“Madame Web”: clear vision for extralucid clairvoyant

Cassie Webb is a paramedic in New York. Unbeknownst to him, the venom of an extremely rare spider is coursing through his veins. Hence this gift of clairvoyance which begins to provoke in Cassie visions of a future that only she can change. Indeed, a dangerous megalomaniac seeks to murder three teenage girls before they develop powers of their own. Cassie, who has always accepted her misanthropy, therefore finds herself forced to protect the three young girls. Director of Madame Web (VF), SJ Clarkson looks back on the production of this first film dedicated to Marvel’s extralucid superheroine.

“When I read the script that the studio sent me, I’m not going to lie: I was a little perplexed. I asked myself: “What am I going to do with clairvoyance, extralucency?” Because…let’s just say it’s not your typical superpower. Except that in the end, it became what interested me the most; that’s what attracted me to the project. It was a challenge. How can we show these psychic powers in a really interesting, action-oriented way? »

SJ Clarkson and his writing partner, Claire Parker, who also co-produced, therefore took over for a new version of the script with Cassie’s gift in mind. How to make this one cinematic? How to present Cassie’s successive visions? And how can we modulate the learning of the latter in relation not to this, but to its new realities? So many questions that SJ Clarkson wanted to answer in the script.

“It really came from clairvoyance,” explains the director. I had specific things in mind that I had difficulty expressing. Claire and I started with that. A scenario is a kind of plan which then evolves; it’s a pretty fluid thing, especially when it’s such a big production. Of course, we wanted to stay close to the spirit of the character. But it was easier said than done. Because there are different versions of Madame Web in the comics: she is quite impertinent in some, she is older in others… She can be acerbic. She’s quite witty, deadpan… We had to determine what our Madame Web would be like. But not only that. We also had to establish what Cassie is like at the start, and how her gift gradually changes part of who she is. »

Dakota and company

Since the announcement of a film project around Madame Web in 2019, the role has been highly coveted in Hollywood. Several prominent actresses were approached, including Charlize Theron and Amy Adams. In the end, it was Dakota Johnson who won it.

After the popular but inglorious trilogy Fifty Shades of Gray (Fifty Shades of grey), Dakota Johnson turned to a more demanding type of cinema, with Luca Guadagnino, with A Bigger Splash (By the swimming pool) And Suspiriaand Maggie Gyllenhaal, with The Lost Daughter (Stolen doll), notably.

“Dakota was a perfect fit for the character,” notes SJ Clarkson.

“Obviously it’s what’s on the page, but generally speaking, actors want to hear you articulate your vision as a filmmaker. So I explained to Dakota that, for me, it was a psychological thriller, and that I wanted it to be down to earth and real. It was a superhero movie, but it was definitely going to be a little more cerebral, because it was all about the mind of the protagonist. And that’s when Dakota came on board. Dakota has such depth, and a range of such breadth… She brings a gravity and a sincerity to everything, and she brings real nuances. She is also very funny and, like the character, she can be very deadpan. »

As for the trio of teenage girls that Cassie takes somewhat unwillingly under her wing, it is made up of Sydney Sweeney, Celeste O’Connor, and Isabela Merced. To ensure that they would share a real bond in front of his camera, SJ Clarkson had them spend time together before filming.

“I did “complicity readings” with the girls. We did a lot of improvisation and came back to several scenes, several times, approaching them in different ways. Sometimes I had them change roles, with each other. We played around with it a lot, so by the time we were building the sets, these three knew each other inside and out. »

Love the unexpected

Regarding the sets, one of the aspects of which SJ Clarkson says she is most proud is the increased use of real physical infrastructures as well as real natural sites.

“Apart from the big confrontation at the end, where there are a lot of visual effects, there wasn’t a lot of filming in front of blue screens and green screens. As far as possible, everything was done on camera, then in editing. My goal was to make a great film, but with intimacy. »

With this type of production for which a studio hopes for significant returns on investment, one would be led to believe that nothing should be left to chance. And yet, the unexpected is one of the filming hazards that SJ Clarkson appreciates the most.

“There were always wonderful moments of surprise. Especially with Dakota. Sometimes he would do something, a small gesture, and it would inspire me to take the scene in a slightly different direction. She would look or see something, and I was like, “Oh, that’s interesting, I’ll go that way.” There were many moments of wonder that I didn’t expect. You know, when actors feel free, that’s when the magic happens. »

The film Madame Web will be on display on February 14.

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