Xavier Dolan on what inspires him, memories of TIFF and 'It's Only the End of the World'

Film directors aren’t typically household names. But most directors aren’t Xavier Dolan. The Montreal native has had a foot in the limelight for the majority of his 27 years, initially as a child actor, then as a writer and filmmaker winning acclaim at home and abroad. He’s even holding his own as a model – watch for the star, a Hello! CanadaMost Beautiful alum, in Louis Vuitton’s current men’s campaign.

Xavier Dolan screened his latest film at Cannes and TIFF. Photo: © Getty Images

With the release of It’s Only the End of the World (Canada's only submission to the 2017 Oscars race), a poignant drama about a dying man (Gaspard Ulliel) who returns to the fold of his family to share his fate, Xavier’s star continues to rise. At an intimate junket hosted by Nespresso during the Toronto International Film Festival, the filmmaker spoke to Hello! and a small group of reporters about directing the movie (which won the prestigious Grand Prix at Cannes), what inspires him, and his passion for characters who are anything but perfect.

How does it feel to be home after your success in Cannes?
It feels strange because I’ve been spending all summer shooting [his first English-language film]. It’s a pleasure to get back to the mood and atmosphere of this film and to talk about it and see the cast again, who I missed.

You’re a veteran of TIFF, of course. Do you have a fondest memory?
When we won the Best Canadian Film Award [in 2012] with Laurence Anyways, it was very moving to me. To be chosen by a body of peers – people you want to call colleagues but you don’t really dare because they’re much more experienced and older than you are … That they would choose you and your film!

Emotion runs high in It’s Only the End of the World, as loved ones face the return of a prodigal son.

You have a way of making dysfunction look good in films, especially this new one. What draws you to that sort of drama?
I don’t know. I had an ordinary upbringing in Montreal. There is nothing in my life that gave me any particular inclination toward the dysfunctional family. I feel like what I’m driven to is imperfections and flaws in characters rather than [good] qualities… I think that’s what’s relatable.

Did you ever consider playing Louis, the troubled protagonist, yourself?
No. I felt the very few years between [leading man] Gaspard and me are the difference that gave the character much more depth … And I would have not been able to focus on the other actors.

It’s lovely to see some of the film’s stars – like Oscar winner Marion Cotillard – play against type. Was that a conscious choice of yours?
To me, what’s fun is to give actors material to explore. So it’s a pleasure for me to ask Marion to be socially crippled and shy ... and Léa to be an angry teen. It makes sense to go to actors [and ask them to play] roles that will have audiences think, “We haven’t seen them like this before.” That’s the aspiration a lot of directors have – to go somewhere else with the actors. Not somewhere you’ve already been.

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