‘May December’ Director Todd Haynes On Conveying “Disquieting” Themes To Ignite A “Sense Of Engaged Questioning And Uncertainty”- Contenders London

May December director Todd Haynes said of first reading Samy Burch’s script, “I loved how disquieting it was for the reader and thought, ‘Wow, if there was a way to convey this on screen and ignite that sense of engaged questioning and uncertainty’… It reminded me of the kind of movies that I came of age watching. It made you question your assumptions going in, made you want to discuss them and think about them later.” Haynes was speaking at Deadline’s Contenders London event this afternoon.

Starring Natalie Portman, Julianne Moore and Charles Melton, the film picks up 20 years after an affair between Gracie (Moore), an adult woman and a much – much – younger man (Melton) made tabloid headlines. In the present day, famous TV star Elizabeth (Portman) visits the now-married couple while researching a film that will be based on the old scandal.

Burch said she was inspired to “look at tabloid culture and in our current culture of true crime biopics and I was really initially drawn in by this character of Joe that Charles Melton plays so beautifully, of a man who is almost coming of age who’s in his 30s but about to be an empty nester and hasn’t really processed his past.”

Burch’s script came to Haynes through Portman, whose producing partner Sophie Mas said today, “We could tell right away that it was something very special” and thought it would be an obvious fit for Haynes. “We needed someone like Todd… he would be the one really perfect for it to understand how to film this woman and tell the story.” Haynes then “quietly sussed Julie out” to see if she’s be interested in playing Gracie. Her response, Haynes recounted, was ‘Wow, this is incredible.” This is his fifth collaboration with Moore.

Deadline’s Diana Lodderhose asked about the pacing of the film which Haynes said “was built into the script as a sort of investigative process.” Some of the tension is “furthered by the fact that I chose to let the film play in extended single shots that hold, with also a very interesting and unique use of the score.”

Haynes worked with composer Marcelo Zarvos to build his vision which was inspired by Michel Legrand’s score for Joseph Losey’s 1971 drama The Go-Between. The music of that film “asserts itself like a slap in the face at the very beginning and puts you on alert as an audience. It makes you think, ‘Wait, what is going to happen?’ And so you pay acute attention to the entire frame as you watch it… That’s what I felt when I read the script and that’s what I wanted to try to find for the film.” 

May December world premiered in Cannes earlier this year and recently opened the New York Film Festival.

North American rights were acquired by Netflix for $11 million after an all-night bidding war in Cannes. May December will be released in select North American theaters on November 17 and then launch December 1 on Netflix.

Producers are Portman, Mas, Pamela Koffler, Christine Vachon, Grant S. Johnson, Tyler W. Konney, Jessica Elbaum and Will Ferrell, with the exec producing team of Madeleine K. Rudin, Thomas K. Richards, Lee Broda, Jeff Rice, Jonathan Montepare, Burch, Alex Brown, Thorsten Schumacher and Claire Taylor.

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