Adele's 'Hello' Music Video Director: 'She Deserves It All'

Photo by Shayne Laverdière
Director Xavier Dolan on the set of "Hello" with Adele

Filmmaker Xavier Dolan explains how he developed the concept for her latest visuals.

Quebec filmmaker and actor Xavier Dolan is getting a lot of attention, as Adele releases the video he directed for the song “Hello,” her first single in three years and the first taste of her forthcoming album, 25, which drops Nov. 20.

Dolan, 26, whose film Mommy won the Jury Prize at the 2014 Cannes Film Festival, nine awards at the Canadian Screen Awards and 10 at the Jutra Awards, calls the experience “one of the finest opportunities of my life,” but it wasn’t a surefire thing, he explains. If he didn’t connect with the song, he wouldn’t have taken the job.

The music video -- produced by Believe Media and the first to be shot with IMAX cameras, the company tweeted -- stars actor Tristan Wilds (The Wire, 90210), who has a recording career of his own as Mack Wilds, as Adele’s love interest.

Dolan spoke to about the process behind putting together the video.

Congratulations. It’s big news in the music world that the song and video are out.

That’s very nice. She deserves it all.

How does a Quebec filmmaker and actor come to work with a British pop singer?

Adele reached out herself. She had seen some of my movies and she wanted to work with me which was very flattering.  I guess the journey is going to London, sitting down with her and listening to the song and being emotionally ruined by the song and saying "Yes, I want to do it, please, so much."

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Did she tell you which films she saw of yours and what she liked about what you did?

The connection isn’t, I guess, that sophisticated. And when I think about it actually and I only came to realize this yesterday when I was verbalizing it, but she writes songs about unrequited love, unrequited romances, which is mostly what my movies are all about, deep down. So I guess just like her songs, my movies hit close to home and feel very reminiscent of many things for me -- we never really discussed it actually but she’s seen Mommy and I Killed My Mother. I think those two movies are very emotional although they are very different from one another, literally the opposite end of my very short career, the first one and the most recent one. Somehow I think they must have talked to her in a way that she wanted to meet me and then we met and it clicked right away. She’s great. And she’s funny. And I guess we could have talked about work or the music video itself and we ended up talking about life and about our own unrequited romances and her son and my mother and it just became really private, very humane. It was just an encounter on the human side before it ever was an encounter on the work side.

From what you just said, it sounds like you would’ve worked together developing the concept for the video or was it all you?

The way I work with songs is I have been submitted songs in the past and some of them were really great but I would listen to them and not especially be inspired and no matter how the prestigious the opportunity was, I felt frozen; I felt sort of paralyzed. I wouldn’t see anything. I wouldn’t be inspired and when that happens to me, I’m just the wrong guy for that sort of gig. So I was scared when Adele wanted to meet that I would hear her song, obviously like it but then I thought, "What if I feel like I’m the wrong guy to tell that story for that song?" But as soon as I heard it, I immediately saw the story and the images literally go by in my head and I told her, "I’m seeing things right now. Do you want me to share those things with you?" and she’s like, "Yeah." And we were just on the same wavelength, on the same page from day-one.

And what were those visions, from the dead flies on the windowsill to the windblown hair?

We were talking about more generic line. We were talking about the color, black and white. I told her, "I see something very simple. Call me dumb or agree but what I see is a girl picking up the phone and saying ‘Hello.’  I see you in an old house in the country, thinking about someone from your past and making a phone call," and that was where we were starting from and she agreed. I think where we strike is in the details. And so when you’re talking about the flies in the window, that all came when we were shooting. So many things came on the spur. The coat is a thing that came early on. I wanted her to wear that big coat. I wanted to buy the fabric for that coat myself. I wanted her in that forest. I wanted her to be surrounded by all those leaves. I wanted her to be standing on that rock, contemplating that pond. We looked for those locations. We tracked those places. 

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Where was it shot? It’s beautiful grounds.

It was shot in Dunham, in the Eastern Townships. Dunham is a small town maybe 20 minutes north from Vermont. It’s in Quebec. And the shot in the apartment with Tristan Wilds were shot in a Montreal apartment.

Why did you select Tristan as her love interest?

Because I like him. I was wondering what he was doing. I hadn’t seen him in a while. I know he’s on a couple of shows in the United States but I for one hadn’t seen him in a while and have always loved him and saw that he would be a great match.

When you say you hadn’t seen him in a while, do you know him?

No, I didn’t. We connected and we had a lovely Skype and he showed up on set and he was such a good sport. We improvised so many things together. I was behind the camera pretending to be Adele and he would be shouting these things at me or we would be laughing together. I would just improv with me which was really generous of him and he was such a trooper.

Tristan and Adele are never on screen together. Were they ever?

No.  You never see her because he’s looking at the camera as if it was her. That’s why you never really see her.

What other music videos have you done?

I’ve only done one other music video apart from my movies.  It’s for a song called "College Boy" by Indochine that was released two years ago.

Most music video directors want to go on to direct films. When a cool opportunity comes up, will you just squeeze in a video between filmmaking?

Yeah. I don’t really have a plan as a filmmaker. I don’t plan on moving to Hollywood. I don’t plan on working with French actors but it did happen on the latter movie, It’s Only the End of the World. That’s what happened. All French cast.  But I don’t really have an agenda. I don’t really have goals. I have goals as an actor. I know what I want as an actor. I know that I have dreams of an actor, that I dream of working with certain directors and I certainly dream of working in the USA as an actor, but as a filmmaker Adele approached me and I was like, "This is it. This is what I’m doing next." It’s really about what feels important emotionally and what feel right and you never really know until you know.

Her album comes out in November. There will be many singles. Your experience working together sounds great, maybe you will do another one?

Maybe. Who knows?

Did you get the get the chance to hear the new album?

No, I didn’t.  I don’t know that I would direct another video from that one album. I certainly want to work with her again in whichever format. Is it a movie or is it a music video? Who knows?

Would you like people seeing this video to seek out your films?

Sure. I am truly not famous. When you’re looking at Adele’s life and career, of course it’s a great opportunity for me. And artistically it was one of the finest opportunities of my life and we spent such a great time together and it was so much fun, so inspiring to make that video together, her and I and all of the crew. But I’m already seeing in my Twitter feed, that some Internet sites are saying, "Hey you like this video, here are his movies, if you’re curious." That’s really nice. Sure.