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Photo by Kim Hardy, courtesy of Anthony Fabian.

Get to Know the Filmmaker: Anthony Fabian Talks ‘Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris’

With awards season in full swing, we wanted to sit down with someone whose film landed on BAFTA’s longlists — in the categories of Outstanding British Film, Leading Actress and Costume Design — as well as garnered a nomination for Costume Design. And let’s not forget an Oscar nod in the latter category, as well. Anthony Fabian’s previous features include 2008’s Skin, 2014’s Louder Than Words and the 2019 documentary Good Hope. But when he sat down with Casting Networks via Zoom, it was his recently nominated picture, Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris, that was on the table. Besides directing, Fabian also helped write and produce the film about a widowed cleaning woman in 1950s London whose dream takes her to the City of Light. Keep reading for insights into the filming process — and what inspired Fabian to make the movie — as well as a window into the person behind it.

It’s great to virtually meet you, Anthony, and I’d love to kick things off right at the start of your career journey. When was the snapshot moment that you realized filmmaking was the job for you?

Funny enough, it happened when I was seven. We were in Mexico City, and my mother was an actress at the time. She was cast in a commercial that filmed there, and after hearing they needed a little boy to play her son, she had me come in to audition for the role. And surprise — I got the part. [Laughs] But when I walked on set for the first time and experienced the crew and cameras and lighting, I suddenly felt at home. I knew it was the world I wanted to inhabit.

That’s wonderful you had such conviction about it at a very young age. Now, fast-forwarding to present day, I have to ask about Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris. What inspired you to bring Paul Gallico’s novel to the screen?

I’ve been a lifelong fan of Paul Gallico. I read some of his children’s books very early on, such as Jennie, The Poseidon Adventure and The Snow Goose. I wasn’t aware of the Mrs. Harris series until many years later, though. When I signed with a manager in LA — who also manages the Paul Gallico estate — he sent me an adaptation of Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris. I was immediately charmed by its central character, who I just found to be completely delightful. In addition, I particularly responded to it because my father moved to Paris when I was seven, and the city became a second home for me. And as somebody who has spent most of his life in the UK, I felt that I had quite a profound knowledge of France and French culture and could do justice to those aspects of the story. Since the film falls into the category of magic realism, I wanted the real parts to feel absolutely authentic. That included casting French actors in the French roles, and since I speak the language, I could guide the actors in either French or English. So, doing a film that was set in London and Paris felt like a good fit for me in terms of my background and experience.

It sounds like it! And you’ve piqued my curiosity regarding languages. How many do you speak in total?

Spanish was my mother tongue — it was the first language that I spoke fluently. I grew up bilingual, speaking English and Spanish. Then I picked up French, German, Italian and a bit of Russian.

Wow. That is impressive! Now, switching gears here, it’s time for my favorite question. If someone made a film about your life story, which actor would you want to play the role of Anthony Fabian? And what genre would it be?

People used to often say that I reminded them of Robert Downey Jr. I did actually work with him on a film called Restoration many years ago during his wild days. At the time, I couldn’t understand why anyone thought we were similar. But he’s an absolutely wonderful actor, and I would be honored to have him play me. Plus, he’s since cleaned up his act and turned out to be quite a gentleman. So, I’d nominate him for the role. And the film’s genre would be quite easy — I like things that make people laugh and also cry. For me, it’s very important to engage the emotions in everything I do. But at the same time, I think people need lightness and laughter and entertainment.

So, the film would be a dramedy.

Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris director Anthony Fabian signing pictures on the red carpet. Fabian on the red carpet at a film festival in Rome. Courtesy of Anthony Fabian.

Great choice! And before we wrap, I wanted to note that you have some previous credits as a music supervisor. I’d love to hear about it, along with how music plays into your work as a director now.

Music plays an enormous role in the work that I do. I studied a few instruments, including the cello and the piano, and worked in opera as a director and assistant director for five years after finishing film school and coming back to the UK. I’m very excited by the amalgam of different art forms, and when I make a film, I think of it like a symphony. For example, it has to have a variety of tempos — the rate at which it moves and how it moves needs to fluctuate. And in Mrs. Harris, there were musical elements that corresponded to certain characters. Mrs. Harris has her own theme and collection of instruments that represent her, which are led by the piano. In comparison, the Marquis has a lovely flute theme, which is very French in style. So, music plays an enormous role in my thinking when it comes to structuring a film, in general. For Mrs. Harris, in particular, I was inspired by musical films like Funny Face and The Umbrellas of Cherbourg. I echoed their camera choreography in how I shot Mrs. Harris — my aim was to create a musical, but without the singing.

Thanks for sharing those insights into how you approach filmmaking.

Regarding the music supervisor credits, I was employed in that role early in my career because of my ability to communicate with and understand musicians. I was essentially a translator that could explain what the director wanted to the composer in a language they understood. Now as a director myself, I very much enjoy collaborating with composers because we have that language in common.

From his multilingualism to his musical fluency, this has been a look into the person behind Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris. Those interested in learning more about other titles that make up Fabian’s filmography can find them listed on IMDb.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

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