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Clive Owen, Marion Cotillard and more on film and family bonds in 'Blood Ties'

James Caan, Marion Cotillard, Clive Owen, Guillame Canet and Billy Crudup at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival press conference for "Blood Ties."
James Caan, Marion Cotillard, Clive Owen, Guillame Canet and Billy Crudup at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival press conference for "Blood Ties."
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“Blood Ties” (set in New York City in 1974) is a remake of the 2008 French film “Les Liens du Sang.” The story is about two brothers on the opposite side of the law: Fifty-year-old Chris Pierzynski (played by Clive Owen) has just been released on good behavior after several years in prison following a gangland murder. Reluctantly waiting for him outside the gates is his younger brother, Frank Pierzynski (played by Billy Crudup), a cop with a bright future. Chris and Frank have always been different, and their father, Leon (played by James Caan), who raised them alone, seems to favor Chris despite all his troubles.

James Caan, Zoe Saldana, Billy Crudup, Noah Emmerich, Guillame Canet, Clive Owen and Marion Cotillard at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival premiere of "Blood Ties"
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Yet blood ties are the ones that bind, and Frank, hoping that his brother has changed, is willing to give him a chance: He shares his home, finds him a job, and helps him reconnect with his children and his ex-wife, Monica (played by Marion Cotillard). But Chris’ inevitable descent back into a life of crime proves to be the last in a long line of betrayals, and after his brother’s latest transgressions, Frank banishes him from his life. But it’s already too late, as the brothers’ destiny is bound together forever. “Blood Ties” co-stars Owen, Crudup, Cotillard, Caan, Zoe Saldana, Lili Taylor and Noah Emmerich and “Blood Ties” director/co-writer Guillame Canet (who is Cotillard’s partner in real life) gathered for a press conference before the film’s world premiere at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival. Canet did most of the talking, but a few of the cast members were asked questions too and got to say some things at the press conference.

Guillame, what led you to adapt “Les Liens du Sang” into “Blood Ties,” your first English-language movie as a director?

Canet: Several things. After the release of “Tell No One,” which was a success in the United States, I got several offers from studios, from producers to make a film in English. And this gave me a desire to make a film in English with English-speaking actors — English or American. I didn’t want to act or be in a studio-type film. I find it difficult to work with a lot of pressure on me. And I’m not ready to or prepared to work with a big infrastructure for a first film in English. So I thought I wanted to refuse these offers, and I thought I’d come back with a project that I’d be in charge of myself. And then, I thought about this magnificent script that I’d read, and I’d played this part in Jacques Maillot’s film.

And it’s true. Immediately, I thought that this film could be transposed to Brooklyn in the 1970s. And I thought it would be a very strong story. And I really wanted to have strong characters. And I also wanted to have, above all, a kind of cinema that would remind people of the 1970s — American cinema with [John] Cassavetes, [Martin] Scorsese’s first films, Sidney Lumet, Sam Peckinpah and Jerry Schatzberg, who teally inspired me a lot. And so, this all happened quite naturally, and this is why I launched into this desire to adapt this story.

James Caan, you’re a film icon from the 1970s, so what was it like to do “Blood Ties,” which is set in the 1970s?

Caan: It’s very prevalent now, because I’ve become very negative about the films of today. We had a chance to do a film with talent like this. I was very fortunate, in the ‘70s, to work with the best actors, the best directors and the best cinematographers, etc.

And they had a beginning, a middle and an end, which is very odd. I find that today, my son is not going to have those opportunities, because it seems like most of the films in Hollywood today are these big franchise movies. Basically, that’s it. All the independent films I read are the ones that grab me, the ones that have a beginning, a middle and an end.

Guillame, what was it like working with James Gray on the “Blood Ties” screenplay?

