Declan Donnellan is sitting on a sofa in the north London apartment he shares with his Cheek by Jowl designer and life partner, Nick Ormerod,….
….Donnellan and Ormerod have made just the one feature film. Theirs was Bel Ami (2012), a rather underrated adaptation of Guy de Maupassant’s fin de siecle novel starring Robert Pattinson as the dissolute French soldier who rises to the top in society and journalism through the simple expedient of sleeping with his employers’ wives (played by the glorious trio of Uma Thurman, Kristin Scott Thomas and Christina Ricci).
“We were terribly apprehensive, and the first few shots were unsteady. Then I went to the actors and Nick went to the crew and our relationship was completely reversed; I became very quiet, and Nick, who’s usually as quiet as a mouse, started shouting and screaming in a complete personality make-over. It was totally exhilarating, because you sort of work in an improvised area on the studio floor, and that’s what we do all the time in the theatre.”
Had they initiated the movie? “That’s the problem. They came to us. And the trouble is the set-up – the money, the lunches, the casting is volatile and always falling through. You end up shooting unready with a gun up your backside, like a cattle prod. So we don’t have the time for all that, really. But on Bel Ami, we came alive in the shoot. Nick was shouting his head off and one day just looked at me and said, ‘Declan, I’m so happy.’ And indeed, it’s true, like Mary Tyrone in Long Day’s Journey Into Night, we were so happy… for a time.”