Michel Hazanavicius on Making ‘The Artist’

The director of the critically-acclaimed new silent (!) film explains why he almost made it in 3D, and wonders which modern actors could have made it in the silent era.

Fred Topelby Fred Topel


With all the big holiday movies coming out, we pay attention to a little one with a big difference. The Artist is a French film opening in limited release but it’s very memorable. You won’t have to read any subtitltes for French because The Artist has no dialogue at all. It’s a silent film. Director Michel Hazanavicius made a film about the transition from silent films to talkies, in the style of the old silent films. When he visited L.A. I got to ask him a few questions about silent movies.


CraveOnline: Any time a movie does well, Hollywood copies it. Do you hope that if ‘The Artist’ does well, they’ll make a whole spat of silent movies like the 3D movement?

Michel Hazanavicius: No. I think Hollywood is more clever than what you think. I’m not sure they would do it. I don’t think so but maybe I’m wrong. Actually, when we were doing the preparation of the movie, we didn’t have all the money so we were looking for all the solutions imaginable. 3D was one option because all over the world there’s a lot of distributors that have the equipment for 3D but they don’t have the movies really. Only Hollywood sends 3D movies so here was an option. All of them said, “If you have a 3D movie, we’ll buy it” because they want it. I thought about it for maybe two weeks, I really thought of a silent black and white 3D movie. I thought it could be great actually. Really, it could be great. I really imagined that very special images, very new images but fortunately I didn’t have to do it.


What modern actors would you like to see have to hone their physical chops if they had to work without dialogue?

It’s not a question of person. It’s a question I think, and I’m not a specialist for that, the culture of acting. Robert DeNiro who is maybe the greatest living actor, usually he has a way to act which is very stone faced, like Steve McQueen for example. Steve McQueen, if you cut the sound, you don’t know what he’s acting really. But that gives to the lines, to the text, something very special. He’s very good. He was a great actor, but to do a silent movie you have to have some more expressive actors. If you see John Goodman or Jean Dujardin, they’re very expressive. When they talk you can feel what it’s about without forcing it. I didn’t ask them to do some pantomime. They didn’t mime the sequence, that’s not what I asked them.


How do you think Leonardo DiCaprio or George Clooney would cut it?

I guess George Clooney would be a wonderful silent actor. I don’t know, Leonardo DiCaprio is such a wonderful actor that he could certainly do it because I know he’s working so much. I guess he could do that.


Are any of your other movies anything like this?

Oh, I think there’s something in common with OSS 117. The big difference is there’s no irony in this one. It’s not parody. I tried to make it very simple, a simple story which is very complex to be simple. In the way it’s done, usually when you do a period movie you just recreate what you are shooting. You don’t recreate the way you shoot it. I think I did the same thing here that I did in the OSS 117 movie. I recreate the way to shoot that period. To me there’s no sense of doing a steadicam shot in the ‘20s because you have never seen the ‘20s like that, so you can’t believe there was a steadicam in the ‘20s. I think it’s the continuity of OSS 117 in a way, but without irony.