‘Liaison’ Producer Leonis Sets William Boyd’s Period Spy Thriller ‘Paris Interzone,’ Andrew Haigh in Talks to Direct (EXCLUSIVE)

Jean-Benoit Gillig
Courtesy of Leonis Productions

Leonis Productions, the Newen Studios-owned French banner created by Jean-Benoit Gillig, is developing a raft of international shows on the heels of “Liaison,” Apple TV+’s first French original.

The company reached a milestone with “Liaison,” a thriller series created and entirely penned by Virginie Brac (“Spiral”) and directed by Stephen Hopkins. Vincent Cassel and Eva Green lead a cast that includes Peter Mullan, Gérard Lanvin, Daniel Francis, Stanislas Merhar, Irène Jacob, Laëtitia Eïdo, Eriq Ebouaney, Tchéky Karyo, Bukky Bakray and Thierry Fremont.

“It’s a sprawling French-British thriller set against the backdrop of Brexit, and there’s a metaphor between the love tragedy playing as the primary plot and the political tragedy embodied by Brexit unfolding in the background,” said Gillig, whose banner Leonis produced “Liaison” with Ringside, the Newen-owned U.K. banner.

“The starting point of this series was our wish to create a series using Brexit as a canvas, and from there Virginie Brac was able to conceive a thriller that is singular and surprising with strong characters, which is something she always does so well,” Gillig continued. 

The producer said AppleTV+ boarded the series after Brac completed the bible. He said the series’ DNA was both French and English, and as such the actors navigate between both languages organically. Gillig revealed that the conditions of “Liaison’s” shoot mirrored the storyline to some extent because it lensed during the pandemic amid different lockdowns and health threats of the French and British governments. Half of the show lensed in France, and the other half in the U.K..

Gillig also said working with Cassel and Green was “idyllic” on- and off-screen. “Each were drawn to the project after reading the script and we were very proud to bring them together first the first time,” he said. Their onscreen chemistry looks to be one of the hooks of the show. “Liaison” will premiere on AppleTV+ on Feb. 24. The streamer will drop a new episode every Friday until March 31.

The Paris-based company is now collaborating with British writer William Boyd on a thriller series, based on James Campbell’s novel “Paris Interzone,” set in post-WWII Paris.

The ambitious series, which Boyd is writing and is being co-produced by Ian Benson, will shed light on a counterintelligence program that was launched by the CIA and operated by a secret unit within the American embassy in Paris. Their mission was to infiltrate the literary cafes of the Left Bank in Paris and spy on expat American artists and authors. Leonis is in advanced talks with Andrew Haigh (“45 Years”) to direct.

“William Boyd presented us this project and we were both thrilled by its modernity and contemporary resonance,” said Gillig.

“Everyone knows the postcard image of Paris during the ’50s; the city was a haven for intellectuals and literary figures like Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir, who mingled in Left Bank cafés in Saint Germain, but at the same time in the U.S., under the McCarthy era, many authors, especially Black and gay ones, were oppressed and jailed,” he continued.

Gillig said the series will be a modern, glamorous and noir thriller laced with a love triangle between a French editor and two American characters. Currently in development, the series will shoot mainly in Paris with some parts in the U.S.

Leonis is also preparing a series adaptation of “Tête de mules,” a graphic novel telling the true story of five young women from Alsace, in Northern France, who rebelled against the Nazi occupation, joined the Resistance during WWII and set free more than 1,000 prisoners of war. The series will focus on one of them, who was arrested by the Gestapo and managed to escape by crossing Germany on foot. “When we think of the French Resistance, we usually have images of men, when in fact there were many women who had leadership positions and risks their lives,” said Gillig.

“We’re happy to create a series with a female point of view on the war, one that celebrates the courage and heroism of these girls,” he continued. 

The banner is also developing the feature debut of Morgane Polanski, called “Like Mother, Like Slaughter.” An actor turned filmmaker who is Roman Polanski’s daughter, she’s currently co-writing the script for the English-language genre movie that will take place in the U.K. She previously directed several shorts, including “Through the Looking Glass.”

“We’re interested in championing a new generation of filmmakers and accompanying young talents who have a fresh new voice, a singular style and sensibility like Morgane Polanski,” said Gillig.

Léonis’s’ previous credits include “L’Emprise” (10 million viewers for its premiere on TF1), “Insoupçonnable,” the French adaptation of “The Fall,” starring Emmanuelle Seigner and Melvil Poupaud, as well as “Claire Andrieux” (for Arte) and “Renaissances,” a family drama for TF1.

Gillig said it made sense for his banner to join Newen Studios after listening to Romain Bessi, the conglom’s CEO. “I share [Bessi’s] view on the importance of editorial independence and the value of being part of a studio which stands out thanks to its focus on upscale content with talented European companies,” Gillig said.