A Love Letter to Love Itself

Dinklage Was the Essential Man

For a Great Entrance, the Perfect Stage

Variety Streaming Room

A Love Letter to Love Itself

Director Joe Wright is no stranger to adaptations, having carved out his reputation with award-winning screen versions of literary works including “Pride and Prejudice,” “Anna Karenina” and “Atonement.”

But since his teenage years, he’d obsessed over one classic text, Edmond Rostand’s 1897 play “Cyrano de Bergerac,” without ever bringing it to the screen.

Until now.

Wright knew he wanted to find a way to make “Cyrano” feel fresh while keeping it entirely uncynical. Rostand’s elegant, witty romantic drama has been reinterpreted for stage and screen many times. The story of a soldier with an enormous nose who harbors a secret love for a woman but uses his own silver tongue to help another man win her taps into the most primal of emotions.

Drawing from the classic 19th century play, “Cyrano” invites audiences into a universe of its own intricate design.

“It speaks to a universal feeling of unworthiness of love and fear of intimacy,” Wright says.

It wasn’t until he saw writer Erica Schmidt’s 2018 musical staging at a theater in Connecticut that he felt inspired to direct his own daring new version — one that would render Rostand’s classic both more modern and more romantic. Wright’s adaptation emphasizes the ways that a strong sense of self can impede the search for love and connection.

With Joe Wright’s bold vision, this “Cyrano” brings a modern sensibility to the classic romance and makes it sing

By James Linhardt

Wright calls the casting of Dinklage, sans fake nose, “a master stroke.”

“It makes [the story] urgent and relevant to this time. I often think the creative success of a film hangs on the right actor, in the right role, at the right time. And I think that’s certainly true of Peter Dinklage as Cyrano.”

Dinklage observes that most people can relate to Cyrano’s feelings of inadequacy.

“We’re all set apart from each other, you know?” he says. “You think you’re the best-looking guy in the room until you come into a room with a better-looking guy. Hopefully, that also can give you a sense of humor about things, and I think that’s what Cyrano has.

“But his Achilles’ heel is this thing with Roxanne and how he doesn’t really fully believe he can be loved by her.”

Wright directs costume dramas with innovation and sweeping romanticism, lending his period films a contemporary flair without removing them from their historical context.

Schmidt’s adaptation featured Peter Dinklage as Cyrano opposite Haley Bennett as Roxanne, along with original songs by Brooklyn-based indie folk-rock band The National.

This surprising combination provided an immediate aha moment for Wright, leading him to collaborate with Schmidt and bring on Dinklage and Bennett — Wright’s partner — to reprise their roles for the film adaptation.

“The original Rostand play is perfectly structured, [but it’s] like five hours long,” Wright says, “and full of speeches about the nature of love or the nature of his nose or the nature of poetry. And what Erica did was to use the songs by The National in place of those long speeches, which makes the whole experience far more modern.”

Just as crucial was Dinklage himself and the decision to let the star perform without the role’s traditional prosthetic nose.

Schmidt, who also wrote the screen version, says, “I love the Rostand, but you always see a very handsome actor wear a large fake nose, and he spends the majority of the play talking about how terrible his nose is, and then he takes off his nose and goes home. And I felt like there was something else underneath that.”

“I always see the period films as being fantasies of a period,” Wright says. “They are very heavily influenced by my upbringing in a puppet theater, where we did Oscar Wilde and Oliver Goldsmith fairy tales. They’re kind of dreamlike spaces.”

This doesn’t mean that Wright isn’t interested in historical detail. Schmidt explains, “When I did the stage play, it wasn’t a period piece, but it was very important to Joe that this was set in period. He asked a lot of questions like, ‘Why did Rostand write it in 1897 but set it in 1640?’”

Wright opted to set “Cyrano” somewhere between 1640 and 1712, with costumes inspired by modern fashion designers. “If I created an entirely period world,” he says, “the modern music would stick out as being heavily anachronistic. And so I wanted to create a world that was somehow more dreamlike, more fantastical.”
To accomplish this imaginative leap, Wright decided that “the camera would have a sense of freedom, a fluidity much less formal than any of my recent work.

“The film would be anarchic, an irreverent celebration of life and a love letter to love. We would transport our audience to a place where life was beautiful again.”

Director Joe Wright’s onscreen adaptation transports audiences into Cyrano de Bergerac's complex, beautiful world.

