With 'Wild,' deja vu for 'Dallas Buyers' director

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Posted: Sep 09, 2014 5:02 PM
With 'Wild,' deja vu for 'Dallas Buyers' director

TORONTO (AP) — You can imagine big-name actors queuing outside Jean-Marc Vallee's door: "Mr. Vallee, may I please have a McConaissance, too?"

Though a relatively new name to moviegoers, the Quebecois filmmaker has quickly established himself as a sought-after actor's director. A year after premiering "Dallas Buyer Club" at the Toronto International Film Festival, Vallee is back with another movie likely be a constant on the awards circuit, also led by a veteran actor achieving career renewal.

In "Wild," Reese Witherspoon stars as Cheryl Strayed, who chronicled her journey on the Pacific Crest Trail in her best-selling memoir of the same name. Freshly divorced and pained by the death of her mother (Laura Dern in the film), Strayed was ill-prepared for her long hike but found an emotional catharsis in the wilderness. The film has already drawn acclaim that's likely to propel it into the Oscars, particularly for Witherspoon's unadorned performance.

"It's deja vu," said Valle, chuckling, in an interview. "Here I am again, almost in the same situation with an actress who got out of her comfort zone, just like McConaughey did."

The 51-year-old Montreal director had made several features, including the 2009 British monarchy drama "The Young Victoria," before the Oscar-winning sensation of "Dallas Buyers Club." But with its award-winning performances from McConaughey and Jared Leto, "Dallas Buyers Club" made Vallee a hotly pursued director.

What gives Vallee his Midas touch with actors? More than anything, it's his naturalistic approach to filmmaking.

He shoots with hand-held cameras and gives his cast freedom to improvise the script and roam in a scene's location. "Wild," which Fox Searchlight will release Dec. 5, was shot up and down the Pacific Coast Trail with a makeup-less Witherspoon lugging her own 45 pound (21 kilogram) backpack.

"They can move anywhere they want," says Vallee of his actors. "It's giving the importance to storytelling, emotion, characters. I try not to interfere too much. I don't need to cut performances. Often, the cinematographer and I were like, 'This location sucks. It's not very nice. But, hey, that's life.'"

Vallee's reputation is quickly growing. Witherspoon, who had bought the rights to Strayed's book, heard of Vallee's work on "Dallas Buyers Club" before it was released because her husband, Jim Toth, is McConaughey's agent. Next week Vallee begins production on "Demolition," in which Jake Gyllenhaal plays an investment banker distraught by the death of his wife.

"We did it with 'Dallas,' with 'Wild' and I'm doing it next with 'Demolition' — shooting the same way with no grip crew, natural light only," says Vallee. "Actors don't have to hit a spot or feel the heat of a spot. There's no spot. There's just practical light. There's the sun outside."

With three films in quick succession — "Dallas Buyers Club," ''Wild" and "Demolition" — Vallee has kept his momentum going. He laughs that he's on a Woody Allen-like pace of a film a year, and he sheepishly confesses he has a not-yet-announced film lined up after "Demolition."

It's deja vu all over again.

"Be prepared to see me next year in September," says Vallee. "We'll have this same discussion."

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Follow AP Film Writer Jake Coyle on Twitter at: http://twitter.com/jakecoyleAP