Survives War and Love and Becomes an International Star
by Brad Balfour
Once quirky French director Jean-Pierre Jeunet saw his offbeat romantic comedy, Amelie, become not just a hit in France but one throughout the world (it was even nominated for an Oscar), Audrey Tautou became a star. Now several years later, the two have joined forces again, and have created a film with both the magic of Amelie and the dark insight of Jeunet’s earlier films. Tacitly the story of a young woman searching for her long-lost (and assumed dead) fiancé after World War One, A Very Long Engagement tackles the big issues of war and love with depth and feeling. Tautou’s next film is the follow-up to French director Cedric Klapisch’s L’Auberge Espagnol. Tautou again play the off kilter character, with both humor and charm.
How have things changed since you’ve become internationally famous with the success of Amelie? You’ve been getting more offers to do films in English and in other countries. Has this changed you as a person? You don’t like the whole star thing?
No I do not. I like the creation of a movie – to be on a set with a team and technicians. Everything else for me is not normal. When I wanted to do this job it was for making movies not for the glitter. Of course with the fame I got more offers from different countries so it is great to have huge luxuries for an actor to work and to have the choice. But after, in life, I can’t enjoy anonymity. But I can hide myself.
You enjoy being anonymous. Do you find you have more anonymity in the United States?
Yes, it’s nice; it’s much better here. People are more distant and are not as intrusive here in New York. People in France are very intrusive when they recognize you. In New York, they are very polite, with quick words, so it’s great.
Are you currently living in the United States?
No, I live in Paris.
Were you always planning on being an actor?
No. Before I wanted to study monkeys.
Are you studying monkeys now and planning on going back to them?
Are you expecting to make a movie with monkeys?
Sigourney Weaver already did it, so…
What did you know about the first World War before filming?
Before I did this movie, I had a scholarly knowledge. It’s difficult to summarize but I knew about the war; executions, trenches. I knew the main battles; that soldiers did not talk a lot when they went back home and it was difficult for them to talk about the horrors of the war. There were two different worlds between people who stayed in the country and the ones who were waging war.
What attracted you to the personality of Mathilde?
What I liked the most about her was her determination and courage. Voila. I liked her love for Manech and the way it gave her power and enhanced her power to find him. I like her pride. She is very brave and very strong.
How has your relationship with Jeunet changed?
It changed because the part was different so I was different too. I put my “lightness” between brackets, so I was less funny. I lost my sense, or spirit of giving.
What kind of advice did he give you about the character?
I don’t know if he gave me advice because, of course, he knew me much better than at the beginning of shooting Amelie, so I think he really trusted me. He knew that it took me more time in the preparation to have an idea of how far she could take the emotions, and how she could behave. He knew that I would do something he would like.
So he trusted you and let you guide your performance?
Yes, but we discussed a lot during the preparation. I spent two months in the studio where everybody was preparing the movie: the costume, the set designer, the hair, make-up, everything. And we did readings, I went to costume fittings, I learned the tuba just to try to feel the atmosphere of all these people because there were maybe 600 technicians. They weren’t all in the studio, but it was a huge team. And I discussed with Jean-Pierre about very subtle things but it was more a maturation for me.
What made you want to work with Jeunet both with Amelie and now?
Because I love his cinema. For me, it’s a very personal and unusual universe. We are not used to seeing that kind of direction and those kinds of images in movies. He has his own elegance and aestheticism; the way he transcends the everyday life of his characters. I like his poetic way of shooting. I was attracted by his work and by him.
How did your English-speaking role in [director Stephen Frears’ acclaimed film] Dirty Pretty Things help you with English?
When I did Dirty Pretty Things, I could say maybe two sentences in English. So every word and sentence was a challenge. I worked so very much at it.
Did you help Jodie Foster in her French-speaking role?
She speaks perfect French, so I was way behind her in speaking her native language than she was with mine. I was at a much lower level of English.
Will you do another film in English?
I did another one. I like to change parts, so I like to learn. Of course it is not a problem for me to prepare.
What was easier – learning English or playing the tuba?
Oh, the tuba was easier.
Would you consider reprising the role of Amelie?
