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October 1999
Anderson Turns Back Time
by Gérard Delorme

(This is the English translation -- originally written in French)

Terence Davies is shooting 'The House of Mirth', with Gillian Anderson, an adaptation of Edith Wharton's novel. It is one of the biggest British productions of the year (after 'James Bond').

Terence Davies doesn't watch TV that much. If he chose Gillian Anderson as the lead for 'The House of Mirth', whose shooting ended this summer in Glasgow, it's not for her role in The X-Files - the English director has never seen an episode before - but because she has, like all the other actors staring in the movie, a face which calls the beginning of the Century to mind. With its hundreds of extras in costumes, his solid sets, and his impressive casting, 'The House of Mirth' is Terence Davies' most important project : he is best known for his intimist miniatures ('The Neon Bible' 1994). Yet, even before Martin Scorcese directed 'The Age of Innocence', another novel by Edith Wharton, Terence Davies already thought of adapting 'The House of Mirth', the history of Lily's Bart -- a young woman to be married, in a world of civilized rapacious -- tragic destiny. The director is very excited by the novel's modernity, which deals with the excessive importance given to beauty and money : "what makes stardom today is n't how talented you are, but how fuckable you are. It is what is the most ephemeral though : beauty goes away and senses dull." Another important theme for Davies is the instinct of destruction : "this pulsion finds its roots in desire. We want to destroy what we cannot have. That's what the English press does by destroying stars just after launching them. That's also what happens to Lily Bart when she refuses to her rich pretendants."

After looking in vain in New York, Baltimore and Philadelphia for practical and economical shooting conditions, the production finally found them in Glasgow. We are in the big room of Glasgow's natural sciences museum, which stands for the hall of New York's central train station. One is getting ready to shoot the scene where Lawrence Selden (Eric Stoltz) meets Lily Bart (Gillian Anderson) when she gets out of the train. Terence Davies is everywhere at the same time. Right now, he is checking the lean of a group of young girls' sunshades at the millimeter. In the monitor, it's a stunning beginning for a shot.

Some of the effects are done with virtual imagery, in particular a scene where Gillian Anderson walks in front of a train with New York behind her. This is always a difficult thing to do, in particular with an anamorphic shot. Yet Remi Adafarasin, who was nominated at the Oscars for his work in 'Elizabeth' is serene. He's only worried by the director's propension to frame the characters at the center.

Davies asks for reharsals as much as needed, always giving very precise indications : the left hand has to be 3 centimeters nearer to the knee, the chin has to be down when pronouncing a specific word, etc... It is sometimes exhausting, but everybody enjoys working in these conditions : the actors, because it is a very prestigious movie -- though they agreed to star in it for salaries much lower than what they are used to have ; technicians because everything is prepared with a lot of application and because the director knows what he wants. There is a calm and trustfull atmosphere. When Davies his happy with a shot, he bursts with joy et screams bravo. And everyone here is happy...

Transcript provided and translated by Mels and appears courtesy of Premiere.

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