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Double or nothing: Denis Villeneuve

INTERVIEW. French Canadian Villeneuve goes two for one in Enemy, his adaptation of the José Saramago novel The Double. Jake Gyllenhaal does a double take, playing two different roles for the same film. Enemy hits Berlin cinemas May 22.

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French Canadian director Denis Villeneuve goes double or nothing in Enemy, his adaptation of the José Saramago novel The Double.

Villeneuve’s work often deals with the point at which emotionally experienced violence seeks and finds a physical outlet. In Enemy, he goes out even further on a hairy, tentacled limb, exploring the doppelgänger motif as a visualisation of our need to control essentially destructive tendencies.

How was it to adapt Saramago’s The Double for the screen?

There are a lot of differences. I never met Saramago – and I never will. He’s dead now. But I think that the best way to respect an author is to be very honest about the way you adapt his work: to totally destroy the original and make it your own. So in a way, the movie has nothing to do with the book – and from another point of view, it’s very close to it.

You’ve got Jake Gyllenhaal playing one character and two roles.

I’ve used special effects in some movies. But not that much. I’d never ask an actor to play against a tennis ball. The thing about all this complex technology, this complex way of acting and dealing with space, is that if the actor is not good, you don’t believe it. You believe it because Jake is fantastic.

Did you know him before you worked with him on this?

I didn’t know Jake before. I knew the actor. I had a lot of admiration for what he did. Some of his movies are landmark movies – Brokeback Mountain is a movie that deeply touched me. I was aware of his talent. But I didn’t know that we’d get that close. It was my dream to find that relationship. I was very lucky. He could have been an asshole. But if it had been different, I would have shot the film differently. It’s just that I found someone who had a strong intelligence, a lot of creativity and a beautiful vision of the character. It’s always good for a director to follow the actor instead of telling him where to go. I love that.

So your working environment was more collaborative than in your previous films?

I love chaos. It makes me comfortable when it’s chaotic. In my previous movies, I was more like a dictator. But I’ve realised that the more movies I do, the more I like to share creativity, to take strength from the other crew members. I choose my director of photography (DP) carefully because I’ll give him a lot of freedom and power on the set. I need a brother. I need someone who has no ego and will be there just for the project. I always have a strong relationship with my DP on set and I was looking for the same thing with the actor: someone with whom to share creativity and give space. It was a risk.

How did you come up with the use of spiders as a metaphor?

I was looking for a perfect image that would say something specific about sexuality and the subconscious of a man. For me, it was the perfect image. Now, I won’t explain it. It’s more fun to not explain it, by far. Before, when I used images like this and was questioned about it, I felt pressured to give answers. Not anymore. I think it’s perfect to leave this open to interpretation. I could answer but it’s more interesting to see the impact of this image on your imagination through the story. I think it’s more powerful to let it go.

Enemy opens in Berlin cinemas on May 22. Check our OV search engine for showtimes.