Most stage and movie productions of French playwright Edmond Rostand’s 1897 “Cyrano de Bergerac” have featured Cyrano — the man who pens the letters that make the beautiful Roxanne fall for someone else — with a giant prosthetic nose attached to the actor’s face, making it visibly clear why Cyrano believes a perfect woman like Roxanne could never love him.
However, in a conversation with TheWrap’s Steve Pond, “Cyrano” director Joe Wright said the choice to forgo the nose made the telling of the story more modern, and the character easier to relate to, than when the physical nose dominates the scene.
The film is adapted from a musical version of the famous story written and directed by Erica Schmidt, which played off-Broadway in 2018 . Both the play and the film star Peter Dinklage as Cyrano (Schmidt is Dinklage’s wife).
As with her stage production, Wright got rid of the schnozz. Instead, Cyrano’s insecurity arises from his short stature, incorporating Dinklage’s own dwarfism into the story. Also as in the play, the height issue doesn’t get much screen attention either, with the focus being on the universal fear of being unworthy of love rather than any physical issue.
“That’s why I wanted to make the movie, I identified with it, it felt personal,” said Wright, who appeared on the panel with cinematographer Seamus McGarvey. “It’s a fear of intimacy, you know. I love the idea that (the word) intimacy is ‘into me see’ — this fear of intimacy that that we all have that stops us from being able to be loved. So, certainly removing the nose was was key to that choice.”
Added Wright, “Wherever we come from, everyone’s got something that they think is unlovable about them.”
McGarvey said that, although the movie is a musical with some very big songs, the performance style was understated, with showstopper theatrics jettisoned in the same way Cyrano is presented without the oversized nose.
“Somehow the thoughts become sung rather than spoken,” McGarvey said. “And I think that we decided not to go for,the declamatory style for most of the songs in the film.
Added McGarvey, “I’ve worked on musicals before that have big song and dance numbers, like ‘The Greatest Showman,’ for instance. We have a couple of Beyoncé-type moments in this film, but I think what we were aiming for more was that sense of quiet portraiture in the song.” The choice of large-format camera and lenses, he said, allowed for “a medium format portrait photography moment of silent, almost whispered song for some of the most powerful moments, I think, in the film.”
Of course, McGarvey said, the biggest challenges facing the filmmakers came from the Italian locations, including the famously volcanic Mount Etna, which was active at times during shooting. “It’s one of the most memorable experiences in my career thus far,” McGarvey said with a laugh. “And I am glad that I can experience it now in the safety of a cinema, rather than getting splattered up by an angry volcano.”
Watch the full panel discussion below.