Many of you might remember the old and beloved film called “Love Story” written by Erich Segal (also based on his novel) and gloriously directed by Arthur Hiller. As a quick reminder – it is a tragic love story about Jenny and Oliver who come from different backgrounds. Their journey begins with high anticipation of a beautiful life ahead of them but is cut short tragically.
There is a reason why I have reminded you of Hiller’s film before writing about Luca Guadagnino’s “Call Me by Your Name”. There are several parallels I can draw between these two films: both are based on novels; both have unforgettable soundtracks and splendid storylines; flawless performance in both films shapes subtly the relationship between two individuals. Once you watch Oliver and Elio (portrayed by Armie Hammer and Timothée Chalamet) on the screen, I’m sure you’ll wish that all love stories are told in the same uncompromising way.
I did not mention anything about the gender of the characters on purpose. This film is shot and narrated in such a way that it does not matter at all. “Call Me By Your Name” talks about love and respect. And I believe prejudices will always have a shorter life to live. Every human being is entitled for a right for love and to be loved. Nobody can take it away – now or ever. Thanks to “Call Me By Your Name” for capturing it in such a humble way.
During Toronto International Film Festival, I had a great pleasure to attend a round table interview with Luca Guadagnino – the director of “Call Me By Your Name” and the actors Armie Hammer and Timothée Chalamet. I had a chance to ask questions to give me a better idea about behind-the-scenes of the most fantastic and magical film of the year.
MOVIEMOVESME: My first question is to you, Me. Guadagnino. Luca. What has inspired you to adopt André Aciman’s novel into a film?
Luca Guadagnino: I think the reason of making this movie for me was really and literally to making with the people I decided to make it. And not because the book didn’t inspire me but my approach to the book was the one from perspective of producer. And I was a producer until I became a director, but I was a producer for many years. So I never had this kind of tension to all the book, like I want to tell this story. And then when thing collided together, and they said, do you want to do this movie and I said yes if I can do it with Timothée Chalamet and Arnie and Michel Stoolberg and the rest of the cast. So it was about for me the possibility of being with them.
MOVIEMOVESME: And, Timothée, what kind of work you both needed to do in order to maintain that great chemistry which turned into one of the best and greatest love story?
Timothée Chalamet: Thank you. There was a massive amount of vulnerability and openness and exposing yourself and emotions and all of that. There was such a requisite amount of that that was needed to make this movie work, that it honestly wouldn’t have worked if we didn’t have the immense feeling of safety and protection on set with each other, with Luca, with the crew with everybody around. There was never anything happening that felt unsafe or felt like it violated our trust of, I mean the entire process felt like we were not only in the best hands that we could possibly be in, but that we were also taken care of and protected in such a way that not only did we feel comfortable in sort of opening ourselves up and exposing that, but I mean, honestly we wanted to.
MOVIEMOVESME: How did the shootings go? How was it to shoot a film in Italy?
Timothée Chalamet: The opportunity to shoot in Italy, which on another project would be the biggest reason to do something, but on this was almost the smallest, because above that was the opportunity to work with Luca and because I had seen “I Am Love“ before I even got the chance to meet with him. And then after being attached to “A Bigger Splash” came out during that period, the opportunity to work with Armie Hammer, who people of my generation, the social network, that’s a really formative film Autzman Swartz material that holds such a special place in so many people’s hearts and James Ivory’s screenplay and getting to work with all of these different facets. And trusting Luca from films past incorporate just the coolest and most innovative ideas in people.
It wasn’t a surprise, and yet it was an awesome surprise when he said that Sufjan Stevens had made music for the film because Sufjan, again for people my age – I guess people any age – he’s a brilliant, brilliant musician. So to have his music for the film and have it while I was shooting during the last scene, we had it playing while we did it, it was challenging, and yet it all went very smoothly.
MOVIEMOVESME: People often ask questions about filming the love scenes. I wonder how it feels the moment when the director calls “cut”? How the two of you reacted?
Armie Hammer: We’d keep going.
MOVIEMOVESME: You’d keep going? I was thinking there’d be an answer like that in there somewhere, but I can imagine it’s a complicated thing. You must have a fairly loose relationship on set with somebody that you have to pretend to have a deep relationship with.
Armie Hammer: There’s a lot of intimacy in this movie, but the intimacy that seemed harder or more challenging wasn’t the physically intimate stuff, it was the emotionally intimate stuff. It was being face to face with someone on camera with a camera extremely close and feeling like you are in a place where you can be vulnerable, and you can … you know, it’s funny, if you’re making a movie and you have an outside perspective of it, it probably looks completely ridiculous. Everything that’s going on, people rushing around, people this and that, people yelling out terms you have not idea what they’re saying, what they actually mean.
This was an experience where I remember when we had intimate scenes between us, whether they be in bed or wherever, the thing that really was a big moment for me was we finished one of the takes and Luca called cut and I remember looking around, because I wasn’t wearing any clothes, and I remember looking around and sort of feeling exposed. And I looked over at the sound guy and he was just holding the boom like usual and then I looked over and the script supervisor had her book like usual and the guy at the camera was doing everything like usual and the focus boy was doing everything like usual and it hit me this is doing our job. This is the same as that scene, that is the same as that scene, let’s do it again. And then-Yeah. But more than that it was like I’m so happy this is all part of this beautiful experience that we’re doing. I remember at one point we finished shooting a scene and someone was like do you want a robe and I was like no, I’m okay. And they were like are you sure? Yeah, I’m okay. You know you just … any fear, anything that was built up by it was all in my head and as soon as we started it all went and away and just became this beautiful, natural part of it.
MOVIEMOVESME: Mr. Guadagnino, could you tell a bit about your collaboration with James Ivory? Did you approach him or how did the collaboration started?