This also meant incorporating The National’s songs as part of the “Cyrano” narrative. Schmidt says there was a deeper method behind reinventing “Cyrano” as a musical. “Pete as an actor is not flouncy in any way, and I wanted to strip back Rostand’s language so that the words that were chosen for love were really spare and evocative, and felt more like modern songs.”

Bryce Dessner, “Cyrano” composer and guitarist for The National, says, “The score is quite diverse.

“There’s a sense of folk music meeting a more ornate, baroque world of Noto, Sicily, where it was filmed. And then elements that might be more closely associated with The National. We’re playing acoustic guitars, and there’s a subtle use of electronics and a pulse that gives it a more modern feel. Joe Wright has a very emotional response to music. He didn’t want a score that was too pristine and too classical. He wants it to hit him in the heart.”

For Wright, The National’s music wasn’t just a backdrop but a stylistic inspiration.

“In The National’s recorded albums, there’s a tenderness and a beauty and an intimacy,” he says. “To that end, we had all of the performers sing live on camera, so that there was never a kind of declamatory needle drop. Instead, the speech would flow effortlessly, with a single breath, into song. And you could hear that breath. You could feel the fragility of the voice, and therefore the fragility of ourselves as humans.”

This sense of fragility is also Wright’s answer to the question, “Why now?”

“The film is an expression of the importance of human connection and how we so often fail to connect with other people. I’m certainly guilty of that. It’s about our fear of love, our fear of intimacy, our fear of being seen for who we are.” ★


The film would be anarchic, an irreverent celebration of life and a love letter to love. We would transport our audience to a place where life was beautiful again.

— Joe Wright, Director


Dinklage Was the Essential Man

The role of Cyrano de Bergerac has always been a star turn, a chance for a great leading man to shine.

But in the latest screen version, Peter Dinklage isn’t just the man in the spotlight. He was absolutely indispensable, even before the project was fully conceived.

First, the casting of Dinklage redefines the reason Cyrano feels unworthy of his love, Roxanne. It is his height, not a prominent proboscis, that makes him feel unattractive.

Second, Dinklage helped bring together the creative team that wrote the show, back when it was still a stage musical with no hint of a future film adaptation. After all, it was Dinklage’s own wife, Erica Schmidt, who wrote the book of the musical, and it was Dinklage who introduced her to the music of folk-rock band The National, who ended up writing the songs.

“[The National] and [Schmidt] started working [together] and created this musical, and I said, ‘Can I do a reading of it?’” says Dinklage. “We had a reading in our house upstate with friends playing some early temp tracks. In no way were we thinking about a movie one day — although that’s how I always think, ‘Cinematically, this would be so beautiful.’”

The eventual director of the film, Joe Wright, saw the stage play; Haley Bennett, who played Roxanne, is his partner. He was taken with Dinklage’s portrayal of Cyrano at once.

From taking center stage to uniting the film’s creative team, Peter Dinklage played an essential role in bringing “Cyrano” to life.

However, it wasn’t until shooting that Wright discovered the actor’s superpower — one that would prove essential to this conception of the character and story.

“His ability to walk that incredibly fine line between humor and heartbreak — that’s a real tightrope act,” says Wright. “I’ve always loved drama where you are not quite sure whether you want to laugh or cry. That’s what I found particularly beautiful and devastating and exciting.”

Kelvin Harrison Jr., who plays Christian, whose courtship of Roxanne depends entirely on Cyrano’s honeyed words, recalls experiencing those emotions firsthand during Dinklage’s performance of the famous balcony scene. In it, Cyrano professes his love for Roxanne, speaking through Christian. Roxanne falls for Christian, not realizing whose words he is speaking.
“When he’s giving the speech about ‘What is a kiss?’ he’s delivering poetry, but you could feel the deep sadness that the kiss would never be for him,” Harrison explains. “It’s where [Christian] realizes [Cyrano] loves her, but we also realize that it doesn’t matter. Christian and Cyrano connect more deeply in that moment, in the sense that, it is what it is. We have to accept certain things in life and move forward.”

By Carita Rizzo

The playfulness and the cluster of feelings that Pete evokes in you is really exciting as an actor. I felt myself just being swept away and lost in his translation.

— Haley Bennett, Actor


Bennett concurs, adding that Dinklage often caught her off guard, allowing for surprises in the already well-established relationship between Cyrano and Roxanne.

“The playfulness and the cluster of feelings that Pete evokes in you is really exciting as an actor,” she says.

