The film “Call Me By Your Name” is now a top contender for the current awards season, but it’s been that way for many months on the festival circuit. Luca Guadagnino is nominated as producer and director at the Critics’ Choice Awards and Independent Spirit Awards, plus as a producer at the upcoming Golden Globes. He tied as winner for Best Director recently from the Los Angeles Film Critics with Guillermo del Toro (“The Shape of Water”).
The film is written by three-time Oscar nominee James Ivory, who adapted the screenplay from the novel by Andre Aciman. The story is about a 17-year-old boy (Timothee Chalamet) living with his family in Italy during the early 1980s who develops a relationship with an older visiting graduate student (Armie Hammer).
Gold Derby hosted a webchat with Guadagnino recently, which you can watch on the video above. The complete interview transcript is available for you to read below.
Gold Derby: Luca, your film “Call Me by Your Name” is about to debut all across America. What’s that anticipation level like? It’s been seen at festivals, it’s been seen within the industry some. What’s your anticipation level like for the public to actually see it?
Luca Guadagnino: We also opened in the U.K. already, and it’s going well. In general, for me, it’s quite abstract. I do a movie, the movie goes out in the world and I’m not sure what this piece of mine can be in the hands of an audience. I know that there is a lot of anticipation. I don’t have social media but sometimes people show me Twitter and stuff and there is a lot of energy for the film, and I’m very glad and I’m very humbled by this. I have to say that I’m also very humbled by the specific work of Sony Classics, of Michael [Barker] and Tom [Bernard], the way they are positioning the movie, the screenings is very interesting to me. It’s like a lesson in cinema. So I look forward. I know that I’m gonna be coming back in America at the end of the month and I may do some Q&As in theaters with a real audience, so I look forward to it.
GD: How did you and James Ivory hook up? Oscar nominated director, mostly known for directing, not writing. How did that relationship happen here?
LG: James and I, we met when he made “The White Countess.” He came to Italy to present the film. It has been a sad time of his life because Ismail Merchant had just passed away during the post-production of that film, and we became friends. He also is friends with Peter Spears and Howard Rosenman that are with me and Marco Morabito and Emily Georges and Rodrigo Teixeira, producers of this film, and one day after many years in trying to make this movie happen with different directors and with a different script, we went to see James in his house in the Hudson Valley and we said to him, “What about you directing the movie and maybe writing the script with Luca?” And he said, “Okay, why not?” So the plan was for the two of us to write the script and for him to direct and for me and Peter to produce. We tried that version. We never succeeded, but we got this great script that he wrote and I had been handed the possibility to direct it.
GD: We just wrote an article about him a couple of days ago. I don’t know if you would be aware of this, but if he were to win an Oscar in a few weeks, he would be the oldest Academy Award winner ever, coming up on stage to get that Oscar. What would that mean to you if that moment happens for him?
LG: I would be thrilled and so happy. It would mean a lot to me. I’m a big cinephile so for me those kinds of things mean so much and if this happens, if this incredible acknowledgement of some sort that is the Oscars happens for Jim, it would be so wonderful. It would be an embrace from the industry for a lifetime and for the specific of this movie, so I couldn’t be more happy.
GD: And I don’t mean to just single him out. This movie really could be an awards player all throughout this season and definitely at the Oscars at the end.
LG: You are the expert (laughs).
GD: (Laughs.) What would that mean for you and the whole team?
LG: We are already so humbled by the entire experience here. We go to Sundance, Toronto, New York, London, and we get love. It’s great, what’s best and beloved by people, be recognized by people. I take very seriously all this process. I think it’s a part of my work and it’s part of what cinema is and I think that the capacity of a community to group together and recognize the work of members of this community, it’s fascinating, astonishing. I will never forget the emotion I felt when in 1991, or 2 actually, I woke up in the middle of the night to watch the Oscars, and it was the year in which my hero Jonathan Demme won for “The Silence of the Lambs.” I screamed so wildly that I woke up the entire house. I really don’t take it lightly. It’s very important that movies can get this kind of recognition. What can I say? I would be so happy, but in general it’s great, the entire experience.
GD: Let’s talk about the movie a little bit. It’s set in Italy, the countrysides of Italy. And to me when I watched it, beyond the characters that we see, the actual physical human characters, Italy is a character in this movie, don’t you think?
LG: I think space is a character in my movie, whether it’s Italy or any other place. I tend to make sure that you as an audience can experience the journey of a character in his physicality, and not only in his emotional journey. So how do you understand someone if you cannot put in context the figure to the landscape? I don’t understand. So for me, that’s really crucial. Of course, “I Am Love,” “A Bigger Splash” and “Call Me by Your Name,” they are all set in Italy and they are all, in a way, explorations of people in Italy, foreigners in Italy, I would say. Part of my approach is always to make sure the lived-in space, the landscape, becomes really a character in my films.
GD: Finding Timothée [Chalamet], what kind of process was that like? The movie rides on his shoulders. Everything’s sort of seen through his eyes.
