It wouldn’t be entirely unfair to call Danièle Thompson something of a late bloomer. An accomplished and prolific screenwriter for decades, Thompson, 68, only started directing 11 years ago, when she helmed “La Bûche,” with Charlotte Gainsbourg and Emmanuelle Béart, which she also wrote.
Her fourth directorial endeavor, “Change of Plans,” to be released in August, follows a group of bourgeois couples as they prepare for a dinner party thrown by ML, whose mother has just died, and her husband, Piotr, who has just lost his job. Romances fizzle, new alliances form and in the event’s postmortem, unexpected relationships bloom.
Considering her lineage, it’s no surprise Thompson has proved to be a multitalented filmmaker. Her father was legendary director Gérard Oury, with whom she collaborated on many screenplays, and her mother is actress Jacqueline Roman. Thompson’s son, Christopher, is an actor who also cowrote the scripts for her last four films.
In town to meet with longtime pal Nora Ephron, whose “Love, Loss and What I Wore” Thompson is adapting for the Parisian stage in January, the director-screenwriter chatted with WWD about dinner-party choreography, Franco-American differences and why laughing at a funeral isn’t so horrible.
WWD: Was there a specific dinner party that made you think it would make a great subject for a film?
Danièle Thompson: Yes, in a way, a long, long time ago. [My husband and I] had a very nice little dinner with six couples at home and at one point the subject came up, which we’ve all been through: How did you two meet? So everybody around the table told the story of the day they met. And the next day a very close friend called me and said, “You know, we didn’t want to ruin your dinner party, but we wanted to tell you that yesterday afternoon we had decided to get a divorce.” And I was so stunned, like, “My God, how did I not realize? I thought, Oh my god, this is amazing because they were so gracious and so strong.”
WWD: This particular party is also funny. Is the comic tone representative of your approach to life?
D.T.: Very much. I’m the kind of person who can suddenly have a laugh that’s impossible to keep in at a funeral. But it doesn’t prevent tears.
WWD: You’ve laughed at funerals?
D.T.: Of course. Haven’t you?
WWD: No, I can’t say that I have.
D.T.: When I was at my grandmother’s funeral, where I was very, very sad, one of the undertakers said to my father, “Are you satisfied?” Because he was talking about his work and how everything went. And my father looked at him and I burst out laughing. The poor man is distraught, his mother just died and the guy says, “Are you satisfied?” Of course you laugh. And it doesn’t prevent you from feeling terrible.
WWD: If “Change of Plans” were an American film with American characters, how do you think it would differ?
D.T.: You have dinner a bit earlier. We have dinner at nine; you have dinner at eight.