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Director Patrice Leconte on ''My Best Friend''

With his comedy winning new admirers in the U.S., the French filmmaker talks to EW.com about being drawn to the theme of strangers connecting, and how his work translates to American audiences

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The charming French comedy My Best Friend (Mon Meilleur Ami) was already a huge smash in its homeland, and now it’s working its magic on American audiences as well. In its opening weekend, it boasted the second-highest per-theater average of any film in release, behind only Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. In the movie, a misanthropic antiques dealer has 10 days to produce his nonexistent best bud, or else he loses a pricey new urn he’s just bought. The result is bitingly funny and also unexpectedly moving. We talked to the film’s writer/director, Patrice Leconte, about his latest film.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Your two costars, Daniel Auteuil and Dany Boon, had just starred together in The Valet (La Doublure) when they shot My Best Friend, but they didn’t really work together that much. Did it seem like they already had a working relationship?
PATRICE LECONTE: They were in the same film but they had no scenes together, and they had actually never physically met until they made My Best Friend. And something really interesting happened during the shooting of the film. I was lucky enough to be able to shoot it in chronological order, and the two men became real friends in real life during the course of the shooting. So that’s at least one good reason for having made the film; I helped create a true friendship.

So many of your films focus on two-person relationships. What intrigues you so much about that?
It’s true that I really like to trigger encounters between people. A film-studies student who was studying my work brought something up about two months ago which really rang true. He said nine out of ten of your films stage characters who did not know each other prior to the film and their meeting happens before our eyes. And what was interesting was that I was not at all aware of this. And as it so happens, when the student brought this up, I was writing a new film which was again about two characters meeting for the first time. But I think that also has to do with a personal obsession of mine, which is the pleasure I have in encounters. At least when I stop making movies I know I can do something else, and that’s sort of a meetings club.

Several reviews of the film have talked about how classically French the story is. Do you think the movie would work if it were in English and took place in the U.S.?
I think that the theme of the film is totally universal: friendship is a very universal feeling, even moreso than love. But of course, the film is very French and very proud of being French, but maybe it triggers a sense of exoticism in American audiences. And we’ll see, because a remake is actually in preproduction [by Univeral Pictures and producer Brian Grazer], if the charm remains the same when it becomes American.

When you signed on to the film there already was a script, but you made some alterations to it. What changed specifically?
We kept the beginning of the film — what sets about the whole unfolding of the story. And then we rewrote the rest of it in our style and tried to turn it into a more human film, a film that’s truer and lighter. Because the premise of betting, saying ”I’m going to show you my best friend in 10 days,” is something completely abstract and absurd, and we had to make it a realistic situation. In the original script it was more of a first-degree comedy film and I wanted to turn it into something more sincere and truer to life.

Was the game-show sequence at the end your idea? Because I had tears rolling down my cheeks after that.
You’re very kind to say that. Yes, indeed, that was not at all part of the original script. When my cowriter and I had the idea to include it, we really hoped that we would get the permission to include that sequence. Actually, a colleague of mine, another filmmaker, said, You know, you managed, with a little TV sequence, to create a very powerful cinema moment. TV has to serve its purpose!