The anticipation surrounding Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets” is growing as director Luc Besson’s space opera epic inches closer to its July 21 release date. The film is based on the French sci-fi comic book series Valérian and Laureline by writer Pierre Christin and artist Jean-Claude Mézières, starring Dane DeHaan and Cara Delevingne — both comic book movie veterans at this point — as Valerian and Laureline.
Besson — famous to genre fans for Nikita, Léon: The Professional, The Fifth Element, Lucy and more — and DeHaan both appeared at Meltdown Comics in Los Angeles earlier this month on Free Comic Book Day, to sign copies of a free promo preview version of Valerian and Laureline: Ambassador of the Shadows, Vol. 6 in the comics series that debuted in 1967 and is said to have influenced Star Wars and Besson’s The Fifth Element.
Following the signing, Besson and DeHaan sat down with CBR to discuss the first cinematic adaptation of Valerian, and their excitement over the completed version of the effects-rich film, which is set to release its final trailer on Wednesday morning.
CBR: The film is based predominantly on “The Ambassador of Shadows,” but the title is more reminiscent of “The Empire of a Thousand Planets.” Did you pull from both volumes for the film?
Luc Besson: A little bit, but even a few of them. Because when you read a comic it [takes] like 25 minutes, so you cannot take one and make an entire film with it. So, I [got] the rights of nine of them and then we composed a little bit. But the main basic story is the “Ambassador of Shadows.” But I love [our] title — actually, in the “Ambassador of Shadows,” that’s the City of a Thousand Planets, where they are, that’s the name of the space station.
This is a bit of a departure from a lot of your previous work, Dane. Is that part of what drew you to the project?
Dane DeHaan: [Laughs] I’d like to think that a lot of my work is a departure from other previous work. I feel like I’ve made almost every genre of movie at this point. That’s what I like to do, I like to keep it different. I’ve never made a space opera before. I’ve made “[Amazing] Spider-Man ,” so I’ve made movies based on comic books, but this is my first space opera. And it’s definitely way more epic than anything I’ve ever done.
The scope seems massive.
DeHaan: For sure, yeah. And you know, it’s my first time kind of playing the true hero, which, is exciting, too.
How would you characterize the dynamic between Valerian and Laureline?
DeHaan: Well, you know, they’re partners in crime, but they also spend all of their time together. They travel around on a spaceship called the Intruder, and they’re together all the time. So they have kind of a flirtatious banter that goes on between them at all times. They’re always pushing each other’s buttons.
And you know, Valerian has a huge crush on Laureline. He wants to take it to the next level. And Laureline being the more grounded, intelligent one of the two of them kind of wants to take it one step at a time, focus on what they’re doing. She’s very much the brains behind the operation.
Besson: Don’t be modest.
Luc, as someone who read the comics growing up, how much, if any, did Laureline influence your own female characters?
Besson: None. No, it’s influenced me as a man. You know the relationship they have and the way he’s so gifted, Valerian, and he’s a little bit pretentious about it. You know like when you’re very tall and you play basketball. You cannot like, [makes a careless motion], I’m good. He’s not pretentious, that’s what I mean, even if he knows that sometimes he goes too far.
And it’s very modern, you know, when I was 10, it was very modern to have a guy like this. And the relationship with her, and she was like such a badass and the entire team, the entire model of their relationship was really brand new for me, really brand new. I have no example of my family or people I knew who [were] that way. So, that’s why it says it influenced me as a man, to see women who were strong. I think it forged myself.
Is there a particular part of the comics you’re especially excited to see brought to life?
Besson: No, honestly, it’s to see the two, Valerian and Laureline alive in their spaceship. Because like, they are, through the 29 albums, they’re always in their spaceship, the Intruder. Just to see that the first time, the first day I’m seeing them coming in the spaceship, because we built it, the inside, and they were like — they were looking they were touching everything, which is normal, it was the first time they came in. Just that, was like amazing. It was like, I was there the first day Valerian and Laureline get their spaceship. Yeah, that was a very cool moment.
That and… the Shingouz. You know the little pterodactyls, the three of them. That I was very excited to see. Basically three actors on their knees for weeks, but they were good.
One thing also I think was important is that every time I can, and almost all the time, Dane and Cara, they always have someone to play off [of]. Even if the guy’s in grey with dots? You have someone. So for the actor point of view, you can play. You have someone who’ll give you the lines, you know. So even if the guy has extra shoes or whatever, you have someone. And not just a tennis ball and you say your entire dialogue to a tennis ball and that’s difficult.
Have you done both?
DeHaan: Yeah, you know, if you’re in front of a blue screen, you’re gonna have to imagine some things anyway. When I see the previews for this movie, the world around us is so amazing to look at and rich, and obviously none of that was there.
What are you most excited to see in this film?
DeHaan: I actually I’m just so excited to see it… I’m almost more excited to see it the second time cause I know the first time I watch it, that’s it’s just gonna be so massive and exciting and crazy that I’m gonna wanna watch it again. That’s the way the previews have been for me, too. They play the preview and I’m like, “OK, play it again.”
Now that it’s blown me away, in a broad sense, now I want to like actually look at it and actually get to know it. So yeah, I’m just excited to know what it is we made.
Besson: I think it’s gonna take you three or four times. The first time, you’re not gonna [catch all of it]. Because there’s things that you’ve never seen.
Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets is scheduled for release on July 21.