How 'Theory of Everything' DP Benoît Delhomme told Hawking's story with color and light
I've had my eye on Benoît Delhomme's work since he brought an effortless grace to Anthony Minghella's "Breaking and Enterting" in 2006. He's made his way along a unique track in the industry and 2014 is a real coming out between Anton Corbijn's John le Carré adaptation "A Most Wanted Man" and James Marsh's Stephen Hawking biopic "The Theory of Everything."
Both films will be quite visible next week as the former hits DVD/Blu-ray and the latter arrives in theaters after debuting at the Toronto Film Festival in September. Both are incredibly rich displays that have very distinctive visual identities and prove Delhomme to be an exciting talent in the cinematography realm.
Read through our back and forth below as we talk about shooting Hamburg as a character, achieving bold effects with light and color symbolism and shooting both projects on digital.
"A Most Wanted Man" hits home video Nov. 4. "The Theory of Everything" opens in theaters Nov. 7.
HitFix: I thought "The Theory of Everything" looked beautiful. It's a very different kind of biopic, covering familiar terrain but with elegant strokes — score, editing, photography, etc. What were the seeds of how James Marsh wanted to capture this story visually?
Benoît Delhomme: We didn't really have a specific thing as a reference, but I talked to him about films by Douglas Sirk, about using strong colors and symbolic colors. We also talked about films by Krzysztof Kieslowski, films like "Blue," "White," "Red," and making the film in this kind of style. James said it was OK if I wanted to push the effect a bit more than you would usually do. We wanted the film to be organic but sometimes I thought the light and the colors could be stronger than what you would see in real life. I was quite happy, with James coming from a documentary background, that he was going with my ideas to push the emotion with my lighting.
Talk a little bit more about that. What specifically were you trying to do with how you lit the film?
I wanted the power of the natural light, of the windows. One of my ideas was Stephen is thinking about the universe, he's thinking about the world, the planets — his brain is always trying to think about how all this works, how the world is working. I wanted to see the power of the light everywhere in the film. I thought it was a way to express that Stephen needs the universe around him. Many times I have strong light on him, maybe strong sunlight on his face, because that's the energy he needs. With colors, for instance, when Jane is fighting him and he's watching TV alone in a small room, there is the sun going through the red curtains giving a red glow to the scene. It's something I didn't discuss with James before, but I thought because of the nature of the scene, that she didn't know what the problem was with Stephen, in a way it's like he's hiding himself in this big chair — I wanted to give this affect as if he was inside a body, inside the womb, in a way.
I'm doing a lot of things like this by instinct. You have to do things without trying to analyze why you're doing it on a film set. It's how you make a film richer. Because when you try to analyze too much, everybody might say, "Oh, that's too risky." You have to have something bolder than people would expect. I tried with many things to be bolder than what people were expecting of me: stronger sunlight, flaring the lens a lot, always with this idea that the film goes from the huge scale of the universe, in a way, to the very small scale of this couple. Strong light was a way for me to bring the universe into a very simple scene. It's a simple idea that you feel more than you see.