In the editing room the next day, Guadagnino was in one of his favorite states: surrounded at work by an eclectic group of friends. “Wow!” he exclaimed as new visitors arrived, rushing forward to embrace them. “Look who’s here!” (“There are always people visiting on set—always,” Dakota Johnson reports. “It’s absurd.”)
When Guadagnino starts a movie, he works to build up the layers of a world with intense specificity—the feel of the buildings, the labels of the shirts—in order to help the characters find their pleasures and defenses among them. In this way, the old becomes new. “Suspiria” is Guadagnino’s second full-length remake; his first, “A Bigger Splash,” interpreted Jacques Deray’s “La Piscine” (1970), a movie that he did not like. But his remakes are less like remodelling old structures than like raising entirely different buildings on their foundations. “When you think of something being remade, you automatically make it contemporary—you industrialize it,” Dakota Johnson says. Guadagnino does something else. His version of “Suspiria” is set in 1977, the year that the original came out. He started recruiting for it, quite informally, while working on “A Bigger Splash.” (“He pulled me aside and whispered, ‘Soospeeriahhh!’ ” Johnson recalls. “I said, ‘What?’ ”) He never auditions actors; he just sits with them and talks.
Armie Hammer, who was also going to the awards, arrived. He ordered a dry macchiato and a Gibson.
“I think my project is gone. My Jake movie is bye-bye,” Guadagnino said.
“Really?” Hammer said.
Guadagnino explained. But it was O.K., he said. There were other movies to be made. For instance, he wanted to film a sequel to “Call Me by Your Name.” He wanted Johnson to play the wife of Hammer’s character. “She has to be a New England kind of hoochie woman,” he said, riffing merrily. “You have, maybe, five children.”
“Oh, great,” Hammer said.
“The only problem is the title,” Guadagnino reflected. “It cannot be ‘Call Me by Your Name Two.’ ”
Like not a few directors, Guadagnino loathes the experience of shooting movies. The frisson of conception? That is heaven. Spending hours with actors or in an editing room? Bliss. But in between is the nightmare of getting the images onto film. If you are the director on set, people swarm you all day, asking for decisions. Things go wrong; there’s money hanging on each second. Then you call “Cut” and actors look at you, probably judging you, waiting to hear what comes next. Early on, Guadagnino was afraid to direct scenes where a lot of characters are doing things together in one room, because the eyes of all those actors awaiting blocking terrified him. Even in making “Melissa P.,” he had tried to storyboard the scenes in advance and keep them uncrowded. But the process had left him feeling, at nearly forty, chagrined about production, defensive and frail.
Guadagnino recently travelled to New York, to shoot a “Suspiria”-inspired fashion spread for W. The photographs were to be of Dakota Johnson, and the setting was the Samuel Borchardt House, an opulent Gilded Age mansion on West Eighty-sixth Street. “A nightmare in the making,” Guadagnino murmured. On arriving at his New York hotel the previous afternoon, in the middle of a storm, he had drawn a bath and pulled his entire body underwater. When he came up, he was unable to hear, and it had taken the whole morning to right his ears.
Johnson appeared in an Armani dress, and he photographed her in a corner, offering praise and direction: “Can we make the sadness sharper?” Satisfied, he moved her to a three-sided banquette and snapped frames as flash circuits beeped.
“ ‘Sad girl’ still?” she asked.
“Mmm—serious,” Guadagnino said.
Two floors up, Johnson lay on the floor wearing a pink Fendi dress, and Guadagnino stood above her. He showed her how to pose across a chaise longue, and made small talk about her summer plans. “You do the August holidays in the Hamptons? Is it good?” he asked.
“I don’t know—do I look like a Hamptons girl?” Johnson said. “They’ll be, like, ‘Witch! Witch!’ Because I don’t have white pants.”
Guadagnino smiled cannily, and looked out the room’s French windows, over the swank West Side gardens beyond. “Open the legs a little bit?” he said. He snapped a few shots. “Maybe too much.” He turned to an assistant and asked for water. “Room-temperature bottle,” he advised.
Upstairs at the mansion, Guadagnino put the camera down for a moment to show Johnson how to pose. She snatched it up and turned it on him, snapping frames and coming closer. “Don’t move,” she said. “Don’t move.”
Guadagnino glanced at the photo monitor. “Oh, my God,” he said in horror.
Johnson laughed. Guadagnino recoiled. “Erase that,” he pleaded. But Johnson kept giggling, clutching the camera in her hands. If she’d opened the shutter then, she would have caught him in a truly candid pose: eyes wide open, hands spread, covering his face in a mask.