THE SISTERS BROTHERS
About The Production
"When you're with a sibling or a relative, there's this sense of
actor John C. Reilly. "It's a feeling of being joined together. The relationship
is not a
choice; it's fate, and it's blood. You can't get out of it, but can you get
With THE SISTERS BROTHERS, acclaimed director Jacques Audiard, as he has
takes hold of the reins of blood ties - this time in the context of the Western
The result is shot through with the tension of his films like A Prophet and The
My Heart Skipped, as well as with the hard-won compassion of his more recent
and Bone and Dheepan.
Audiard and his frequent collaborator Thomas Bidegain adapted the new film's
from the novel The Sisters Brothers by Patrick deWitt, which was optioned by
Alison Dickey as producers in 2011.
The author recalls, "I had worked with John on Terri, having written that
screenplay adapting some of my unpublished writing. Director Azazel Jacobs read
Sisters Brothers in rough-draft form and thought that John would react
positively to the
material. He asked me, 'Could I give the book to John?' and I said, 'Please do.'
reaction was strong and he right away wanted to get behind it as a project."
The Academy Award nominee remembers, "I tend to procrastinate about reading.
when I got The Sisters Brothers, I read it in 24 hours. I felt immediately
the characters, especially Eli Sisters. The dynamic he has with his brother
resonated with me; I have three brothers of my own. It was also really funny,
was an emotional availability rather than the macho impenetrability of
the Western genre."
DeWitt explains, "I was thinking a good bit about Charles Portis, an author
who is most
famous for True Grit though others of his books aren't Westerns at all; and the
novels of John Steinbeck. I had started with a dialogue scene of two men on
and it was just sort of happenstance that I wrote a Western."
Reilly offers, "What I found fascinating about Patrick's language in the book
we have assumed, through films and television stories about the West, that
talked in these rootin'-tootin' ways - and you realize, maybe it wasn't like
that at all.
They didn't have radio or movies or television, just the written word. There
been a heightened sense of formality - and treating people with respect or not
mean life or death."
As Reilly's producing partner, Dickey notes that "we'd been looking for a
John to do; it's a form where we can tell elemental stories about ourselves. I
all night reading the book, it was so good."
The book was also considered good enough to be shortlisted for the
Booker Prize for Fiction, at which point "Hollywood started calling," smiles
Accordingly, she and Reilly allied themselves with Academy Award-nominated
Michael De Luca (The Social Network) to move the project forward.
De Luca had first worked with Reilly nearly two decades prior, on the
Boogie Nights. The producer says, "John is one of the great American actors and
part of Eli Sisters absolutely seemed to be a role that he was destined to play.
John as a fellow producer this time around too made working on this project all
"Patrick deWitt's novel is a modern classic, in my opinion. I love Westerns,
but this is
also a fantastic and emotional story about brothers and men, and a search for
At the outset, months went by and "there wasn't a director," remembers de
crossed my fingers."
Then, in September 2012, De Luca, Dickey, and Reilly went to the Toronto
Film Festival, where Audiard was presenting Rust and Bone. Their interest in the
filmmaker predated seeing the new movie. Dickey says, "John and I had seen Read
Lips in the theater over a decade earlier and had been following Jacques' work
since. His films are so visceral and immediate."
Reilly adds, "Jacques hasn't made as many films as other directors of his
but I don't think I know of any who have as perfect a track record. I knew he
at the very personal story in this material."
A meeting was convened, and when Audiard returned home to France there was a
of the just-published French-language version of the novel waiting for him on
Two months later, everyone met up again in Los Angeles "and the conversation
deepened," says Dickey. "Trust was built, and we decided to partner up.
"There's a logic to approaching a foreign director for what can be perceived
American material. They don't carry cultural baggage, and they approach things
fresh perspective; think of how Ang Lee made his movies work so well."
Reilly reveals, "Jacques is used to working completely independently, on his
We gave him the property and said, 'Make it your own.'"
One of Audiard's first instincts in writing the screenplay with Bidegain was
the characters of the Sisters brothers' quarry, John Morris and Hermann Kermit
Dickey comments, "The development of these characters moved forward and it
more of a four-hander with two pairs, with the relationships deepening and kept
Reilly adds, "In THE SISTERS BROTHERS, Warm has higher ideals for the human
experience. When people ready for a change come across him, he has a magnetic
on them; they sense that he knows things can be different in the future. With
it's that he's seen a lot of bizarre situations in his work and he meets someone
very good at listening and sussing things out."
Emmy Award winner Riz Ahmed (The Night Of), who portrays Warm, believes that
progressive chemist "is a self-taught prodigy who sees the best in others. He's
looking to find gold in the landscape; he's trying to bring out the gold in
he has told too many interested parties about the chemical formula he's created
gold efficiently and so he is being chased - while he's like the founder of a
heading to San Francisco!
"Jacques is one of my favorite film directors, and when the opportunity to
him came up I jumped at it. Before we met, he sent me detailed e-mails that were
insightful - and also cryptic and mysterious. It was also fascinating doing the
on what science was like at that point in the 1850s."
The movie took more time to come together while Audiard and Bidegain began
completed movies they had already committed to directing: respectively, Dheepan
Les Cowboys - with Reilly appearing in the latter for Bidegain.
As work on the script continued de Witt was consulted, including on dialogue
Dickey comments, "Jacques had the ability to take the book apart and throw the
in the air. Then he would pick them up and create something new while keeping a
faithful connection to the source material."