Luca Guadagnino: I’ve known James for many years and we’re friends before being collaborators and it was a chance of life. Like he was coming to see me in Crema many times and we both were involved into this movie as producers and then one day because the movie wasn’t happening without directors, we said why don’t we try to imagine the way we would do it and it was like snapping peas at the kitchen table that lead us to writing this great in really almost a moonlighting fashion. It wasn’t a job it was the chance to be together in doing it. I grew up really worshiping artists in my life. I come from a simple family in Palermo, but I always dreamt of meeting the artists I adored and I admired and one of the reasons why every time I complain with something for myself about my life I have to be severe with myself and tell my self you are luck because you have the chance and the luck to have fulfilled your adolescent dreams of meeting the artists you love. And even to dram making things together, so it’s great, it’s a privilege.
MOVIEMOVESME: How important is the period to this story? Not just to the acceptability of the relationship, but also in regards to the society.
Luca Guadagnino: But I don’t think this is a movie in which we are putting a light on acceptability or forbidden love. I think that any movie lives in the eyes of who watch the movie and in their way of watching the film, so I don’t want to censorship anyone perspective, but from my perspective, this is not a movie about forbidden love at all. First of all, I happen to be a person who enjoy the physical company of a man in my personal life. And so there is nothing forbidden about that to me and so it’s the most normal and accessible and suiting thing I can happen to do in my intimacy. So it’s foreign to me to love or to make love to a man it’s forbidden. And at the same time, I don’t think that Elio and Oliver will live in the space in which they are living, hiding. If they put themselves into an alley instead of putting themselves in front of a large group of people staring at them is because they save very much the moment of their intimacy. So the idea of this film and I would say also the idea of Asimov’s book doesn’t lie in the cannon of the forbidden love and the constrictions of society.
MOVIEMOVESME: How did you choose the actors or how did you come on board because the chemistry is so obvious…
Luca Guadagnino: Because I had great chemistry with them. I’m ignorant enough to think that if I have great chemistry they will have great chemistry between them. But I wasn’t jealous of their chemistry.
MOVIEMOVESME: I was wondering, people refer to it as the gay love story movie. Do you wish people would take away that tag and see it as a summer love story? I love that Luca said in the press conference – it might be a bisexual movie perhaps. And is that important in the time where in America the president is going backwards, especially in these terms of gender identity, sexuality, so forth?
Luca Guadagnino: I think the president is a bitter person who is thinking of his own business all the time and he doesn’t have the poetic hope to see how beautiful is it to be unbiased and able to love no matter what is your gender. So I think in this way, maybe this is a political movie and it’s a sort of invitation not to be like this president. Probably should put that in the bio.
MOVIEMOVESME: To the actors, what is the biggest thing that you learned from each other during the filming?
Armie Hammer: Stop me if you want to. Timmy has such a rich and beautiful almost complicated inner life that is so vibrant and so full and he’s able to keep it just under the surface in such a beautiful way where … it almost feels like while some things he is aware of as we all are, it’s almost like he’s just not aware of some things. And that openness and honesty is really, it’s great. I feel like maybe sometimes the tendency might be to try to guard yourself or protect yourself or hide. And I think watching Tim live in the scenes and watching it affect him, it was almost like an acting exercise.
Timothée Chalamet: Ah, man.
Armie Hammer: Just hope my breath was goo.
Timothée Chalamet: Yeah. I said this before. I feel like what I’ve learned with the great actors I’ve worked with, whether it’s Armie Hammer or Steve Carell or Louis Rabe, those lessons are almost – they’re hard to verbalize. It’s almost like subconscious or something. You take on the habits of other actors or the way I saw Michael Stuhlbarg take notes in this film, or the way I see Armie rehearse a scene before we go to it, those things stay with you. For me as it relates to Armie, the way he carries himself as a man, the way he carries himself as a father, the way he carries himself as a husband, it’s been such a crucial roadmap for me. The cliché of this business is that those road maps aren’t really there and those that are there are negative or devastating in some fashion. And I’m so lucky, you know, I did a film in LA this past year. LA’s never been a place that I feel very close to, but because Armie lives there, I felt like I was welcomed in with open arms and was introduced to a number of friends now that I wouldn’t have without him. And also, like I said, as a husband, again not to put pressure, but there is such love in this marriage between he and Elizabeth and there’s such love between Armie and his daughter, Harper, it’s very inspiring for me. It gives me hope for myself that love, being in love, marriage, these things don’t necessarily have bad or tragic or sterile endings; that these things can blossom beautifully the way it does in “Call Me By Your Name”.
Luca Guadagnino: I wanted to say something about Armie as a collaborative director. You can go up. Armie is a great catalyst. He’s like my partner in making sure the movie’s following a lead of optimism and concentration and generosity, I think. Not to take anything off of you my love, but it’s just that I found that partnership in making the movie with Armie, apart from the rest of which is him acting as Elio.
MOVIEMOVESME: So I wonder, as you were trying to learn about your characters – Elio or Oliver – what do you think they found in each other that they were so fond of? What made them fall in love with each other?
Armie Hammer: Go ahead, Timmy.
Timothée Chalamet: I think it’s … I think it would be almost indescribable. I don’t think it’s necessarily a shared activity or a shared passion, not that those are the requisites of love, but sometimes they are. I don’t think that’s necessarily the case here. Correct me if anything I’m saying is not of vision, but I think it’s almost more organic. It just flowers. One of my favorite part of Andre Aciman’s book, and we did it in the film too, is that Elio’s reaction to Oliver at first is that he’s actually a little put off and it’s like who’s this guy who’s walking around saying later. And from that place it lands in a romantic spot, but it doesn’t begin there. So, again it would almost be difficult to say what it was that brought them together.