Around my 25th birthday, I was arrested and had to share a jail cell with Danny, a guy who tried to kill another guy with a chainsaw. But we’re not so different, Xavier Dolan and I.
Like the characters in his films, like everybody at the Chateau Marmont Restaurant—where I’m sipping a Stone IPA and waiting for Mr. Dolan, surrounded by famous folks power-lunching on galantine and ballotine and Bourguignonne—like myself, we’ve all ended up right here through a series of slapdash events, surrendering ourselves to the random nexus of the cosmos, each of us chips, say, in our own zodiacal game of Plinko.
Enter Xavier Dolan: handsome and slight, a little jetlagged. He’s been in Los Angeles for two hours, having just flown in from Stockholm and Paris. “Since Cannes in May, it’s been travels and travels and travels and press and press and press and press and press,” he says, his English laced with a Québécois lilt.
Almost immediately, we step aside for a cigarette, the smoking section quarantined off the restaurant, behind a thick damask veil. This is where we spend most of the interview.
“Your films feel very personal,” I say. “How autobiographical are you comfortable getting?”
He considers this. “All of the characters I write are made up of me and my mom and all of the people I have been looking at and watching since I was four. I’ve always been a watcher. I love to watch how people blink, smile, cry—how they shut up for a second and think, how they dress—from the most obvious mechanisms of their personality to the small, little details. It’s how I see things. Even the most despicable character in one of my movies would still speak to a part of my mind.”
We weave back to our table.
“I really want to order something to drink,” Dolan says.
I flag down the waiter.
As Dolan orders (“I’m gonna have a dry martini. Actually, a dirty martini, but not too dirty. Olive? Yes. With vodka. Thank you.”), I watch his mannerisms. He’s bent forward slightly, arms and legs gathered like the defense mechanism of a crustacean. Everything he does—rolling ash from his cigarette, buttering a slice of bread—feels deliberate, calculated. His fingernails have been chewed.
“Are you a perfectionist?”
“I’m asked that question a lot,” he says. “People are like, ‘Are you a control freak?’ But, you know, I don’t have an entire career behind me. Five movies are a lot of opportunities to learn from. I’ve made some great encounters and I’ve met great artists. But I have a vision. I love to have people’s counsel on fashion decisions, on costume design, on editing, but I love to do it myself. First, I find pleasure in doing it manually, physically. I love editing. I have this geek thing, a notion of my own rhythm, of things I like and don’t like in movies.”
“Music obviously plays an important role in your films,” I say. “Watching Mommy, I heard songs I hadn’t heard since I was a lovesick college kid.”
“Well, that’s the purpose. Bringing you back there.”
“Right, and it did. That Counting Crows song, ‘Colorblind’—gave me goose bumps.”
“You gotta know your classics, man.”
We head out for another cigarette, taking our drinks with us.
Dolan tells me, “It’s great that you mention, you know, when it brought you back to when you were some sort of mental kid, or whatever you said—sort of sick…”
“Oh, sorry. Lovesick.”
Watching Mommy was like an endurance test for me. It’s a tough film, sure, an uncompromising Oedipal drama about the meat-grinder relationship between Steve, the disturbed teen, and Diane “Die” Després, his emotionally depreciated single mother. Having personally worked at a group home for juvenile sex offenders in the deeps of Montana’s Big Belt Mountains, I can say that Dolan captured the character of Steve with unsettling precision. These are kids who’ve been labeled with poor social skills and unusual shyness and inappropriate sexualized behavior, their symptoms indexed like ingredients in paperwork and case files, kids governed by mood swing, something peristaltic, a sinusoidal bent, wearing their syndromes like shackles or the stocks and pillory of medieval humiliation. Good kids. All told, I hadn’t been so moved by a film in years.
Different paths, then: I grew up in an impoverished town of 1,200 people, moved to Los Angeles; Xavier Dolan grew up in an impoverished suburb of Montreal (“Exactly where we shot Mommy,” he says. “That’s my neighborhood. That’s the ghetto.”), started acting when he was four, became maker of award-winning films in his early 20s; and even my cellmate of yesteryear, Danny, stout and hulking and shifty-eyed—likely dead or in prison or frittering away in some rural void. And then the kids in the group home—those 12- and 13-year-olds popping Thorazine or Abilify twice a day, marginalized, stigmatized—kids like Steve, like me, you. Different paths, then.
Xavier Dolan kisses me on both cheeks, un bec, and I take off. Driving across town, I wonder, briefly, where I could eventually end up, years down the line: New York, Tokyo, a modest home in Middle America.
Before leaving, I asked Xavier Dolan how he occupies his time between projects.
“I wait,” he told me. “I’m waiting.”
Photographer: Dani Brubaker for art-dept.com. Stylist: Zoe Costello for themagnetagency.com. Groomer: Kristen Shaw for JedRoot.com using Oribe Hair Care.
Printed shirt by Dries Van Noten and Pants by Louis Vuitton.
Jacket by Burberry PRORSUM and printed button-up Shirt by Topman design.
Jacket by Burberry PRORSUM and printed button-up shirt by Topman design.
Cashmere jacquard sweater, poplin regimental stripe shirt, and leather belt by Prada, Jeans by Nudie Jeans Co. from Traffic, L.A., and Shoes by Burberry.