Initial scouting for locations began in 2015. Audiard and associates traveled
the Sisters brothers do, in pursuit of Morris and Warm, all the way from Oregon
Once the screenplay adaptation was ready, the producing team was rounded out
France's Why Not Productions - continuing a 15-year relationship with Audiard -
the U.S.' Annapurna Pictures, and key department heads were recruited well in
of the shoot.
Audiard sought out cinematographer Benoit Debie (who had shot Annapurna's
Breakers) as a new collaborator. "We had a long prep on THE SISTERS BROTHERS,"
Debie. "Jacques and I had so much to discuss about the film, and influences
from comics panels to Western movies.
"[Production designer] Michel Barthelemy and I talked about what the palette
would be, both indoors and outside. Jacques felt it was important to have color,
not too intense."
Barthelemy, who has been the production designer on many of Audiard's movies,
admits, "I knew about the project years before we would be shooting, and it was
surprising - Jacques doing a Western? Then I read the script and was totally
overwhelmed by the documentation that I would need for this period! Step by
"One of the things that the script honed in on was human ingenuity, the
ability of man
to invent. So it was that I found myself looking for traces of a prototype
flushing system. We tried to be close to reality, and if there's a little
about taking some freedom with the existing principles. Sometimes you have to
to what was there and sometimes you have to break free of too much
In a coup, the production secured the participation of costume designer
Canonero, who has won four Academy Awards for her work. "She is a legend,"
Barthelemy. "Her textures are super-precise. For her, everything must make sense
have a good energy. She will take a look at every extra on the set."
Ahmed admires "the level of detail and authenticity that went into sourcing
costumes. Milena tracks down antique pieces from around the world, then
with pictures and written accounts. What all that homework does for an
actor is to get you to a place when you're on the set where you feel completely
The Spanish and Romanian locations ultimately chosen for filming on "afforded
a financial upside but also matched the emotional intensity of the material with
intensity of shooting outside in the elements and connecting to each other,"
She adds, "There were so many different languages being spoken on the set -
Spanish, Romanian, Italian, English - and everyone expressing themselves with
intention reflected the story in the movie."
Ahmed reflects, "As a Londoner, I'm in one of the most multicultural cities
in the world.
One of the coolest things about making THE SISTERS BROTHERS was being on a set
people of all different nationalities. The film is about trying to find purpose
connection with other people and overcoming structures that keep us apart.
"For me, it was eye-opening as well getting to work with all these actors
Academy Award nominees Jake Gyllenhaal - whom Ahmed had previously starred
opposite in Nightcrawler - and Joaquin Phoenix were cast as, respectively, John
and Charlie Sisters. Reilly had actively lobbied for Phoenix to be in the movie:
he had to be Charlie. I hold him in high esteem as an actor.
"But he and I didn't talk about what the brothers are like; we just started
time together. During the rehearsal period, we'd go out for walks to the top of
in Spain; it was a mile and a half, and we would not say one word to each other.
were bearing witness to each other's existence and getting used to being in
sensing each other's needs and energy."
As far as the brothers' own relationship, at base Reilly sees his character
of Eli as "the
caretaker; he's the one who makes sure they get breakfast and have the horses
to get the brothers where they need to go. Charlie is more fiery, not taking no
"Acting with Joaquin was great. He's very instinctive, so if you make an
about something he will throw it right back in your face. You have to accept
moment brings, be in the moment. There's no leader, no follower - you're finding
flow. That experience with Joaquin extended into Eli and Charlie. When he wasn't
the set with me, I felt an emptiness."
Once in production, Audiard was attuned to accommodating improvisatory
from the actors in-character. Debie notes, "Jacques will take the time to work
actors - especially to get at comedy. On THE SISTERS BROTHERS, I definitely had
improvise because what we were doing on a day would change."
Ahmed reveals, "Jacques' approach is, he does not want things to stagnate. So
push you to try something different; it's not that he's driving towards one
image in his
mind that's preconceived, it's that he wants to see something evolve. Then he
it in another direction.
"I found this to be a creatively stimulating sense of play, keeping me on my
an open, fluid, dynamic process."
Reilly states, "I trust Jacques because he has an incredible bulls-t
detector. He is there
at the camera, looking right at you. He can spot if something is not genuine,
artificial - if you're overacting. He wants an unexpected interpretation: what
is a new
way to do this? That extends from the casting process through to playing out the
"The other thing that impresses me about him as director is how he's thinking of
edit in his head. You can say, 'Well, on that last setup I walked over here...'
say, 'It doesn't matter; we're not going to see that.' He will also figure out
of the scene as we're doing it, and his ability to find rhythm also ties in to
how he sees
Dickey muses, "I haven't seen any filmmaker work the way Jacques does, any
designs shots the way he does. He's thinking of 10 different things at the same
and yet he's completely present in the moment. The balance is also that he's
prepared but can be completely flexible."
The director's unique style enhances what Dickey assesses as "a movie about
set against the backdrop of a unique time and the attractive expanses of the
where dreams were followed."
Reilly adds, "In a larger way, I suppose THE SISTERS BROTHERS is about the
America and what it was built on. But in a more relatable human way it's about
relationships. It goes from the macro to the micro, and back."
De Luca states, "I think Jacques has made a really beautiful film."
Home | Theaters | Video | TV
Your Comments and Suggestions are Always Welcome.
© 2019 80®, All Rights Reserved.