This Friday, December 3rd, Focus Features is unleashing Nathalie Biancheri’s psychological drama Wolf which is centered around characters who all share a common diagnosis: species dysphoria. At the center of Biancheri’s story is Jacob (played by George MacKay), who ends up in a clinic after his belief that he’s a wolf trapped inside a human body ends up taking a toll on his everyday life and he hopes that he can get the treatment he needs in order to live up to society’s standards of what’s “normal.” While there, Jacob meets the enigmatic Wildcat (Lily-Rose Depp) who becomes something of a kindred spirit to him, and soon enough, they’re both faced with some tough decisions about their identities and just where they want to fit in after all.
Recently, Daily Dead had the opportunity to speak with Biancheri about Wolf, and she discussed the inspiration behind the project and how she decided she didn’t want to examine species dysphoria from a documentary standpoint. Biancheri also discussed working with her cast and the importance of not judging the unconventional characters at the heart of her story.
Great to speak with you today, Nathalie. This film has really stuck with me and I was wondering what inspired you to explore the lives of these types of characters in particular who have this specific affliction? I'm not somebody who believes that I'm an animal or anything like that, but yet there's a lot about the experiences and the journeys of these characters as a whole that I really related to.
I am just so happy to hear that the film stayed with you because I had a few goals for the film but very few answers for the things that we explore here. The one thing I was hoping for was that I just wanted people to think about it. That was definitely something I was really keen to achieve. Initially, I'd heard about species dysphoria through a news piece about someone who thought she was a cat and it had a slightly comical perspective. I wasn't enthralled by the piece itself, but I did think that the syndrome itself was quite fascinating.
I didn't know anything about it and then I realized that it was growing in society and that it mostly affected teenagers at this stage. I even dabbled briefly with the idea of maybe making a documentary about it but then I realized that what I was most interested in wasn’t necessarily tied to exploring species dysphoria in real life, but rather the conceptual existential questions that perhaps I had with this idea of people being animals. So I thought, “Okay, say that you decided that you identify with the parrot and you feel like you’re a parrot and you want to wear a costume as a parrot. Where does that come from and what in our world has perhaps pushed you toward that feeling?”
Like, does it come from a need to reconnect to nature, or is it a need to stand out in a world in which we're all whitewashed to be the same? Or is it because of our overdependence on technology or is it just a result of a sense of loss where you have to give yourself an identity as something that you desperately need? And that for me was one sphere of questions I wanted to take on here, which I think I attempted without being presumptive of the audience’s expectations. With George’s character, he’s a reflection of the outside world and what that feels like to him where he just feels that he is a wolf. So, what does it mean to be completely in the wrong skin and he’s in not only the wrong skin, but he feels this so deeply that he can’t even sit comfortably in the real world because he really believes he is an animal. How does he deal with having that naturally instinctive violence inside of him? I thought that that kind of duality was just very interesting to explore in the film.
Ultimately, your narrative in Wolf really doesn't try to make any judgments about these characters and how they don't conform to society and things like that. I was curious, from your perspective, was that super important for you to make sure you weren’t coming down on these characters or this affliction in a way that would close off aspects of the story you created here? Hopefully, that makes sense.
It does, and I know it's so tricky to talk about, so I totally get it. But that was super important to me and that's also part of why I didn't want to make a documentary. I didn't want to have a position of judgment at all, nor did I want to have to take one either. While writing and making the film, I really focused on the characters and working with the actors on each individual character, because I loved each one of them so much. I genuinely adored them and felt for them. I also wanted to have the freedom that we could laugh if something struck us as funny because I didn’t want to be rigid about everything.
I thought the only thing I can do is be true to each of those characters and really work on them and really know who they are. But again, because I did want to explore what I felt were two slightly different sides to these characters because they don’t deserve to be forced into being something else, I think. Hopefully, this story feels like it has a lot of love for these characters and empathy for them, and zero judgment.
I wanted to talk about George and Lily’s performances in this because they're astonishingly great. The word commitment came up a few times in my interview with them, because their roles - everyone in this film, really - take performers who can give themselves over to this premise, to these characters, to their experiences. Otherwise, it's not going to work. And they're both so transformative in their performances. How was it working with them on Wolf?
I think that there were quite different processes with each character and actor, but the one thing that I always try and search for is this granule of truth. But with Lily, it was interesting with her because she did a tape for me and she really went for it with the cat performance without having trained for it or anything. She just seemed so brave and so willing to go there and willing to try things. That can be very difficult to actually pull off in a tape, but also with her character, I wasn't searching for an absolute truth either. It was just as important to see this broken girl too, you know? We also did a workshop in person where we were uncovering that side of her, and it was fascinating because she just looks so feline-esque and she had this cat-like attitude naturally. Even when you just see her in a photograph, you can see the cat-like qualities, but then, in reality, she’s nothing like her wildcat character, which she would even admit.
But her character is the most frightened, institutionalized person in there so it was interesting to explore the boundaries of like, where is it a performance and where is it real? And with George, again, it was different because it took me a bit of casting to realize I wasn't going to see someone with wolf-like qualities, not at the level that I needed them to be. But I did work intensely with them and with a movement specialist too, Terry Notary. He’s a brilliant guy. But this process was different for all of the actors, and the process with which we worked on their characters with all the actors varied greatly.