Australians Nicholas Denton and Alice Englert have a master challenge ahead of them in Dangerous Liaisons. In addition to the legends that brought the Marquise de Merteiul and the Viscount de Valmont to life on stage, the performances of John Malkovich and Glenn Close on film are the definition of iconic. Few would face the test as steadfastly as the two.
“It’s like they have huge shoes to fill,” acknowledged Nicholas in an interview with PEOPLE. “But I think I wanted to put my own flesh on those bones that were already made when the book was written. These characters are super-powered and so strong to read. While I’ve tried to put my own spin on it, there’s always this kind of centerpiece that keeps Valmont going.”
The series, which recounts the youth of the legendary characters, gives the duo creative freedom. It took almost 10 years to arrive at the current version, with the first script by Christopher Hampton (author of the film by Stephen Frears and the play) until it reached the hands of Harriet Warner. It was she who found in one of the letters in the original book the suggestion that the Marquise did not have noble origins, but had conquered her position.
Replacing Glenn Close fell to Alice, daughter of the prestigious and award-winning director Jane Campion, but Malkovich’s performance in the role is one of the most powerful in cinema history and it was after many tests, in early 2020, that Nicholas surpassed the 200 others. candidates. He says he tried his best to get away from the biggest reference on paper to create something original. Nicholas claims to have “never seen” the 1988 film, but that he is “a huge fan of John Malkovich”, explaining to Entertainment Weekly that, “if I watched the movie, I would have just copied John Malkovich.” Those who watch the series understand that Nicholas perfectly captured the energy of the American actor and is one of the highlights of the new version.
As for Alice, following in the footsteps of Glenn Close was a teenage dream come true. “I remember getting this kind of goosebumps through her body with her performance,” he recalled of the film Dangerous Liaisons. “The idea that pride and love were incompatible rang so true. The game teases this idea that one day you’ll win, but you’ll always be kind of a prisoner of it, no matter what. I just thought it was cruel and vulnerable and I love that.”
Coming out of the theater, John Malkovich had already been nominated for an Oscar when he surprised everyone by being chosen for the role of the seductive Valmont. His performance turned him into a sex symbol and is so perfect that it is one of the biggest injustices of the Academy not even nominating him for Best Actor.
“I agree with Tennessee Williams that the only unforgivable thing in the world is deliberate cruelty. It’s completely unforgivable. So I can’t say that I identify with Valmont on that level, because when you’re playing any role, you get some kind of vicarious pleasure, whether it’s a vicarious pleasure out of love or lust or sex or guilt or tragedy or humor. Or simply attention,” the actor explained at the time. “What Valmont discovers in the course of the story and what causes his destruction because it goes against his feelings, thoughts, and self-image, is that he is not only capable of inspiring true love and passion in someone and truly destroying him, but he is capable of feeling love and may be worthy of feeling it. That’s what destroys it. He can’t live with that because it goes against everything he’s ever thought about himself.”
And with Nicholas, we’ll see Valmont get there.