LOS ANGELES, April 8, (RTRS): On a plateau high up in Andorra’s Pyrenees, Felix (Leonardo Sbaraglia) gets out of a car. There’s ice on the ground. But that does not explain entirely the way he walks, a near piteous shuffle, arms turned in, the gait of a meek man treating reality cautiously.
Felix is knocking 50. In Andorra, the mountain principality locked between France and Spain, he’s a fish-out-of-water, Argentine, a novelist, married, a father, though he hasn’t plucked up the courage to tell his son. The only thing that gets him out of bed in the morning is that he’s fallen in love, profoundly, with a Chinese woman (newcomer Mi Hoa).
But she’s mixed up with the Chinese mafia. And she’s disappeared.
“Felix” is, like many modern series, a genre blender, a romantic comedy thriller. Ultimately, it weighs in as a date series, an adult coming of age tale, of a man discovering how in a global world of Madrid politicians, Andorran bumpkins, French cops and Chinese cartel, it’s love that transforms and defines Felix, gives him his identity.
Sold by ITV Global Studios Ent, shot for 11 weeks in Andorra, eight in Barcelona — a vastly longer time than most Spanish TV series — “Felix” is also the flagship Spring series from Spain’s Movistar +, the pay TV unit of Spain-based Telefonica, Europe’s second or third largest telecom which has driven more into scripted drama than any other telco operator on the continent. That commitment looks to be paying dividends in early pay TV results. But the series’ selection for main competition at Canneseries is still a coup for Movistar +, which only started releasing series, at the demanding rhythm of one a month, just before last October’s Mipcom.
Variety chatted with Cesc Gay, a film director making his move over to TV, in the run-up to “Felix’s” intentional premiere in Cannes.
RTRS: If somebody asked what Felix” about, I’d say that it’s about identity via love, not in terms of of nationality, or profession: How a man who’s adrift in life finds himself via an anchor love relationship which defines and inspires him. But maybe I’m just utterly too romantic?
Gay: ‘Felix’ was born from my fascination for the films of Alfred Hitchcock and their protagonists, especially those played by James Stewart. A cocktail of suspense, humor and good manners. From that, and as access with any project, things take on their own form and become something on their own.
RTRS: Episodes can begin or end with a corpse, clanging organ music, a camera’s slow crawl in towards a scene or body, mark of horror cinema. Yet the tone of the series is usually comedic. One of your main challenges, you told me in the past, was to maintain the balance between comedy and thriller. Could you comment?
Gay: It’s a combination that I like a lot, that I enjoy as a spectator and wanted to transfer to ‘Felix.’ But you have to be attentive because it’s a really delicate balance to pull off. Dialogue, mise-en-scene, acting, framing, costume. music, just a few frames more or less before cutting … everything has to come together to achieve this, nothing can be out of tone.
RTRS: Having said that the comedy-thriller balance is important, the real suspense of “Felix” is, and i think it’s crucial, a psychological question: Putting himself through so much, transformed by love, is he a better or happier person? Again, any reaction appreciated.
Gay: Possibly neither. Felix is transformed, despite himself, into a stranger to himself: a man who is valiant, obsessive, romantic, even tormented. You’re who you are despite yourself. That’s what Felix discovers.
RTRS: The series has a singular love story between an Argentine man and Chinese woman, in a world of Andorran, Spanish and French secondary characters. With this I sense you’re celebrating both cultural diversity and the far greater similarity of people from different cultures than is often imagined….
Gay: I’m conscious of this mix which I developed, along with other decisions, throughout the project. I thought it was the best way of shaping the world of the series, at a visual and other levels.
RTRS: If “Felix” had a second creator, it would be Leonardo Sbaraglia. How did you direct him? What key guidelines did you give?
Gay: We sat down for a week, every morning, and read and spoke about his character, about the series, and about ourselves, which always happens in the intimacy of a rehearsal room. Each of us gaining the confidence in the other to take on a marriage of five months of daily work. After lunch, we would have costume tests, which I thought essential. Finding the right cloths for a character is the first step to understanding them.
LOS ANGELES: Michelle Dockery, who found fame around the globe as “Downton Abbey’s” Lady Mary Crawley, was honored with the first Variety Icon Award for Canneseries at Saturday’s official opening ceremony for the inaugural Cannes TV fest.
Described by Variety’s Stewart Clarke as “an actor at the top of their game during this golden age of scripted television,” Dockery, striking in a one-strap full-length red evening gown, told a packed Palais des Festivals crowd that in the last decade, “pretty well as long as I’ve been doing TV,” television had “transformed enormously.” “I feel extremely fortunate to be part of the international surge in its landscape,” she added.
She had another, more personal, reason for being happy for the Variety Icon Award.
As a teenager Dockery was “obsessed” with television, she confessed on stage in her acceptance speech: “I would sit with my mum and dad, we would watch ‘Prime Suspect,’ starring the great Helen Mirren, Jimmy McGovern’s ‘Cracker,’ and ‘The Jewel in the Crown.’ Those were the shows which inspired me to pursue a career in acting.”
Fittingly, Dockery dedicated the Variety Icon Award to “my Mum and Dad.”
A career reel reminded the audience of the range of Dockery’s performances and indeed accents, from Lady Mary’s cut-glass vowels to the American twang of Western “Godless.”
Clarke put Dockery’s success in context: After “Downton Abbey,” Dockery went on to star in US cable network TNT’s drama series “Good Behavior,” and can currently be seen in Netflix’s original limited series ‘Godless,’ the Western drama that has won praise from fans and critics alike… “meaning she has now starred in hit free TV, cable TV, and streaming TV series.”
Fleur Pellerin, Canneseries president, joined Clarke on stage to give Dockery the first Variety Icon Award.
The Award was one highlight of the opening ceremony, the other the presence on stage of Jean-Jacques Annaud, Patrick Dempsey, Ben Schnetzer (“Snowden”) and Kristine Froseth, for a sneak peek 35 minute presentation of select scenes from “The Truth About the Harry Quebert Affair.”
The 10-part series is produced by MGM Television, Eagle Pictures and Barbary Films. MGM Television handles international sales.
Described by Annaud as a “thriller about impossible love,” “The Truth” turns on a young novelist who in 2008, suffering writer’s block, seeks out his mentor Quebert, author of a masterpiece of modern American literature, but suddenly indicted with the abduction and murder of a 15-year-old girl who befriended Quebert the same summer back in 1975 as he wrote his novel.
From the scenes screened, Annaud’s uses sweeping aerial shots to capture the beauty of the Maine coast. Those contrast with a narrative, switching back and forth from 2008 and 1975, where everything — and everybody — are not what they seem.
A big series with a star and star director “The Truth” looks like, from the scenes shown, that it could sit comfortably in open-air primetime while its strong mystery murder drive makes it ideal for compulsive SVOD binge viewing.