TIFF 2013: Jean Marc Vallée on Dallas Buyers Club

Director Jean-Marc Vallée had a long night after the Toronto International Film Festival premiere of his film Dallas Buyers Club. The film was the hot ticket of the fest’s opening weekend and even the studio didn’t have tickets to give out. The show began at 10PM and the celebration lasted into the night. The following afternoon, we got to sit down with Vallée to discuss the film. Matthew McConaughey lost 50 pounds to play Ron Woodroof, an AIDS patient in 1986 who formed a black market club to provide non-FDA approved drugs to members. The FDA and medical community fought him every step of the way. In the film, only Dr. Eve Saks (Jennifer Garner) is on his side, though hamstrung by the restrictions of scientific protocol.

Focus Features will release Dallas Buyers Club November 1, 2013.


CraveOnline: Matthew McConaughey’s motto is J.K. L-I-V-I-N. Does the story of Dallas Buyers Club really embody that?

Jean-Marc Vallée: Did he tell you about J.K. L-I-V-I-N?


He’s always talked about it at every press junket.

I guess, yeah. Dare to live.


Was that important that even though it’s a story about people with a terminal disease, it’s the spirit of keep on living?

Absolutely. That was the beauty of the story, the journey of this man who fights to live, to survive, to find a solution, to keep on living. Of course the subject matter in the ‘80s, that was a tough time, tough era, new disease. What do we do with this? How do we try to deal with it, to cure it? It’s a powerful story.


We hear about actors who do dramatic weight losses for movies, Christian Bale for The Machinist and The Fighter, McConaughey and Jared Leto for this movie. Does that carry health risks in itself for the actors?

Listen, they knew what they were doing and they were well surrounded. They’re adult and professionals. I wasn’t that concerned. Of course I was concerned but we all have our job and we try to serve the story. That was their way of serving the story and doing their art. They did it in an extreme way on some level, but I think it helped them. It helped them personally. They had moments of solitude. They didn’t eat a lot. They were in their thing and it created something special on the set, quite a spirit and ambiance. People were really touched, impressed, moved by what they were seeing in the other actors and the crew, so we all wanted to be at that level.


Was there ever a point where you were waiting for Matthew to lose that last 10 pounds?

No. I was happy after 30 but he went almost 50.


The film touches on Ron Woodroof dealing in Alzheimer’s medications as well. Were there other medications he dealt with outside of that and AIDS?

Oh, it was Peptide T. Yeah, he tried different stuff. Ron was a stubborn son of a gun who had his own way, fought really hard against AZT and tried different things just like other people, other AIDS patients that were going to the buyers clubs in different cities. They were experimenting. They were trying to find solutions in this tough time. Yeah, he tried first to stay healthy and to eat well and proteins and vitamins, so this thing, Peptide T is still not approved today, but it helped him.


How did you create the sense of the symptoms of AIDS, the subtle filmmaking things you do like the ringing sound, so we can actually experience it?

The ringing is not necessarily an AIDS thing. It’s a device that I used. You can have some tinnitus, some of them can have that as symptoms. Depending when you got AIDS, what are the other diseases you have? The definition of AIDS changed every year in the ‘80s. They were adding more and more diseases that were part of it so some of them were causing some hearing problems and tinnitus. So it was a device that I used to tell the story from his point of view so the audience can relate to this guy, can embrace his journey.


Was Eve a composite character?

They were all composite characters except Ron. Our job was to create a great, beautiful, emotional journey for the audience based on the script that the screenwriters wrote. Only the character of Ron is based on the real guy so we were faithful and truthful to what he’s been through and the facts, but the story became fiction. It was at the service of his whole story but a fiction, so there’s no characters besides Ron that existed.


Even Rayon?

Rayon is total fiction, all of them. Except Ron.


Were there a lot more doctors who were allies of Ron’s? There’s only Eve in the movie.

Well, that’s his life. That’s something else. If you want to go into Ron’s life, you’ve got to research. The screenwriters created that story, so yeah, he had some allies. The first doctor that he met right away was a guy from the east coast, from what I know.


I think that’s a sign of a good movie, that it makes me want to Google more information about the facts.

Maybe, maybe, but at the same time you’ve got to know that it’s a fiction. There’s nothing written on the guy except some articles here and there. He wasn’t a famous guy. He was just a guy, created the Dallas Buyers Club and that’s not a well known thing. It doesn’t exist anymore after he passed. I think it lasted a year or two, not even. That was it. No more Dallas Buyers Club.


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