Becoming Karl Lagerfeld (Disney+): “We all love Karl, with his thousand faults that we know”

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The series Becoming Karl Lagerfeld can be seen on Disney+.

Daniel Brühl plays Karl Lagerfeld for Disney+.

© Disney+

Rather captivating, the series invites the viewer to discover the man behind the myth, long before he was the fashion designer known to all. Indeed, in the 1970s, he was still only an almost anonymous ready-to-wear designer who nevertheless dared to compete with his friend and rival, Yves Saint Laurent.

Screened in preview during the Canneséries festival last April, this series produced by Gaumont and Jour Premier shone on the Croisette. For the occasion, The Digitals was able to meet two members of his team, the creator and screenwriter Isaure Pisani-Ferry (Robbers) and the director of episodes 1, 2 and 6, Jérôme Salle (Long Winch).

Interview with Isaure Pisani-Ferry and Jérome Salle

Isaure Pisani-Ferry and Jerome Salle.

Isaure Pisani-Ferry and Jerome Salle.

© Les Numériques

In recent years, there have been a lot of series about fashion designers. We had The New Look on Christian Dior, the series Cristobal Balenciaga, and now this one. How do you explain this trend in the fashion series?

Isaure Pisani-Ferry Precisely in fashion, ideas are in the air and we don't know why suddenly there is this collective movement towards something. I would say that probably the fashion industry hadn't been explored yet. What’s strange is that several people in several different places – and without consulting each other – said to themselves at the same time “Hey, we’re going to do a series on fashion.” In any case for us, the trigger was the death of Karl Lagerfeld and the publication of the book [Kaiser Karl de Raphaëlle Bacqué, Ndlr].

Daniel Brühl plays Karl Lagerfeld in the Disney+ series.

Jerome Salle It's interesting this parallel with fashion that Isaure talks about, because it's true that it's the same thing. The ideas that are in the air of the times, deep down we cannot really understand why they exist, why they materialize. I also think that it is important for us, French, to explore this environment, in which we still historically have a form of legitimacy.

I think it's important for us, French, to explore this environment, in which we historically have a form of legitimacy.

Jerome Salle

Moreover, when the role was offered to Daniel [Brühl, qui incarne Lagerfeld dans la série], it was important to him that it was a French production, filmed in French and in Paris. I think that for us the desire comes from there too, to talk about part of our history, and French heritage.

Daniel Brühl and Arnaud Valois in the Disney+ series.

Daniel Brühl and Arnaud Valois in the Disney+ series.

© Disney+

Jérôme, when we look at your filmography, we mostly see thrillers, action films (Anthony Zimmer, Long Winch, Kompromat…). There, we are in a completely different universe. What attracted you to the project?

Room For me, the whole point of series is to have more collective work. It has several virtues, the main one being that it allows me to explore areas, environments, universes, tones that I would have more difficulty exploring in cinema where I am often more alone and therefore more limited with what I I know how to do and what I don't know how to do.

What fascinated me about this project was also getting out of my comfort zone, challenging myself and exploring a tone and a universe that were very different from what I had already done. And as it is a collective work, the pressure is also collective, which takes away a little this weight that we have with each film, where we have the impression of carrying it alone on our shoulders. This is not at all the case in series, and it's quite pleasant.

Daniel Brühl as Karl Lagerfeld.

When we think of Karl Lagerfeld, we see this man who we have never really understood, who cultivated mystery around him. How do you write and portray such a vague character?

Pisani-Ferry It was one of the great challenges of writing: how to keep the mystery while making Lagerfeld's character endearing, with a part of humanity to which we can connect, but without simplifying it, without trivializing it and keeping all that which escapes us at home. It's a lot of work.

How to keep the mystery while making Lagerfeld's character endearing […] but without simplifying it, without trivializing it and keeping everything that escapes us in it.

Isaure Pisani-Ferry

Room In terms of directing, my main obsession was to empathize with this character who, in fact, lives from a mask that he has continually refined and strengthened over time. So the staging, my way of shooting, I adapted it to that. And then, we were lucky to have Daniel Brühl, who has this power as an actor, capable of expressing emotions with immense subtlety while having precisely this reserve, this mystery but who does not leave us to distance.

Daniel Brühl and Théodore Pellerin in the Disney+ series Becoming Karl Lagerfeld.

Daniel Brühl and Théodore Pellerin.

© Disney+

For all of us who created this show, our challenge from day one was figuring out how to empathize, how to understand who this character is. At the same time, that's what's exciting: a character whose image we all know, so mysterious, and where all of a sudden, we'll finally try to understand who he is.

Daniel Brühl has this power as an actor, capable of expressing emotions with immense subtlety

Jerome Salle
How did the casting of Daniel Brühl go?

Pisani-Ferry We dreamed of him from the start. We knew he would be the ideal actor because we knew his work and the fact that he can play anything. He spoke every language we needed him to speak: English, German, French, Italian. He was the right age, he was German, he fit so well, and he had this ability to create immediate empathy and therefore to play potentially very complex characters but also with this direct connection.

So we approached him for the first time but it was much too early, we didn't have a script yet so his agent told us to come back when that was the case, and we learned afterwards that he had heard to say that we had approached him for the role but then we had disappeared. He was very worried then, he wondered if the role had gone to someone else, etc. And then finally we came back, once Jérôme joined us.

We knew he would be the ideal actor because we knew his work and the fact that he can play anything.

Isaure Pisani-Ferry

Room When Gaumont came to see me, the first name I gave, without us talking about it, was that of Daniel, whom I have admired for a very long time because he is an immense actor. So there you have it, the planets have aligned. It doesn't happen often, but it does happen from time to time.

Alex Lutz lends his features to Pierre Bergé in the series Becoming Karl Lagerfeld.

Alex Lutz lends his features to Pierre Bergé in the Disney+ series.

© Disney+

When you write or direct a series about a famous person like Karl Lagerfeld, of whom the public still has relatively fresh memories, how do you navigate between the desire to make fiction and the inevitable comparison with reality?

Pisani-Ferry It's even more complicated when you're talking about someone who himself had the art of inventing a character and who spent his entire life building his legend. Not only by learning, by reading, by inquiring, you discover what is behind the mask, but there is also a moment where it is your storytelling against his.

Lagerfeld was a great storyteller who created a very compelling narrative of himself. He liked to give himself an appearance of total lightness, as if he did not suffer, as if he had no doubts, as if he had no difficulty. As he did it with a lot of humor, it's very attractive, we want to believe it. So we're going to see how people react to the fact that we're trying to look behind the curtain and talk about the human behind the character.

Théodore Pellerin and Daniel Brühl in Becoming Karl Lagerfeld.

Room Obviously we invent a little bit, but there is a form of loyalty that is important. I think there is a kind of intellectual honesty, even if we obviously invent situations, we put words in the mouths of the characters. I also think that there is love for this man, because all of us, I put Daniel in the loop and Arnaud [de Crémiers] who produced, deep down we love Karl, with his thousand faults that we know. I believe it is made with love and that is important.

Pisani-Ferry It was important to love it and to educate ourselves a lot so that we knew what we were talking about.

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