The Death and Life of John Donovan
Credit: Lyla Films

The Death and Life of John F. Donovan

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The Death and Life of John F. Donovan will carry on without Jessica Chastain.

French-Canadian filmmaker Xavier Dolan announced that the Oscar-nominated actress’ role in the long-gestating ensemble drama — set to be his first English-language feature — has been cut “after a long period of reflection.”

Chastain had already completed filming on the project, which also stars Natalie Portman, Susan Sarandon, and Kathy Bates, and took approximately a year and a half for the director to shoot. The movie follows a young actor who, 10 years after the death of an American TV actor (Game of Thrones‘ Kit Harington, in the titular role), reflects on the written correspondence he conducted with the late star of a CW-style drama called Hellsome High. Thandie Newton plays a journalist interviewing the next generation actor about his dealings with Donovan, and Room‘s Jacob Tremblay costars as 11-year-old Rupert, a Hellsome High fan who writes letters to the show’s cast. Chastain reportedly played a ruthless gossip columnist and functioned as a primary antagonist.

(Scroll through Dolan’s post for the full statement)

“It was an extremely difficult decision to make. I feel, toward Jessica, a very sincere love and great admiration. The decision was editorial and narrative, in that it has nothing to do with a performance, and everything to do with a character, and the compatibility of its storyline,” Dolan wrote on Instagram Sunday. “This ‘villain’ subplot, albeit funny and entertaining, didn’t feel like it belonged to the rest of the story, which ended up not being on heroes or their nemesis, but rather on childhood, and its dreams.”

Dolan, who rose to prominence at a young age on the international circuit with festival favorites like Tom at the Farm and the Cannes award-winner Mommy, further elaborated on the lengthy post-production cycle of his latest work, indicating that editing began last May in anticipation of a late 2017 premiere. When the film still hadn’t taken “its deserved shape” by October, he went back to work on the original four-hour cut and decided then that Chastain’s part didn’t fit with the rest of the material.

“We loved every [one] of the assembled scenes, but knew a more profound reflection on the film’s form and focus awaited us,” he wrote. “All sorts of developments unfold during the shooting of a film, as we know. Often, it isn’t before late into production that it finds its tone, when it isn’t even later, in the editing suite. For Donovan, it was the latter.”

Shortly after Dolan shared the news, Chastain responded with an Instagram post of her own.

“Darlings there’s some #johnfdonovan news,” she captioned a photo of her with Dolan on set. “Don’t worry, I was informed in advance of [Xavier’s] letter. This has been handled with the upmost respect and love. [Xavier], I am always impressed with your true committment to telling a story. To be an artist in each moment, you move beyond past ideas and expectations. I love you dearly and look forward to our future collaborations in life and art.”

Dolan has yet to confirm a final release date for the film, though fans have speculated that the project will bow at this year’s Cannes Film Festival in May. Though she’s no longer starring in The Death and Life of John F. Donovan, Chastain can next be seen in the superhero tentpole X-Men: Dark Phoenix, which hits theaters Nov. 2.

The Death and Life of John F. Donovan
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