In Cyrano, director Joe Wright found his first opportunity to direct a musical, bringing both intimacy and scope to the adaptation of Erica Schmidt’s 2018 stage musical of the same name, which was itself based on the classic 1897 play Cyrano de Bergerac by Edmond Rostand.
While Wright had fallen in love with the story of Cyrano as a teenager, he’d come to consider making his own version after seeing Peter Dinklage and Haley Bennett perform in a Connecticut staging of Schmidt’s play. “There was something very immediate and authentic about the intimacy of that relationship that I thought we could translate cinematically,” he said Saturday on a panel with the film’s stars Bennett and Kelvin Harrison Jr at Deadline’s Contenders Film: New York.
The musical romantic drama from MGM and United Artists Releasing is centered on Cyrano de Bergerac (Dinklage), a wordsmith who falls in love with a woman named Roxanne (Bennett) but is too self-conscious to pursue her. After discovering that she has feelings for Christian (Harrison), Cyrano decides to aid him by writing love letters for him to send to Roxanne.
Wright noted that he developed Cyrano for film over the course of two or three years, seeing the project come to fruition over the course of the Covid-19 pandemic. “After four or five months of having been starved of human connection, I finally got the script at a point I was happy with, and here was a movie about the importance of human connection, and our often failure to connect,” said the director. “I felt it was important to make this film now, for myself personally, but also to reconnect with crews who hadn’t been able to put food on the table, and [to allow] audiences to reconnect with each other.”
He added that in the end, the process of making the film “became quite a mission of love and human connection,” also touching on what drew him to shoot in the Sicilian town of Noto (“the canoli”) and the experience of shooting war scenes at active volcano Mount Etna, which he called “one of the silliest decisions of my career.” After setting cameras and sets up in “very thin” air at 16,000 feet, snow forced the crew to head downhill, there completing scenes with “just a camera and tripod.” Ultimately, the volcano also “erupted,” and Wright remembers the day well as “the date we nearly all died.”
Bennett touched on the process of recalibrating her performance for the screen, and the fact that all of the film’s songs were recorded live on set. “What gave me comfort was that we’re not singers, and we weren’t trying to sing perfectly. This isn’t a Broadway-esque musical…We embraced the flaws, and the humanness of the voice,” she said. “I loved how the music and dialogue are very fluid and it felt very naturalistic, so I didn’t have to sound like Adele, which I never could.”
Harrison spoke, for his part, to his excitement about getting to share the screen with Bennett and Dinklage in a studio film from Wright, and about his interest in playing a “sincere,” “sweet” boy who was “happy to be there” after working on a number of “sad boy movies.” He also touched on the joy of bringing the film’s songs to life, and his efforts to find “a new way” to approach the character of Christian.
The film scripted by Schmidt features an original score and songs by Aaron and Bryce Dessner, with lyrics by Matt Berninger and Carin Besser. Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner and Guy Heeley produced it with Schmidt, Berninger, Besser, Aaron Dessner, Sarah-Jane Robinson, Sheeraz Shah, and Lucas Webb exec producing. It premiered at Telluride and will hit theaters in Los Angeles on December 17, expanding to select theaters nationwide January 21.
Check out the panel video above.
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