“Asterix and Obelix: The Middle Kingdom”: the 5 challenges of an ambitious production

“Asterix & Ob&élix: The Middle Kingdom” challenges of an ambitious production

MISE & Agrave; DAY

PARIS – Guillaume Canet has embarked on the most complex project of his career by taking the helm of Asterix and Obelix: The Middle Empire< /em>, the new film in the Asterix saga which hits screens in Quebec and France next Wednesday. In an interview with Journal last week in Paris, the French actor and director spoke of the many challenges that went along with the creation of this ambitious production with a budget of 65 million euros ( approximately $93 million).

1) Write an original story

Unlike most other films in the franchise made before, Asterix and Obelix: The Middle Kingdomis not an adaptation of a comic book album created by René Goscinny and Albert Uderzo. Guillaume Canet and screenwriters Julien Hervé and Philippe Mechelen started from scratch to write this new story which relates the journey of Asterix and Obelix to China to help a princess liberate her country.

“I think it's an advantage to have written an original screenplay because it gives viewers a bit of suspense insofar as they aren't being offered a story they've already read. However, we had to make sure that it was done while respecting the codes of Asterix, ”said Canet.

Guillaume Canet and Gilles Lellouche.

2) Find a new Obelix

Since the release of the last movie Astérix in live action dates back ten years (in this case Au service de Sa Majesté, released in 2012), Guillaume Canet expressed from the start the desire to refresh the franchise by changing the actors. Obviously, the biggest challenge was to find an actor who would have the stature to succeed Gérard Depardieu in the Obélix costume. Canet eventually turned to his good friend Gilles Lellouche.

“It was difficult because Depardieu was so perfect in the role, agreed Canet. But since Gérard no longer wanted to do it, someone else had to be found. We decided to look for an actor who would reclaim the role of Obélix rather than trying to find someone who looked like Depardieu. I thought of Gilles [Lellouche] because I had seen him in a film by Luc Besson in which he had gained weight and where he was great. I know him well and I know that he has this part of child in him which allowed him to embody Obélix. He had the courage to accept and he did an extraordinary job.”


3) Managing stress

Guillaume Canet had no intention of portraying the character of Asterix himself when he agreed to direct the film. It was his producers who convinced him. However, he does not hide it: this double function on the film set turned out to be “very complex” on the physical and psychological level. Fortunately, he says he has found his own magic potion to manage this stress: meditation!

“At a certain point during the filming, I thought I was going to freak out so much I had problems to solve, he confides. I couldn't breathe, and I was stuck. I went to see an osteopath who told me: you should breathe and do meditation, because otherwise you won't be able to finish the film. And suddenly, I tried the experiment by downloading a meditation application on my laptop. I discovered an enormous happiness to take refuge in my dressing room for 5 or 10 minutes to breathe and clear my mind. It feels a lot of good.”

4) Find the DNA of Asterix

Judging that some films in the franchise had strayed from the original spirit of Asterix, Guillaume Canet gave himself the mission with his film to “find the DNA” of the comic strips of Goscinny and Uderzo. 

“When we read the adventures of Asterix, we saw the characters of the village living the same things as us and that made us laugh, observes Canet. Goscinny's talent was to manage to transcribe in his comics the modernity and the news that we lived. It was important for me to recreate that, but also to put the characters of Asterix and Obelix back at the center of the story, which was not necessarily the case in the last Asterix films.»

Marion Cotillard

5) Bring the audience back in theaters

Who says big budget says big expectations… It's not for nothing that in France, The Middle Kingdom is expected as a savior by the cinema community, in a context where French films have struggled to attract crowds since the post-pandemic recovery.

“There is already pressure because with the budget we received (approximately $93 million), the film has an obligation to operate [at the box office], admitted Canet. But there is also additional pressure from the whole industry in France. Because after this pandemic, even if the cinema is starting to pick up a little, it is still fragile for French films. Everyone hopes that a big film like Asterix can serve as a driving force for other productions that will follow.” 

Asterix and Obelix: The Middle Empire hits theaters on February 1er.