Canadian filmmaker Xavier Dolan has made the “extremely difficult decision” to cut Jessica Chastain’s character from his English-language debut, The Death and Life of John F. Donovan. The Cannes Jury Prize and Grand Prize winner posted a lengthy explanation on Instagram om Sunday night about removing Chastain from the drama, saying it was “editorial and narrative” and has “nothing to do with a performance.”
Chastain later posted to her own Instagram, “Darlings there’s some #johnfdonovan news. Don’t worry, I was informed in advance of this letter. This has been handled with the utmost respect and love.”
Dolan is the 28-year-old Quebecois filmmaker who’s been winning awards since his Cannes debut at age 20 with I Killed My Mother in Directors’ Fortnight. Since then, he’s been prolific with films premiering in Cannes or Venice. He was last on the Riviera with 2016’s It’s Only the End of the World about a young playwright who returns home to tell his family he’s dying. The movie took the Grand Prize two years after his first appearance in competition with Mommy, which won the Jury Prize.
John F. Donovan, which stars Kit Harrington, Jacob Tremblay, Natalie Portman, Bella Thorne, Sara Gadon, Thandie Newton, Susan Sarandon, Ben Schnetzer, Kathy Bates and Chris Zylka among the large ensemble, has been a while coming together. Dolan notes he has “dedicated every day” to the film and the editing process since May. At one point, he thought he’d be ready for a fall release, but that did not come to pass. The most recent cut, he says in the Instagram post, was more than four hours long.
The movie is set a decade after the death of the eponymous American TV star (Harrington), as young actor Rupert Turner (Tremblay) recollects his relationship with his past idol over the course of an interview. A Lyla Films production, it’s sold overseas by Séville International. EOne has Canadian distribution.
Chastain was to play a villainous character, but the subplot ultimately “didn’t feel like it belonged to the rest of the story,” the filmmaker told his 594K followers. He said he is “beyond happy” with John F. Donovan but allowed “no sacrifice is impossible, no compromise is unthinkable, on the way to tell the story you love.”
He called Chastain “a terrific actress, a politically engaged artist … who relentlessly champions the causes she believes in. She is respected by her peers, and beloved by her public. I am disappointed that we didn’t get to reveal the exciting things we crafted together on this one adventure, but life is long, and missed opportunities almost always bode of even greater future collaborations.”
Here are Dolan and Chastain’s posts:
Darlings there's some #johnfdonovan news. Don't worry, I was informed in advance of this letter. This has been handled with the upmost respect and love. @xavierdolan – I am always impressed with your true committment to telling a story. To be an artist in each moment, you move beyond past ideas and expectations. I love you dearly and look forward to our future collaborations in life and art. 💖 repost from @xavierdolan Please bare with me and read. Perhaps not the news you were waiting for, but something I had to tell you nonetheless. I will have other kind of information over the next few weeks. Please don’t doubt my eagerness to share The Death and Life of John F. Donovan with you. – XD