‘DogMan’: Luc Besson On His Divisive Dog-Eat-Dog Drama, Gary Oldman’s “Genius” & More ‘Valerian’ [The Discourse Podcast]

In this week’s episode of The Discourse, host Mike DeAngelo digs into the film “DogMan” with writer/director Luc Besson (“The Fifth Element,” “Leon: The Professional,” “Valerian And The City Of A Thousand Planets.”). The film follows Doug (Caleb Landry Jones), a young, crippled, abandoned man, beaten down by a tough life who has a supernatural connection to his canine companions. The film also stars Jojo T. GibbsChristopher DenhamGrace Palma, and more. 

READ MORE: Luc Besson Says He Gave Tarantino The Idea For The 10-Film Retirement Plan & Says He Has 3 Films Left

During the interview, Besson spoke about the real-life story that inspired his latest twisted action opus.

“I read an article about this father who threw his kid—four years old— in a cage with dogs for four years.” Besson shared. “And I couldn’t believe the article. I am the father of five, and I don’t know how twisted and sick you can be to do this kind of thing. But the real subject for me was what happened to this kid? What do you become after that? When your roots, your family—it’s like the roots of a tree. You cut the roots. How can the tree stand up, you know? He’s going to fall with the wind. So I tried to imagine what could happen to this guy, and basically, there are two paths. The one way you can be a terrorist and kill everyone. And the other way is he could be Mother Teresa and use all this pain to try to do something with it. The dark way is The Joker, and the light way, the hope—is Dogman.”

They say never to work with kids or dogs in movies. Well, Mr. Besson didn’t seem to heed that advice, as the film includes over 120 different canines throughout the film, which ended up being a unique experience for everyone on set. 

“There’s 124 dogs every day. Every kind, every species, some were trained coming from Hollywood, others came from France, we have like 22 trainers,” Besson said. “So, it’s a giant bordello all day. It’s almost like the sea. You never know with the sea. You have to deal with it.”

READ MORE: ‘Dogman’ Review: Luc Besson’s Freakish Canine Fable Is Rotten To The Bone [Venice]

Besson has been working steadily for decades, but his most beloved films are the films he did with legendary actor Gary Oldman, “Leon: The Professional” and “The Fifth Element.” During the chat, Besson reflected on those days and his deep respect for Oldman. 

“Gary’s a genius—no question about it. It’s a pure pleasure working with him, and I hope we can work together again. But when we were doing ‘The Fifth Element,’ he was shooting his first movie as a director at the same time that I produced,” Besson reminisced. “It was so free. We go, ‘What about this? Okay, let’s try.’ I was always on time and on budget. So we would not be abusing any situation. It was just like we were there to try to do things. You know, it was such a great period when I was working with Sony. And it’s the time when the studio just made a bet on you. They say, ‘I love this guy. Let him do his movie.’ And they comment when we come with the first cut, saying, ‘Oh yeah, that’s good, but what do you think about this?’ But it was pure because you didn’t receive notes and paper or under your door saying you have to change this, and this is because the AI says something. It was a real creation.”

Besson shifted to a story from his first project with Oldman, “Leon: The Professional,” where Oldman thought the director hated his performance at first.

“So with Gary [in ‘Leon: The Professional], he has a scene where he comes into the apartment of Matilda where he killed the father. He’s pretending to play the piano on the chimney. And he tried with Mozart, Beethoven, and Mahler. He tried with everyone. Then, after 20 takes, he turns and he comes to me and says, ‘Look, there is a problem?’ I said, ‘No, why?’ He says, ‘It’s 20 takes.’ And I say, ‘Oh, No. No. No, I’ve had it since the third one.’ It was just the pleasure of it, so we did 25 takes because it was like genius. Like every take was different, so it was amazing.”

Besson is still working his way back from the perceived failure that was the most expensive independent film in history, “Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets.” While many consider the film a box-office bomb, Besson insists it did well enough overseas to break even.

[Valerian] wasn’t a success in the U.S. Over here, it was pretty good. No, we [broke even] with the movie. We didn’t make money, but we didn’t lose money. But I love it,” Besson said. 

So, will he be jumping back into the big-budget world any time soon? 

“Find me $200 million, and [I’d] do [another] one tomorrow. I would love to. You need a big studio to back you up, and everybody is scared right now. And that’s too bad,” Besson shared. “You see the world where we are now because ‘Valerian’ is already six, seven years ago. Today, I think it’s impossible. Well, you can find someone crazy—a rich person who says, ‘I want to see the best sci-fi movie ever!’ and then you can do something. Or you win the lottery. Or the head of a studio is smart enough or crazy enough to trust, oh my God, I said the word, to trust the director or the creator and say, ‘I bet on you.”

“Dogman” is in limited theaters on March 29th and nationwide on April 5th. You can listen to the full interview below: