Directed by Céline Sciamma, Tomboy centers on Laure (Zoé Héran), a 10-year-old girl who, after moving to a new neighbourhood with her parents and younger sister, pretends to be a boy to make friends, unaward of the hurt she’s causing along the way.
When HeyUGuys had the chance to speak to its director last week, we grilled her about Tomboy’s inspiration, her inspired casting choices and what the glowing response means to her.
HeyUGuys: Hello Celine. First of all, I’d like to say a huge congratulations on Tomboy.
Céline Sciamma: Thank you.
I saw it earlier this year at the Edinburgh International Film Festival and was bowled over by its low-key approach and refreshingly open and honest take on a topic that’s not often explored in cinema.
Well, you pitch it very well – you don’t need my words [laughs].
What was your initial inspiration behind Tomboy?
Well, you know. I mean, I don’t remember exactly how I came up with that story because it was a few years ago. I guess the basic premise stemmed from my interest in the subject surrounding sexual identity – and because it was such a great opportunity that had so many layers that made it perfect for a thriller.
What is it about the topics of identity and sexuality that interest you so much?
I just can’t help it. I think it’s part of who I am and my personal journey, but then it’s also just great material for cinema. When you think about it, a lot of films surround the theme of identity , but it’s also topics that’s never really been fully explored that much, especially in relation to girls’ sexuality. There’s also the excitement of writing something that hasn’t been written so many times before.
What was the writing process for Tomboy like?
Well, the writing process was really special because I wrote the movie very fast, in about three weeks. The movie was made with a very special energy because from when I decided to make a movie to when we came to shoot, there was only about four months in between to write, cast, etc. I really tried to make a thriller, with great storytelling and lots of suspense, but one that was also really simple and impressionable. The script was very sharp and accurate, so there wasn’t the need for much improvisation
Do you prefer working to a tight schedule or would you rather have longer to put a film together?
I designed the whole project around that timescale, but I guess it depends on the film. I’m really glad I did it that way, but obviously the next project – whether it be a biopic or a historical drama – could call for a longer production schedule.
In both Tomboy and Water Lillies the focus is on children and their struggles growing up, finding themselves and their sexualities. Do you find it easier writing for children and, in turn, to work with child actors?
Well, I don’t know if it’s easier because I haven’t worked with grown-ups yet. I think, to do fiction, you have to write about what you know and what you’ve been through, which always you to bring distance between yourself and the material. I also like the fact that, being a rookie and working with younger actors, I could invent my method. Whereas if you work with more experienced, established actors you’re not able to be as free and inventive with your approach.
Did you have any say behind the casting of Zoé Héran?
As I told you, the process was very quick, so I didn’t have the time to hunt around to find the perfect little girl. I just went into a casting agency and I spread the word that I was looking for a tomboy and Zoé seemed to fit that bill, so I met her right away. In fact, the first day of casting she came in and amazed me. I mean, I was totally fascinated with her face and I could definitely see that she was a good actress.
Did she inhabit the role quickly and to your liking?
Well, yes. I mean, she connected with the part from the beginning. When I told her the story I could immediately see that she knew what I was talking about.
Your last two films have been directed from your own screenplays. Would you ever consider directing someone else’s work?
Well, you know, I’ve had scripts that have been sent to me but they’ve always been too similar to what I’ve been doing. I’d prefer for someone to send me, for example, a sci-fi film. But yeah, I would always consider it.
Do you have any project you’re currently working on?
No, not right now. Tomboy’s been a full-time job. I’ll hopefully get back to writing very soon.
Have you been pleased by the response to Tomboy?
Yes. It’s been an amazing surprise. I mean, it’s been bought by over thirty countries, so it’s really going everywhere. Each time it’s released, I get frightened about how audiences will respond, but the feedback has been amazing so far.
Are there any filmmakers or writers you drew inspiration from as you became more and more interested in the film industry?
David Lynch, Steven Spielberg, and also French films from the 1990’s, which is when I really started to take notice and become a true cinephile.
All that’s left to say is thank you very much indeed for your time, and I wish you the best of luck with Tomboy. It really does deserve all the positive attention it’s been receiving. Goodbye.
Tomboy is in U.K. cinemas now. Read my review from the Edinburgh International Film Festival here.