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Playback: Luc Besson on ‘Valerian’ and Finding Inspiration Outside of Movies

Welcome to “Playback,” a Variety podcast bringing you exclusive conversations with the talents behind many of today’s hottest films.

Filmmaker Luc Besson grew up at sea, soaking up beautiful scenery, the child of scuba diving instructors. He eventually found his way to the comic series “Valerian and Laureline,” and a childhood dream was born.

For years he wanted to turn the eye-popping French tales into a feature film, but until he saw what James Cameron accomplished on “Avatar,” he felt it was impossible. Finally, that dream is a reality as “Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets” hits theaters this weekend. And it’s noteworthy that it’s a project with such deep roots in his childhood, because in many ways, his childhood influenced what you see up on the screen in the film.

Listen to this week’s episode of “Playback” below. New episodes air every Thursday.

Click here for more episodes of “Playback.”

“When you’re a kid and the first toy store is at 200 kilometers and the only little boys you see around don’t speak your language because they’re speaking Greek and you have no shoes for almost two years because you’re on the beach all the time, you see the world differently,” Besson says. “When you want to play you just grab a rock and a piece of wood. Your imagination is doing the job because you have no internet, no TV, nothing to help you. So my imagination at the time developed itself and it’s like a muscle. So I’m so lucky that I have this muscle.”

He also subscribes to the idea that, as a filmmaker, you shouldn’t look to other films for inspiration. When his debut film opened, he read a review that mentioned he was inspired by a pair of movies he hadn’t even seen. To him, it’s important to avoid the medium when conceiving his projects.

“God knows how I love ‘Star Wars’ and ‘Avatar’ and all these films, but I have 29 [‘Valerian’] albums to get inspired,” he says. “And I’ve not seen one sci-fi film the last four years, on purpose. Even if you see things and it’s not conscious, you get influenced, and then you’re not new anymore. You’re not fresh anymore.”

Given that “Valerian” is clearly a universe that could sustain multiple films, Besson says he is eager to follow things up with another installment. But of course, the first one needs to find its audience first.

“Where is the contract? Give it to me. I’ll sign it,” Besson says with a laugh. “I would be thrilled. We had so much fun doing it. It’s almost the first time I can say that, because I’ve never made a sequel with my films as a director. But we have to be humble and wait for the result around the world.”

For more, including thoughts on seeing Natalie Portman every day at his Cite du Cinema campus while she was filming “Jackie,” 20 years after they collaborated on “The Professional,” as well as his unexpected eagerness to leave the world of practical effects and sets behind, listen to the latest episode of “Playback” via the streaming link above.

Subscribe to “Playback” at iTunes.

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