Shocked and saddened to learn of the sudden death of Jean-Marc Vallée. The Emmy Award winning Montreal-born director passed away Dec. 26 at his cabin near Quebec City. No cause of death has been given at this time.
Early in 2017, at a conference I attended, the stars of HBO’s Big Little Lies raved about their director at the winter Television Critics Association press tour that February.
“It’s hard for him to talk about how incredibly genius and amazing he is,” said Reese Witherspoon about Vallée, “but I’ve never worked with a director who felt the performances, who will sit and cry with you about what your character is feeling, is there with you.”
At first, Vallée was only signed on to direct one or two episodes, “and then we all attacked him and begged him to do more,” said Witherspoon, “because it just became clear, it was in him. These characters were part of a story he needed to tell, which is real.”
Vallée directed Witherspoon to an Oscar nomination in the 2014 film “Wild.” Nicole Kidman had never worked with him before Big Little Lies, but she, too, came away a big fan.
“He is an auteur,” says Kidman. “To have somebody else step in and try to mimic his style and his voice, it wouldn’t have worked, so we were very lucky.”
Adapted for television by David E. Kelley (Ally McBeal), the series also starred Laura Dern, Alexander Skarsgard, Adam Scott, Zoe Kravitz and Nova Scotia native James Tupper.
In 1995, Vallée directed and co-wrote one of the most successful Quebec films ever, “C.R.A.Z.Y.” Three films later, he directed Matthew McConaughey to a best actor Oscar in “Dallas Buyers Club.”
His move to premium TV continued with his next project, Sharp Objects. Amy Adams had the lead in that project.
At that same 2017 press conference, Witherspoon told reporters that the director went to great lengths to make sure Big Little Lies was a bonding experience. He encouraged the main cast members “to have dinner and drink wine and talk about our lives and become real friends and actually share each other’s experience so that when you get to the actual scene on the day, there’s an understanding of each other that’s so much deeper than character.”
The result had the lead actresses feeling more like girlfriends than cast members. This helped them on the set of the series, says Witherspoon.
“I saw myself in different stages of motherhood all through my life,” says the actress, who has three children of her own. “I was a mom at 22, like Jane; and then I was a mom who was 40, like Madeline. I’ve been divorced, I’ve been remarried.”
Vallee said he felt “privileged and blessed” to work with actresses “who want to push themselves to serve a story that is meaningful to them, to us.” Simply put, he said, “I love actors, and I want to capture them.”
The feeling was mutual. Witherspoon tweeted her condolences:
My heart is broken. My friend. I love you. https://t.co/dvh63E8K7I— Reese Witherspoon (@ReeseW) December 27, 2021
As did Big Little Lies costar Laura Dern:
Beautiful Jean-Marc Vallee. The world has lost one of our great and purest artists and dreamers. And we lost our beloved friend. Our hearts are broken. pic.twitter.com/v9WXikI48e— Laura Dern (@LauraDern) December 27, 2021
Condolences to his family, including two children, co-workers, friends and many fans.