Why ‘Close’ Director Lukas Dhont Cast Newcomers Eden Dambrine and Gustav De Waele in His Oscar-Nominated Drama
“Close” director Lukas Dhont’s discovery of one of his film’s stars, Eden Dambrine, is straight out of a book of Hollywood legends.
Dhont approached Dambrine on a train in their native Belgium and asked if he’d like to audition for his movie. “I was a bit worried,” Dambrine, 16, recalls. “I asked my friends to search on Google to see if it was really Lukas Dhont who was talking to me. It was so I felt a bit more safe.”
Fast forward to 2023, and “Close” is up for best international feature at the Oscars. The A24 film is a drama about 13-year-old best friends Leo, played by Eden, and Rémi (Gustav De Waele). Tragedy occurs when Leo begins to distance himself from Rémi after they become the target of school bullies who believe the boys are a couple.
I caught up with Dhont, Dambrine and De Waele at A24’s offices in West Hollywood while the trio was in L.A. in February for a series of screenings and Q&As.
Lukas, tell me why you cast Eden and Gustav.
Dhont: Our casting process was quite elaborate in the sense that we organized full days with a group of boys so we could do workshops with them, and so that we could give them the time to grow and to dare to show things. This is very different [from] if you only invite them for 20 minutes, because they’re uncomfortable, they’ve never done it before, do they even like it? But what happened with these two is that in between all the moments where we were doing exercises with them, every time these two gravitated toward each other, like we would see them standing together somewhere. Then there was lunch, and they were sitting together and talking nonstop. Also, at the end of the day, there was this questionnaire in which they had to fill in all these questions about themselves. We just wanted to feel, who are they? Where are they in their lives? How do they feel about themselves? We also asked, “Who is your favorite person in the world?” They had filled in each other’s names.
De Waele: We just had an intense moment with each other, where we actually did a scene. And yeah, something happened there that we were inseparable.
I don’t think I’ve talked to any gay men who have seen the movie who haven’t said they could see themselves in both Leo and Rémi. When I was in high school, I fell in love with a boy. I didn’t really understand what was going on at the time but he pushed me away and ended our friendship without any explanation.
Dhont: This film starts from this deep place of regret that I carried around with me as an adult. I have a few who I pushed away at a young age because I feared the intimacy. I think I’m Leo, but I also think I have been Rémi in many occasions. I started to fear every vulnerable part or any tenderness that I felt inside of me. I started to fear it profoundly, and saw it as an absolute weakness for years and years and years.
But now you get to make movies about it.
I always thought I was going to make movies about zombies and vampires … But I realized that there was something to say about that young perspective on the world, of someone who feels he wants to belong to many rather than to himself and therefore betrays so many parts. So yes, that’s the films I make now. Maybe I’ll return to zombies someday.
You can do a queer zombie love story.
Exactly. I think A24 would be up for it.
Eden and Gustav, what did your friends think of the movie?
Dambrine: A whole group of us went to see it. At the end of the movie, everyone started crying in my arms and everyone started hugging me. It was the sweetest thing. I felt loved.
De Waele: It was very interesting because I saw that when my friends went together to see the movie, they were less expressive and didn’t show their emotions to each other. But when a friend of mine went alone to the movie, they talked to me like they really get the message and they really loved it. But when I’m with other friends, they do not dare to speak that language.
You both were in school when the Oscar nominations were announced.
Dambrine: I had my phone, sneakily, with YouTube on, so the teacher couldn’t see. When I heard it, I started crying and I was jumping up in the air and rolling on the ground.
De Waele: I was in dance class. I couldn’t watch it because you can’t have your phone when you’re dancing. When my friends and I heard the news, we ran to the other classes to tell them, but they already knew because they were watching it live.
Gustav, you said during one of the Q&As the other night that you would have loved to have met Billy Wilder. How the heck do you know who Billy Wilder is?
De Waele: My parents are in the film industry, so they let me watch a lot of movies. On Christmas Eve, we always watch “Some Like It Hot.” After the first time, I said to them, “Can I continue watching Billy Wilder movies?”
The Academy Awards are on March 12. The ceremony will broadcast live on ABC.
This Q&A has been edited and condensed for length and clarity.
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