Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets is a Luc Besson adaptation of the French comic series “Valerian and Laureline” by Pierre Christin and artist Jean-Claude Mézières. The film stars Dane DeHaan and Cara Delevingne (who previously worked together in Tulip Fever.) Our Silas Lesnick lived blogged the panel today, and we attended the press conference with DeHaan, Delevingne, Besson and producer Virginie Besson-Silla. We learned about the process, how Besson got involved with the title in the first place, what advice Besson had for his actors, and working with blue screen.
Here’s the official info for the film: “Valerian (Dane DeHaan) and Laureline (Cara Delevingne) are special operatives for the government of the human territories charged with maintaining order throughout the universe. Valerian has more in mind than a professional relationship with his partner, blatantly chasing after her with propositions of romance. But his extensive history with women and her traditional values drive Laureline to continuously rebuff him.”
Besson explained that these comic books were a huge influence on him as a younger person. “I didn’t have internet at the time, so my only internet was Valerian,” he said. “I know Valerian very well. I can guide myself when I hire actors and actresses.” He said DeHaan and Delevingne were perfect for the Valerian and Laureline roles, and “really fit with them,” but he had to be sure they had the passion of the roles. He said he made the right choice. “They are amazing to work with. The last day of shooting, I cried so much!”
Delevingne first joked that Besson didn’t have advice for them on their roles, but then explained he really let them discover who their characters were by themselves. At the first reading, she said, “you could just feel it.” DeHaan said he was on set for about a week, talking to Besson about “what he wanted and who he thought Valerian really was.” He said it was an “unspoken exploration.” When he got it right, Besson let him know, “and slowly, Valerian was born. But in the end we had this language, to make the characters come to life.” Besson explained that he put most of the action scenes and the big set pieces towards the second half of shooting to let the actors spend time with their characters and relationships at the beginning.
Besson-Silla, it was revealed, was not a huge fan of sci-fi, but “loved the joy there was in the script, how colorful it was. And also the relationship between Valerian and Laureline. I think anyone can relate to it,” she said. In terms of working as a married couple, Besson explained that they’ve actually been working together for “17 or 18 years, and that this is the fifth film,” they’ve done together. “We’ve learned to respect each other’s heart,” Besson said. Besson-Silla added, “I think I can see easily what is in his head.” They were hesitant to work together at first, but said it worked out well.
DeHaan said that Besson’s vision is what is driving the film. He spent “two or three years” working with designers before production started. “I’m a big fan of Star Wars and all this stuff as a movie goer, but when I create a thing by myself,” he said, he doesn’t pay attention to the process. He worked with people from China, Brazil and France, including “eight designers and each crazier than the next.” The designers creations “sometimes defied belief.” Delevingne gushed over the pre-production materials and the design of the film.
DeHaan talked about the chemistry between he and Delevingne, saying it was “kind of there from the start. In a lot of ways, it was just fun…to just joke around with each other. Cara is so much fun to be around. She’s just full of life and has a really kind of quirky personality. Whereas I’m someone who can take themselves too seriously almost all the time.” He said Delevingne kept him laughing. “When we met there was this fun, serious-when-it-had-to-be relationship.”
He also talked about doing the physical training, “It’s a lot of what it’s about. You make a film like this an you have to look like someone who can save the universe. So the training, for me, was a huge part. Not only how I looked physically, but the mentality going into each day.” He said he’d work out every morning to get into the mindset of the character. “It made me able to do what was asked of me. Valerian is a great soldier—so it was important that I got stronger and faster in the process.” Delevingne talked about the history of “ass-kicking female characters” in Besson’s filmography and said it was, “one of the most incredible experiences I’ve had in my life, but definitely the most daunting.”
In terms of working with so much blue screen, she said that she very often asked DeHaan for help. He explained that working with it is like “[going] back to imaginations from when we were all kids. Sci-fi, whatever, comic book-kinds of movies, they’re such a great way to back to playing…” He said, “That’s all there is, your costume and your imagination.” He explained that there is something freeing about the process and letting yourself go.
An audience member asked about working with Chinese actor Kris Wu, and Besson laughed. He said, “He’s playing a captain in the army,” and that he’s “a good guy. The only problem shooting with him is having all these12-year-old Chinese girls screaming at him.
Make sure to check out Silas’ report from the panel! Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets will hit theaters on July 21, 2017. Stay tuned for more reports from San Diego Comic-Con 2016!