Three years after she released the James Bond theme “Skyfall,” Adele returned Friday with her new single “Hello” and its gorgeous six-minute music video. Directed by French-Canadian filmmaker Xavier Dolan (Mommy) and executive produced by Jannie McInnes of Believe Media, the short-form visual follows Adele picking up the pieces of a failed relationship with her ex, played by Tristan Wilds (The Wire).
To produce the video, Dolan flew to London to meet with Adele and discuss the concept. And in September, Dolan, Adele and his team got together on a remote farm outside Montreal to film. Not surprisingly, the production was cloaked in secrecy. “It was intensive shooting for four or so days, completely isolated on a farm,” Dolan tells EW. “It feels great [to release it] because I have to admit this has been produced and made with secrecy. It’s hard to keep a secret! We were very eager to share it with the world.”
And it seems the world is happy Adele is back: the video has already racked up close to 3 million views in 10 hours, the singer has become a top U.S. trending topic on Twitter, and the song is already No. 1 on the iTunes chart.
So what was it like to work with a powerhouse superstar like Adele? EW caught up with Dolan to get behind-the-scenes details.
How guarded was the production of the video?
We shot it confidentially. We pre-produced it in confidentiality too. And we did the whole post-production completely cut out from the outside world because we didn’t want anyone to find out. Most of my crew was kept in the dark about what we were doing. They didn’t find out until the day we were on set and they were like, “Holy sh–! We understand!”
How were you approached to do the video?
It’s Adele who reached out in the first place. I wasn’t sure how she could actually know who I was. We operate in different scales and I was very humbled and flattered that she thought of me.
What was your first meeting like to discuss the making of the video?
I went to London and I remember our first encounter was so simple and sweet and emotional. I heard the song really quickly. We sat down, had one coffee, I heard the song and it just destroyed the rest of my day! [Laughs]
What were your conversations about the project like?
We chatted about our lives and our loves and our romances — it was so much about who we were. We had so much in common. Basically, all of her songs are revolving around the theme of unrequited love and so are my movies. We might come from different places and operate on different platforms, but we do share things and I think that was necessary to really connect.
Did you discuss the aesthetic of the video?
The aesthetics, the story. … It was pretty clear from the beginning. I heard the song and all the images were so naturally running in front of my eyes and it was just like watching whatever scenery go by when you’re driving. Everything was so clear. It was almost like it had been edited already. We agreed on the look, the love story. It was about adding layers of textures. She wanted something memorable. I thought I couldn’t do that because the song is unforgettable! But I was imagining something simple: a girl who is stumbling upon accessories in her house that are reminders of her past love, and going back into a relationship that is slowly going awry.
How much of the video is shot using IMAX technology?
All of it is shot on film. The shots on IMAX are two shots: mostly the finale on that pond, and there’s the shot of her opening her eyes. I love an introduction like that. It just seemed nice: she had been gone for three or four years. So she’s settling in and taking all of those curtains and sheets off, ripping them down from the walls. It’s like Adele coming back home. It felt neat and fitting that she would sort of sit down and open her eyes as if she had awakened.
How did you decide to cast Tristan Wilds as Adele’s ex?
It wasn’t a long process. I love Tristan. I thought he was right. We connected through Skype and he was lovely. Right away, it clicked and I sent his references and photos to Adele and she liked him.
How was the experience of directing Adele?
I had always harbored the hope that she would be a natural. I see her interviews, see her laughing: there’s no way this woman, who is so complete emotionally and psychologically, there’s no way she’s not a good actor.
Did you give her much direction?
When she approached me, I said, “You’ll be acting in this.” And she was very reluctant to that. She was adamant that she was a bad actor and she hated acting. We started to shoot and I progressively asked more and more from her. I talked to her constantly, told her what to say, what do to, look out through the wind, scratch your chin, swallow, blink — the smallest details. She was such a good sport. She was very physical and emotional. She did everything so generously. We watched takes together, and I think secretly she thought, “I’m not a sh—- actor after all!” Everyone saw that she was just a natural.
How did you get her to cry during that one scene when she’s on the telephone?
She sat down in that chair and I wanted her to cry and she was like, “I just need to listen to that one song.” Crying like that… we were all stunned. It was outstanding. She was bawling, but not doing it in an uncontrollable way. She was truly impressive.
What song did she listen to?
That would be for her to reveal, I’m pretty sure. I don’t know what that song means to her. It sounds like it’s connected to something private.
Where did you get the fur coat she’s wearing?
I saw that piece of fabric in a couture shop so there’s only one.
Have you heard any of the other tracks on the album?
I’ve just seen the titles. It seems [up] my alley and I can’t wait to hear the music behind the words. If “Hello” is in any way a hint of the quality of the new record, it’s going to be stellar.
What are you working on next and has your collaboration with Adele inspired you?
I’m writing the final draft for The Death and Life of John F. Donovan. I’m handing it in today! And yes, great artists inspire you. Working with her has given me freedom and emotional range — something that’s been missing for months. It invigorated me. And it was just so inspiring and spiriting, those five wonderful days.