Lukas Dhont was a teenager when he found the inspiration for his latest film. It was a newspaper story about a young trans girl who wanted to be a ballerina and wanted to fit in. Fitting in is a desire that we can all relate to, and it was a story that resonated deeply with Dhont. He found the girl in the article and told her that he wanted to make a documentary about her transition. When she said she didn’t want to be in front of the camera, together they wrote a fictional narrative instead.
Girl tells the story of a girl going through her transition. Dhont I talked to about his casting choices for the film, his approach to the story about her struggle to fit in, and his message to the trans community.
Tell us how the story for Girl happened.
In 2009, I was eighteen years old and I just about to start film school. I had read an article in a newspaper about a young girl who wanted to become a ballerina but had been assigned male at birth. I had this immediate attraction to her story and to her as a human being. I thought she was a great example of someone who chose the true example of themselves at a very young age. I admired that and that dream of her wanting to be a ballerina at a young age and I really resonated with that.
I contacted her because I wanted to shoot a documentary around her. She didn’t want that because she was in a moment in time where she didn’t want to be filmed. So, she agreed to write a script with me and that eventually became Girl.
You’re telling the story of her transition. What was important for you in telling this story?
I really wanted to focus on the trans character. We eliminated as much as possible the fight with the outside world and the antagonists around them. I wanted to focus on the complex relationship that we can have with ourselves. For me, that was very important. when I really got to know her and spoke to her more. I found we had something in common. From a young age, she was honest about who she was, but her realization had come at a time when she didn’t want to stand out because of who she was. At the time I was 18, I wasn’t open about my sexuality and I felt I was similar, as a person who wanted to fit in, not stand out, and not be different. That’s where I found that I really wanted to talk about. This moment in our lives where we want to be a part of the flock rather than our unique selves.
What I found interesting was focusing on the ballet story. Why you chose that?
Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui was the choreographer and when I was talking with him about the film and the scenes, we had agreed that we didn’t want to highlight the choreography, but more the effects of it on the body. We wanted to make a physical film rather than a dance film. When we were talking about it, it was really a collaboration between Sidi, Frank van den Eeden (my DP), and I about how to make it visceral. If you watch the ballet in the film, you’ll see how it’s used as a metaphor. This character has difficulty finding her way in that world and so she wants to manipulate her body to fit into that world and so that’s the big metaphor.
Talk about your casting choices, because Victor is not a trans-actor. What was the decision behind that?
Victor is a teenager. He’s 14. It’s hard for me to categorize him and, like all teenagers, he was finding himself. Our casting was over a year and a half. We saw over 500 people. we saw dancers, non-dancers, trans people, non-trans people. We saw so many different people and at one point we feared we couldn’t find someone right for the part.
All of a sudden, this young person came into the room. We were casting for the other dancers and this person blew me away and I feel everyone who watches this film is blown away by his performance.
The biggest strength of any artist is empathy and being able to place yourself in someone else’s shoes. I think it’s such an important word in this time in America.
What would you say to some in the trans community who might be unhappy that a trans person was not cast? Or how you can tell this story even though you’re not trans.
I would say, let’s have a conversation. I’m so excited by the idea of more trans stories being told with trans actors. There was a trans person at the core of this process who didn’t want to be in front of the camera. I wanted to respect her choice.
I would say let’s engage in conversation because it’s such a critical moment about representation. I want to be part of the conversation. I want the trans community to be a part of it. I feel we care about the same cause and we have to gather together, because if we gather we are stronger and look in the same direction.
I do, strongly believe Victor was the right choice.