LG: It has been incredibly easy, strangely enough, because to cast someone at a young age, that can carry a character through a movie like this, it’s the most difficult thing. And yet, I had the privilege of meeting Timothée when I was a producer of this film and we never met anybody else, because we met him and we said, “Oh my god, he’s fantastic.” I understood immediately the ambition of Timothée to be a great actor. His hunger for performance, his naiveté as a human being, all those elements were so great and strong for the role that when I became a director, I agreed with the choice of the producers, and we went on working with him.
GD: You knew you wanted him right from the start. You just said that he was the perfect choice. Even along the way these little surprises can happen. Where did he surprise you in terms of his performance?
LG: I was surprised every day by Timothée. I think Timothée makes choices that are always off the center, and yet, they are so pregnant with meaning. So I have to say the cast of this movie, it’s a wonderful ensemble. I am so grateful to the commitment of all of them, and I’ve been surprised by all of them in their own way. Timothée, I would say, because he’s kind of a kamikaze, with great wiseness.
GD: Right at the very beginning of the movie Armie Hammer’s character shows up to live with his family for a while. Tell us about casting him, why he was the right choice for casting his role.
LG: Armie, I’d been love with him since I saw him in “The Social Network.” This collective experience that is moviegoing is also a way to fall in love every time you watch a great actor, a great movie, a great scene, and for me, the twins he played in that film were astonishing. I believed they were two actors until I knew it was one actor and the artistry of him and Mr. [David] Fincher. I followed Armie’s career. I watched him in every movie he made. I was particularly drawn by his portrait of the lover of Edgar Hoover in “J. Edgar.” I found that his take on “The Lone Ranger” was fantastic. I actually am a big fan of that film. So when I became the director of the movie, not the producer anymore but the director and the producer, I immediately thought of Armie and I sent him the script.
GD: And Michael Stuhlbarg, nobody’s having a bigger career than him right now, in almost every movie that you see. He’s got nice little moments through this movie but boy what a powerhouse of an ending.
LG: Michael is a great actor, because he’s a great human being. He is a man of great humbleness and dedication and artistry. He is like an artisan. He’s someone like the one who makes the clock, the watches, and he’s working on the minutiae of the mechanisms. It’s so wonderful watching him work. He becomes the character, and he builds time after time, the mechanism of this character. So I’ve been always willing to work with him, and again, it was very easy. I sent the script, he read the script, he said yes.
GD: The movie’s set in 1983. Of course you have a wonderful score. The score that you’ve got in the movie is great, but picking some of the songs that you did from that early ‘80s period, what was the process like?
LG: “Love My Way” by The Psychedelic Furs was in the script, because I wanted an anthem. I wanted a hymn. Something that could become immediate for Oliver to recognize as an urge for himself to burst out in an energetic dance that could express his need to express himself. The rest of the piece of musics were chosen by being as much as precise in the time and the place, so we went through research. We made a lot of research on what were the songs at the time that was meaningful to that moment, and we worked with Robin Urdang, music supervisor, which I’m working with since “Bigger Splash.” We did three movies back to back. She’s wonderful and we cleared the rights for the songs. I also wanted some piano music to be a comment to the scenes, and I wanted to work with Sufjan Stevens, the great Sufjan Stevens, this incredible American artist, who has become one of the highest songwriter, singer and poet in the American canon. I thought it was going to be difficult but in fact, I was lucky because we spoke. We spoke a few times. We spoke about the characters, we spoke about the movie, and a few weeks into shooting the film he came back to me and he sent me three songs. One was a remix of “Futile Devices,” and then two songs were new songs that he wrote for us, that are so beautiful.
GD: Yeah, used so well in this movie. So excited you’re such a film fan, I didn’t realize that headed into the interview. You mentioned several of the directors and movies that you’ve enjoyed over the years. If you had to name, say, three or four American films that would be at the very top of your list that you’ve ever watched, what would be some of those movies?
LG: I will name titles that come to my mind now, even though those titles are not compared to the list of names I would like to mention, but out of improvisation I would say “Sunrise” by [F.W.] Murnau, “Some Like It Hot” by Billy Wilder, “Psycho” by Alfred Hitchcock and “The Age of Innocence” by Martin Scorsese, and “Empire of the Sun” of Mr. [Steven] Spielberg. But many, many more, of course.
GD: You and your friends and family, do you get together and really watch movies that way? You dissect them, you want to figure them out in terms of how they worked?
LG: My partner is a filmmaker and he’s a cinephile like me so we have the privilege of watching movies together all the time and do what you just described, yes. We do.
GD: Isn’t that the great joy of being able to do that all your life, even before you were a filmmaker and then to be in this business?
LG: It’s my air. If I was fish, it was my water. It’s my bread and butter. I can’t live without cinema and I can’t live without the enjoyment of watching films and being inspired by them. I think that the vision of life that you get through cinema is so powerful to me, that it is what I am.
GD: Well you’ve contributed to that this year. You’ve brought us such a vibrant movie that everybody, I think, as they get to theaters is gonna really, really enjoy.
LG: Thank you. Thank you so much.