Canet: The collaboration with James was a wonderful meeting to begin with. I was fortunate to meet James when he’d seen “Tell No One.” He organized a lunch with me, so we got on extremely well together, very quickly. We talked about cinema and films. And then a few months later, here in Cannes, I saw him again, when he was on the jury here. He was a member of the jury. And so I told him about the adventure in which I was launching myself. And I said I was looking for a writer or a co-writer to help me adapt this story to the United States.

And I was looking for somebody who really knew New York extremely well in the 1970s. And he said, “Well, I’m the guy.” And I didn’t expect that, because he’d never done this kind of thing before. Now, I was very moved. I was very touched.

So I had to get a hold of him and pin him down. I managed to work with him for two weeks in Paris, we worked together on the structure of the film, and particularly, on the film that I wanted to make. So I talked to him a lot, I showed him films, I explained to him what I was working toward, and the changes I wanted to make in the script. There were quite a lot of changes I wanted to make. And so we put it together. And we worked on my side.

And a few months later, I went to Los Angeles for a week. I showed him everything I’d written in my approximate English, and he helped me to work through the script. And then after the collaboration had finished, because he had a film that he was starting on so he wasn’t available, there was a period here that was more complicated for me, because I found myself working with the actors after each meting to modify the characters. There were changes that were happening, and they made me want to work on the scenes again. And so I had to work again on these on my own with a translator who helped me. And this is how it all came about.

Marion, was it hard to play an Italian in “Blood Ties”?

Cotillard: When I began working on the character, usually when I work, I try to empty myself. I create a kind of vacuum. And I see what can come into this vacuum to create a character. And one of the things that came for Monica was Italy. And without even thinking, I said to Guillame, “Don’t you think it would be interesting if she was Italian?” And so we decided that she should be Italian.

And so I said to myself, “It wouldn’t be bad if she actually spoke Italian.” And so, that’s what we launched into. And then a few days later, I’d already tried to speak Italian in another film and take on an Italian accent. It hadn’t been planned on in the film, but I thought it would produce something. But it was a real catastrophe, it was a real disaster, because I was unable to speak Italian. Incapable!

And so on this other film, I gave up the idea. I asked the director for the character to be French, because I had another film in which I had to work on a different accent, and I was completely drained. And so I had to do it here [on “Blood Ties”], because it was really useful to have an Italian person for this character. It took me as long or even longer to learn four sentences in Italian than 20 pages in Polish. I don’t know why Italian. I just can’t manage Italian. It was a really stressful experience.

Clive, can you talk about the music that was used in your gun-shooting scene in “Blood Ties”?

Owen: We didn’t act to the music, so I’ve only seen a rough cut with that track, but I do love the music in this film. I think it’s one of Guillame’s real strengths in all of the films I’ve seen of his: He uses music brilliantly. I think he makes some great choices for this film.

Clive, “Blood Ties” is about family relationships. Did you draw from your own difficulties with your brothers for this movie?

Owen: No, not really. I took the film very much from the script. For me, the thing that was really great was the complexity of all the relationships. And that was something I was really attracted to: that these two brothers were sort of inextricably linked together, and however difficult things got, it was very hard for them to pull apart.

There just seemed to be an awful lot to play within that, from an acting point of view. There’s no scene that’s ever simple and straightforward. And it wasn’t about a good guy and a bad guy. It was about people who are linked through their blood and the difficulties that can bring. There are various times throughout the movie where you think Billy [Crudup’s] character should pull away, but it’s almost impossible to. He can’t. I love that sort of fusion, really.

Clive, you’ve done so many different types of films. How do you empty your mind and prepare for a new movie?

Owen: I think the thing is to be careful of doing films that are too close together. I think it’s always good to have a period of down time before you start a movie, because I’ve learned over the years that even sitting with a script and not particularly working on it, but thinking about it over a period of time, a lot of decisions can be made in a roundabout way. The longer I have with the piece of material, the better I feel when I come to actually shoot it. I’m not one of those actors who likes to turn up and just attack it very quickly and make decisions quickly. I like to sit with it for a time. I have to be very careful about not doing films too close together.

For more info: "Blood Ties" website

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