When Brit theater veterans Declan Donnellan and Nick Ormerod were approached by “The Full Monty” producer Uberto Pasolini to direct a film version of 19th century novelist Guy de Maupassant’s “Bel Ami,” it was as if all their Christmas wishes had come true at once.
“It’s a novel that we’ve always wanted to do a feature about,” said theater director-writer Donnellan, whose stage credits include “King Lear” and “The School for Scandal.”
“It’s a completely modern theme about fame and corruption in which a man discovers the way to power is through the women in Paris,” he said. “It’s all about fame and money made in a world in which women have a lot of influence.”
“Bel Ami,” which premieres in Berlin on Friday and boasts a stellar cast including Robert Pattinson, Christina Ricci, Kristin Scott Thomas and Uma Thurman, is the duo’s first feature.
Donnellan and theater designer Ormerod co-founded international legit company Cheek By Jowl where they have co-produced a number of plays including “The Changeling” and “Cymbeline.”
“What was really ususual is that we worked as two directors on the ‘Bel Ami’ but brought very separate skills to the table,” Ormerod said. “I dealt mainly with space, like theater and site-specific space, whereas Declan talked to and directed the actors most of the time.”
Donnellan admits the experience was a rewarding one. “I learned something new here but there are, of course, a lot of parallels between film and theater,” he said.
“What is absolutely the same is that you’re bottling life in both theater and film. It’s the life in the shot that matters and in stage, you produce that every night whereas in film, it has to be bottled. But we took to it like a duck to water.”
The €9 million ($11.8 million) pic, produced by Simon Fuller’s 19 Entertainment and sold by London-based Protagonist Films, finished shooting two years ago and some have wondered why it has taken such a long time to hit the bigscreen.
“We have a version now that all of us are extremely happy with,” said Donnellan. “It has taken a long time because it’s a huge story. It was ready to go last August but due to some of the actors’ schedules, we’ve had to wait to launch the film so we get their full support.”
And while the duo have yet to decide what their next feature will be, they say they definitely want to return to the medium.
“We’re dying to make another film and both of us came alive when we were making ‘Bel Ami,’ ” said Donnellan. “It gave us enormous oxygen and energy and we’re still tripping on it.”