The Intouchables: interview with co-director Éric Toledano

Éric Toledano, Olivier Nakache, and Omar Sy on the set of ‘The Intouchables’. Courtesy Alliance Films.

The Intouchables is a wildly funny and extremely touching French film about an ex-con from the projects hired to be the personal assistant to a wealthy quadriplegic. Based on a true story, the film has a perfect mix of humour and emotion and is riveting to watch as the relationship between the two men unfolds. It’s no surprise the film connected with audiences and became the second most successful French film of all time upon its release in Europe. It was also named the cultural event of 2011 in France, and earned lead actor Omar Sy the Best Actor award at the 2012 Césars, beating out Jean Dujardin from The Artist, and making Sy the first black actor to ever win the award. Although it might get lost among in the summer blockbuster shuffle, it is truly one of the greatest movies ever made and deserves to be seen.

Bamcat.com spoke with co-director and co-writer Éric Toledano about the film, the reception it has received, and the planned American remake. Read our Q&A below.

How did you come upon the story The Intouchables is based?

Eric Toledano: It was the documentary A la vie, à la mort. It depicted this relationship between these two guys and we found it moving and humourous. It had every ingredient in it you needed to build a good script and make a good movie. It was love at first sight with the subject.

Was it easy to translate the story into a film?

ET: We spent a year writing the screenplay to meet the expectations of the true people that inspired the movie. The subject was amazing for us.

And were the real people into the idea of this film being made?

ET: We were not the first to ask the rights. But we were lucky because they loved our work. They asked that we make it a comedy and that it would not be a parody but a real comedic story.

Did you have François Cluzet and Omar Sy in mind for the roles from the beginning?

ET: Not François, to be honest. We made a movie with Omar before and wrote this especially for him. If he said no the movie would probably not exist today. For François it was different. He’s one of the bigger actors in France so we were very pleased when he said yes.

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How difficult was it to direct François as a quadriplegic?

ET: We just told him to do nothing and play with his eyes. The eyes were his instrument. If you see the poster for the movie you’ll see that we show the eyes and a special look that he has. When we showed the movie to Philippe Pozzo di Borgo, the man who inspired the character, he had beautiful words about François and said, ‘Since my accident I avoid looking in the mirror because it’s not very nice to see a broken guy in the mirror. When I saw your movie, I saw my look and it has been a long time since I’ve seen my eyes.’ It was the best compliment you could ever make to an actor.

Were you surprised at how the film exploded in France and the response it got?

ET: It was impossible to think about this kind of reaction. You can do two- or three-million admission in France and you are a big success. But $90 million… it’s so preposterous and you can’t imagine it. We’re very proud and happy that the reception of the movie is so great.

Are you involved with the American remake at all?

ET: Not really. We just met with Paul Feig, who did Bridesmaids, and he’s going to direct it. We keep in touch with Harvey Weinstein who told us they approached Colin Firth, who is a great choice for the movie. And that’s really all our involvement. We’re trying to get out from the movie now and get another project going [laughs].

Do you have any interest in doing a Hollywood movie?

ET: We’re interested in working with anglo saxon actors but don’t really want to work in the Hollywood system. We are very free in Europe. We have the final cut, the final decision, and no one can fire us during the shooting. Now that we have this international success we’d love to work with American actors in Europe. Everything is open now and we have to make a good choice.

Watch the trailer for The Intouchables below.

Top image: Éric Toledano, Olivier Nakache, and Omar Sy on the set of ‘The Intouchables’. Courtesy Alliance Films.

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