Danièle and Christopher Thompson • Creators and co-directors of Bardot
“We knew the whole thing would be built on the shoulders of a gem”
- The French mother-and-son duo explore the series format for their very first biopic, dedicated to the legendary titular actress
Icon! Dumb blonde! Emancipation figure! From the moment And Woman… Was Created hit the screens in 1956, French actress Brigitte Bardot crystallised everyone's opinions and fantasies. It was only a matter of time before her sensational destiny inspired a biopic, for which mother-and-son duo Danièle and Christopher Thompson (Orchestra Seats [+see also:
film profile], Le code a changé [+see also:
film profile]) chose to move from the big to the small screen. Showcased in the French competition at the Series Mania Festival, Bardot [+see also:
interview: Danièle and Christopher Tho…
interview: Manuel Alduy
series profile] looks set to revive “BB mania”.
Cineuropa: How did you land on Brigitte Bardot for your very first biopic?
Danièle Thompson: Our producer Pascal Breton came to us with this proposal. We read a lot of biographies and a multitude of articles. It's unbelievable how many people wrote about her, both in the tabloid press and the intellectual spheres. She obviously fascinated everyone across all spectrums. We also realised that there was a lot we didn't know about her. This all gave us the drive to jump on board.
It’s quite a jump, given that this is your first venture into the series format…
DT: We knew it would be a long road. But from the very start, we felt that the main challenge would be to find this young woman – that the whole endeavour would be built on the shoulders of a gem we would have to find. We needed a miracle to happen, and luckily it did.
How did you discover Julia de Nunez?
Christopher Thompson: “Miracle” might be too grand a word, since we met Julia through a regular casting process. As soon as we saw her tests on screen, we could feel that she embodied Brigitte Bardot without fading behind an imitation. Julia brings a whole lot of feelings with her. You can feel the unpolished innocence.
DT: And the freedom! We were looking for a bit of a resemblance, but this sense of freedom is what struck us. The way she moved, spoke and reacted was mesmerising.
CT: But a film set is where most of the magic happens, and working with her only increased our fascination. We just couldn't believe she was a newcomer to all of this. From the very first take of the very first shot, Julia was at home.
DT: And it went on. Mind you, this is not your typical shoot either. She had to work with us as a duo, but also separately, since we rotated in the director's chair.
What kinds of constraints and opportunities did you find in the transition to series?
DT: The acceleration of the production process in comparison to a film shoot was a constraint, for sure.
CT: It might be the only one, though. We found a lot of pleasure in spreading the story over six episodes, for instance. And we worked our way around the different writing process, which involved things like constructing the story around cliffhangers. Or the fact that the episodes all needed to stand on their own without losing a larger form of unity. For instance, the first episode, which focuses on Brigitte dreaming of escaping from her parents' grip, is profoundly different from the second, in which we follow the shoot for And Woman… Was Created. But the comparison between films and series varies from one culture to the next. For years now, the Americans have been developing a production method for series. No matter the quality, there is a system of showrunners and writing rooms that commands respect. And there’s no sense in comparing Bardot to their productions.
DT: Beyond the particularities of this format, what we really wanted was to write strong scenes. That's the name of the game, and it starts with the writing.
The story is set in the 1950s and 1960s, but the treatment of it feels very current. For instance, the first shot of nudity involves a man, not Bardot.
DT: That's very much intentional!
CT: Bardot was literally defined as a sex symbol. She evoked desire to many, even vice for some. But people tend to forget we've barely ever seen her naked on screen. Just a tiny bit at the end of her acting career. It felt natural to keep her dressed throughout the series – and to undress the men around her instead!
DT: Beyond that, the story is full of bridges to current ideas and issues. Abortion is one, harassment another. The series starts in the 1950s, before the sexual revolution. This girl fought against judgement and prohibition. She shook the foundations of matters that are still hot topics to this day. Sure, a lot has changed since the sixties. But not enough.
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