind of meeting of these two mythical predators of cinema who never meet in films (…) and it would be a beautiful parable to talk about nature, to talk about these endangered species.
Also talk about the fact that, a bit like a mirror for humans, a meeting between two sworn enemies could turn into a love story, a story of brothers. That maybe we hate each other because we are afraid of the other but when we know the other and we are no longer in the fight, we can be in love.
We tried to give them a better life.
How and where did you find your main animals?
We shot in Canada (…) and obviously we found the animals [là-bas]. We don’t take animals from the wild, of course. Wild animals are not touched, they are very good where they are and then there are many animals that come from farms all over our countries so we find, unfortunately I would say, wolves and lions in terrible places so we got them back there in Canada.
We tried to give them a better life, especially after the shoot, we left them together in large enclosures where they are happy. It’s always a fairly ethical process: we try to respect animals, to put them in conditions where they are happy to be able to be in front of our cameras and above all to also participate in films and play characters who defend things they are doing. they are victims, their species in life.
Were Mozart (the wolf) and Rêveur (the lion) well played by the same animals throughout the filming?
Yes, they are played by Walter and Paddington. Walter the lion and Paddington the wolf. They are the same since babies. They were a couple that worked very well and we didn’t need to shoot others in front of the camera.
How do you manage such wild animals?
We adapt and we often lead them through strategies (…) thanks to food, thanks to hugs, thanks to play, thanks to organization too. For example, we know that a lion will be much more lively and energetic in the morning very early when it’s cool than at 3 p.m. or 1 p.m. under the dodger, where he will rather be on the ground sleeping and we will not be able to move it. So we organize according to what we need, but we don’t impose anything on them. We are not in the training at all, we are really in the relationship, in the impregnation and in the understanding to organize things.
Afterwards, the animal coordinators have lots of tips in mind to get the animals to do things. I take the example of killing a wolf: obviously we are not going to kill a wolf in real life so that it falls and rolls on the ground, we put essential oils on the ground, the wolf loves it and so it comes and rolls in. In the image, we therefore have the impression that he is falling and that he is dying. We make the animals do things gently without them realizing, without any constraint and only in play and benevolence.
We adapted a lot to the characters of animals.
How did the collaboration with trainer Andrew Simpson go?
For him, it was a big challenge because often in the films, the animal coordinators are a bit like the second wheel of the coach, they come to do one or two scenes. There, it was at the heart of the device so Andrew, basically, was the star. He had a hell of a challenge because the animals are there all the time so he’s there all the time and you really had to do an extremely complicated job.
The work went well because he is very professional, very involved (…). We also adapted a lot to the characters of the animals, so we did a lot of versions of the script because the animals weren’t like that, we had to do it differently.
Were there any tense moments between the Wolf and the Lion that worried you?
(…) I don’t think so, they really created a relationship. Afterwards, it’s true that since they have very different characters, it’s sometimes surprising to see how they play together. Obviously, there is a cat and a dog: a cat it jumps, it nibbles, it claws, a dog it runs… (…) But they have found their way to communicate. So I never had any concerns.
Was actress Molly Kunz able to develop a friendship with animals like her character?
She did it, but much less than on Mia and the White Lion where we really created a very strong bond, on a daily basis, for 3 years. [Molly] created a relationship because she played with the animals without special effects but always in something that was still controlled by Andrew, while Mia was in something very complicit. Molly was very used to and wasn’t afraid of animals, she got to play with them, but she didn’t really learn to ride them.
In fact, you probably haven’t developed a special relationship with animals either?
It is also a very important component of the shoots: there are very few people who interact with the animals because they are respected, they are the stars. We are not all going to make them “guili guili”, we would not do it with an actor or an actress so it’s the same and we must be calm, we must not distract them. We try to be very distant and let the specialists do it so that the animals are at their best to give what is expected of them. If everyone starts playing with them, that’s not possible. They can’t relate to everyone, they’re not toys.
We’re all in cages.
Concretely, how is filming with wild animals, what special measures should you take to avoid accidents?
We are in absolute security, the shooting is very protected. We are in the middle of Canada, it is a very civilized country where there are a lot of people who walk in the forest, who go for picnics, there is no question of them coming face to face with a lion that will attack them. [L’équipe] is also protected from animals, we are all in cages and the animals run free with Molly.
What do you think of Disney’s tendency to feature animals in CGI like the Lion King or The Call of the Forest?
This is another method, I am not criticizing at all. I think Disney movies are amazing and that’s great. They need to control everything, these are films that cost a fortune, these are huge films that go around the world, these are films by producers, not directors. Everything is written, everything is planned, the result in the image must be exactly what is written.
I am exactly the opposite: I am improvising, it is written but the animals are in a case and inside, they can express themselves. I often have good surprises and if I don’t have what was planned, I do something else. This is complicated for the Americans. Obviously, they have the means to put all their power to create exactly what they wanted.
Me, that does not amuse me as a director. What amuses me is to be in a living matter, which evolves. It’s morning when I come on set not to know what’s going to happen, not to know what I’m going to have. So these are different methodologies.
What was created between the wolf and the lion in real life, their real relationship, today we cannot create it in CGI. What you see on the screen in The Wolf and the Lion, we cannot do it, there is not yet enough technology powerful enough to have that emotion there. Maybe in a few years.
Today, Disney films are very stylized, when we see The Lion King, we can see that they are not real animals, there is a still mechanical side that we do not have with real life. What we give to spectators is something unique that we cannot reproduce.
What is the message you want to convey through this film?
There are plenty of fairly clear messages on the defense of wildlife, on the fact that we should not take animals, tear them away from their environment and their families, that we should not exploit them, treat them as furniture or objects, that they have a sensitivity, that they have qualities that we do not have.
Obviously we are overpowered so we can crush them easily, it is not difficult to make nature disappear. But protecting it is difficult and it is essential for our survival. We cannot live on a planet where there is no nature, where there are no trees, where there are no animals, where there is no this ecosystem. So it is important today and we are becoming more and more aware of it. And stop the exploitation of animals for our distraction because it doesn’t make sense either to make someone suffer for the sake of it.
After lions and wolves, are there any other wild animals that you would like to film?
I don’t think so much in wild animals, I rather reason in causes. Afterwards, often around causes, there are animals that are in this cause. So the next cause that we are going to attack through a comedy is the deforestation of the Amazon rainforest, the massacre of wildlife there, the trafficking of animals which is very intense and which is the fourth traffic in the world. So there, the somewhat symbolic animal, totem of this Amazon rainforest, is the jaguar and therefore it will be a film around saving a jaguar.
So there will always be an interaction with a human?
There will be an interaction with a little girl and her teacher. There is a somewhat improbable couple who find themselves immersed in the jungle when they were not calibrated for that and it becomes a source of comedy but at the same time we pass the message without didacticism, without moralization, to have a good moment also in a room.
Interview by Marine de Guilhermier in Paris on September 30, 2021