Galveston Isn't A Typical Love Story — & That's Why Mélanie Laurent Decided To Direct It

Photo: Foc Kan/WireImage.
What happens when you take two people of incredibly different backgrounds and disposition and put them in a confined space for an extended period of time? A story. That's what happens. And perhaps that's why the category of road trip movies — from Planes, Trains and Automobiles to Y Tu Mamá También — contain such memorable sequences.
Even among this set, Galveston, out October 19, stands apart. In another director's hands, Galveston would be a gritty, bleak crime film about two misfits on the run. But French director and actress Mélanie Laurent has fashioned a feelings-driven thriller by refashioning the familiar ingredients of a road trip film, and adding heart. The travelers in question are Roy (Ben Foster), a dying hitman escaping his mobster boss, and Rocky (Elle Fanning), a 19-year-old sex worker who Roy rescues from a shoot-out. Somewhere between the stretch of flat road between New Orleans to Galveston, TX, they leave their baggage behind them — or, at least, they try. We spoke to Laurent about creating an American movie with a French soul, the challenges of making her first English language movie, and why not all love stories are necessarily romantic.
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Refinery29: Galveston doesn't go in the direction so many movies do — a man and a woman in close proximity inevitably taking a romantic detour. What drew you to the script?
Mélanie Laurent: “Exactly that. I loved that the movie had a powerful, passionate friendship, a platonic love story. When I was reading the script, I was saying to myself, ‘I hope nothing’s going to happen between them!’ It was a relief to see that the movie’s about how you stick together, how you love each other in the way of making the other person safe. They’re going so fast. They’re so different. They don’t want to like each other for a long time. Suddenly, something breaks, and they let it go and trust each other for the first time. I thought it was beautiful. The dancing scene was an absolutely beautiful way to tell that whole story, just with one dance.”
Elle Fanning in Galveston
During that scene, I wrote the same thing you were thinking in my notes: I hope they don’t kiss! Their dynamic works because of Elle and Ben’s incredible chemistry. How does your background as an actor inform your decision-making as a director?
“Being an actor and a director means that you know exactly how the actors feel. You know their mood. You know when they don’t want to do something; you know why. Ben works a very different way than Elle. Ben and I spent hours together before the shooting, talking about exactly what I wanted from each sequence — ‘I want you to cry like this, scream like this.’ Then we’d talk about when he didn’t agree, and find a way to be happy together. Honestly, on set, I didn’t direct him anymore. I was explaining what I was doing technically instead, because I love doing that — I love for my actors not to be lost on set.
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“Elle arrived on set directly, so we didn’t have that time. It was so easy to work with her. We work the same way as actors — very instinctive. We feel the character. It’s not about having precise backstory. It’s more like, 'Okay: I’m going to feel it. When I cry, I won’t even know how. I don’t want to think about it before I do it.'"
Galveston has notes from French cinema and the American road trip movie tradition. How did you blend what you knew to create a movie that was so uniquely yours?
“I didn’t want to pretend be someone else. I felt a lot of pressure. I had the pressure of making my first American movie. I had the pressure for being a good director for my actors, because I felt so honored that they’d said yes to me. I felt the pressure of only having ‘one shot’ in the U.S. as a director. But I didn’t want to pretend like I was someone else and say, ‘I need to make an American movie and be an American director.’ The producer chose me because I was a female director from Europe. I wanted to film my characters as I always do; follow their feelings and be close to them. Feel like we’re driving with them.”
This is first movie that you directed in English. What surprised you about making a movie in America, in English?
“It was a big storm, kind of like the subject of the movie. Suddenly, I had all these new rules and a different way to make a movie. The result is the same — making a movie and telling a story — but how you’re making it is so different. I had a few days instead of two months in France to prep the movie. That was my first shock. Then I had 25 days of shooting, which is crazy for a French director, and you’re working 12 hours a day instead of eight. Of course, it was hard in other ways, because I’m not fluent. When you’re very tired after a big day, you don’t know how to explain what you have in mind. I’m a very precise director, and sometimes I was feeling so frustrated because I didn’t have the right vocabulary. But I had fun. I had the best actors on set, and they were always on my side. I felt very protected.”
Do you have any advice to aspiring female directors — and what kind of projects they should feel at liberty to pursue?
‘I hate to give advice because it’s so personal. A career is made of luck. I feel very lucky that I met the right people at the right moments. Having a career is timing. I always did what I felt and what I wanted, which is not always easy. Sometimes, people don’t like you for that. We don’t like to see free women [laughs]. You have to stay strong. Do what you feel.”

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