No. Never. I never want to do the same things twice. I like surprises.
What are your own romantic sensibilities? Could you go as far as this woman did for love?
I don’t know. I have no idea. I don’t know this kind of situation of losing somebody without knowing what this person has become. It’s impossible to bear, so that situation also makes the love bigger and the necessity to find the answer [more important]. But I think that it is very rare to find this kind of absolute love. It’s very intense. Manech and Mathilde are typical romantic heroes like Romeo and Juliet.
Does that type of love exist in real life?
I think it can exist but I don’t think it exists for everybody.
Would you say that Mathilde has a destiny and works very hard to achieve it?
Yes. It’s important to try to fulfill our dreams and fight for that. That’s the whole message of the movie and I really appreciate that. It’s important to be active in this dream, not just to be lying in bed saying, “Oh, I would like to do that” and never actually doing it.
When you saw the film, were you surprised by any of the material that was included from the novel or original script?
When I saw the film I wasn’t surprised because Jean-Pierre is a director who prepares a lot his movies. He knows exactly how he is going to shoot and we have a pretty precise idea of how the film is going to be. I was very impressed by the warmth of the scenes because I hadn’t seen anything like that. The difference between the novel and the movie was already in the script. I thought in the novel Mathilde was more petulant, she could abuse and insult people, she could swear.
Was she angrier?
She was more extroverted.
Would you have been kept in the character?
Oh no, because the character is the baby of Jean-Pierre’s film and he is very discreet about it. He is modest in his way of being so he likes characters who are modest, who don’t expose their feelings. But I like how Mathilde kept pain inside herself in the movie.
Do you find it easier to play an emotional character (who cries, and screams out loud) or one that doesn’t show that much emotion?
I think the difficulties of this part were to contain her emotion because when Mathilde has this emotion, she is full of tears, but the tears stay right there. For me this is difficult and even more difficult when a situation can help you to shout and cry. But because her state is a latent one, she restrains her emotions through the whole movie. It’s practically a mood she plays, a state of her spirit, and it’s difficult to play a mood like that.
Is it easier to play a character from a novel?
In fact, at the beginning it was harder for me because when I prepared for the movie, I had a vision of Mathilde from when I read the novel [of the same name by the late Sebastien Japrisot]. I read it first and after, when I read the script, I had [to think about her] in another way, because the two stories are not exactly the same and the parts are not completely similar. So I tried to make a connection between Mathilde in the novel and the one in the script. Since Jean-Pierre has a very strong and impressive universe, it took me some time to find his [vision].
When did you read the novel?
Oh it was a few months before. They hadn’t started writing the script.
When this character was adapted, did you expect her to be in a wheelchair? Was that a challenge for you?
I knew from the beginning that Jean-Pierre did not want to keep her in the wheelchair because it was too restrictive for [his framing]. He is very creative with his shots; he likes to be really free. In the scene when she climbs down the mountain running after the car, that would have been difficult in a wheelchair.
What’s your next movie?
I just finished The Russian Dolls, the follow-up to L’Auberge Espagnol. That was great. It was the same pain-in-the-ass girl part. It’s five years later [after they have moved from the Spanish apartment in Barcelona and have graduated from the university]. So it has the same characters except a few who are not in the second one. But my character Martine, Isabelle (Cecile de France) and the other main ones are there. It’s difficult to talk about it as a story when it it’s written by [director] Cedric Klapisch because, in a way, there is no story but it [concerns] many subtle things about life. So the heroes are asking themselves the same questions about being in a relationship and how to build a family. It’s the same – very, very funny.
|#1 © 2004 Bruno Calvo. Courtesy of Warner Independent Pictures. All rights reserved.|
|#2 © 2004 Bruno Calvo. Courtesy of Warner Independent Pictures. All rights reserved.|
|#3 © 2004 Bruno Calvo. Courtesy of Warner Independent Pictures. All rights reserved.|
|#4 © 2004 Gilles Berquet. Courtesy of Warner Independent Pictures. All rights reserved.|
|#5 © 2004 Bruno Calvo. Courtesy of Warner Independent Pictures. All rights reserved.|
Copyright ©2004 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: December 1, 2004.