“I felt myself just being swept away and lost in his translation. We wanted to explore the unsaid, and Pete is able to make the world he exists in between the lines just as relevant as what exists within the lines.”
Although Dinklage has made the role distinctly his own, he says the draw to this version of the story continues to be the universality of the character, not what sets him apart.

“Erica originally didn’t write it for me and my size. Anybody could play Cyrano,” says Dinklage. “I’m doing it because, yes, I do have a built-in difference that I could relate to in terms of like feeling less than the person you love or feeling unworthy.

“But what the movie speaks to is that everybody knows that feeling. [Cyrano] doesn’t fully believe he can be loved by [Roxanne]. It’s a thing we all struggle with.” ★

For a Great Entrance, the Perfect Stage

When “Cyrano” director Joe Wright wanted a wildly open area for the film’s theater scenes, production designer Sarah Greenwood created the set in a hotel courtyard in Noto, Sicily.

The space was going to serve as the backdrop for a dramatic entrance by Peter Dinklage as Cyrano, as well as a place where other characters would yell and jeer during a play. In the early stages of location scouting, Greenwood looked at several nearby options, including a historic theater, but ultimately, they felt too restrained for the needs of the film.

“There is a lovely theater in Noto that is based on an 18th-century theater — built a century later — but it felt too constraining; Joe didn’t feel it could get raucous enough,” says Greenwood.

“To really do what Joe wanted, we would just have to build [the theater] ourselves. It would be perfect because it wouldn’t be dated to a specific time or place, which is something we wanted. [The film] was supposed to have a fairy-tale quality, so we didn’t want to be tied to Paris in the 1600s, which is where the play takes place.”

Greenwood collaborated with Italian artisans to transform the courtyard into something the audience would only see as a theater. Local painters used a special technique to create the illusion of elaborate moldings on the flat walls. Wright described it to Greenwood as a “climbing frame” and wanted to be able to place actors all over the set so it looked full of action.

“Sarah built an amazing set,” says set decorator Katie Spencer. “We put in a follow spot [as lighting in the theater]; even though a follow spot technically would not be around, that was part of our not being too bound up by ‘normal period.’ I also loved having chandeliers going up and down, and the painting on the benches.” ★

By Karen Idelson


DP Added depth to ‘Cyrano’s’ famous scene

By Todd Longwell

Cinematographer Seamus McGarvey crafted an inventive visual approach to “Cyrano,” exemplified by a uniquely intimate interpretation of the famous balcony scene.

As Cyrano (Peter Dinklage) declares his love for Roxanne (Haley Bennett), McGarvey has the camera close to the ground so Cyrano looms large in the foreground. Meanwhile, Roxanne stands behind him high in the distance, a split diopter lens keeping them both in focus. In this moment, Roxanne’s object of desire, Christian (Kelvin Harrison Jr.), does not repeat Cyrano’s words. Cyrano and Roxanne are alone together in the frame, expressing their mutual feelings of longing and blending their voices in song. 

“It gives import and strength to Cyrano’s character,” says McGarvey of the shot.  

Conversely, “When Cyrano walks away after seeing Roxanne and Christian kiss, we bring the camera up, so he just diminishes to a tiny figure, and it’s quite sad,” he adds. “It’s one of my favorite shots in the film, because you feel him.”

The intimacy of these moments is enhanced by the way McGarvey shot the characters’ singing — which the actors performed live, in front of the cameras — presenting it as a natural extension of their conversation rather than a big Hollywood moment.

“Joe Wright and I really wanted the camera not to call attention to the transition from spoken dialogue to singing,” says McGarvey. “That’s why we shot in large format with these beautiful large-format Leitz lenses, because it really reminded us of the medium-format style of portraiture. That worked for the singing, which was largely shown in close-up.”

The drawback of the Leitz lenses is that the results are inherently sharp, and McGarvey wanted a softer, more romantic look for the early scenes shot on location in the late-17th-century baroque town of Noto in Sicily. His solution was to place stockings at the back of the lenses to diffuse the image.

“We went for the old faithful that we have used a few times: sheer 10-denier designer stockings,” says McGarvey. ★


'Cyrano' Stars Peter Dinklage and Haley Bennett Discuss the Challenges of Adapting the Classic Romance for the Big Screen
Watch Variety’s Angelique Jackson in conversation with the team behind 'Cyrano' as they break down the journey from stage to screen.


A Love Letter to Love Itself

Dinklage Was the Essential Man

For a Great Entrance, the Perfect Stage