Ms. Binoche Takes on Hollywood Romance
by Paul Fischer
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Beautiful Juliette Binoche segues from intense dramas, such as the Israeli film Disengagement, to more mainstream Hollywood fare as the upcoming romantic comedy Dan in Real Life, opposite Steve Carell, in which she plays the fiancee of Carell’s brother, who finds herself falling for Carell’s widowed newspaper advice columnist at a large family gathering. The actress talked to Paul Fischer.
Paul Fischer: Having seen these two very serious movies again in Toronto, was it a relief or a release for you to do something like this which is a kind of genre that we don’t see that much you in?
Juliette Binoche: It was more difficult in a way because it’s like breaking the rule of my other like films, where I just plunge into it with a sort of an artistic rage somehow and this one I had to somehow have the horse inside me, but just controlling it a little more because it was, first of all I was part of the story and—this loving sort of a control because it’s his second film and it’s dangerous for him because he’s a very ambitious artist. But he, I don’t know, I had to adjust myself because after the Hou Hsiao-hsien film I was completely free, like not having any dialogue or anything. Suddenly I was like “Okay, this is page one—all the words have to be there,” so it was like an adjustment I had to make.
PF: But working with Steve Carell, there would have been some improvisation.
JB: Not that much, no. It wasn’t improv’ed at all. You know, some people ask me, “What was it to work with two comics,” you know, comedians, and it felt like, “Well, how does it feel for them to work with a dramatic actress?” It was like two different worlds that have to meet. And I have to say that the commitment was serious, was really—on the set, it was not like “ha ha ha” things. It was like very real and thinking as actors, trying to lift the story into a comedy but yet you have the inside of the characters.
PF: Do you see yourself as this ultimate dream girl you’re portraying?
JB: She’s an angel. She’s playing the angel because I think inside her there’s so many needs unfulfilled. She’s like an orphan in need of family, so the big house with a whole bunch of kids and good atmosphere just fulfils some kind of emptiness she feels. But I think that she needs to be perfect to hide her real person somehow, you know, the fragility. She needs to hide it.
PF: Do you think in French or do you think everything in English.
JB: I think the way it comes, so I think I think in English and I think I think in French. You know, there’s a moment when I talk to you I don’t know whether it comes in French or in English but I know you’re an English speaker so it comes in English. Some words, you know, it’s amazing but some words would come only in French and when I speak French it would only come in English. And so the adjustment is very difficult sometimes.
PF: Did you have a big family like the one in Dan in Real Life?
JB: I do on my father’s side. There’s a big, big family with lots of cousins like 25 cousins and we would gather every summer like this, so I have this feeling very much that there’s sort of a joy as a child. As an adult it’s a different story because you see all the layers and all the complications of your relationships and all that and I come from divorced families so now the gathering at Christmas is like, “She’s not coming.” “He’s not coming, I assure you.” As we all know, it’s complicated. Families are not an easy job.
PF: It must take a lot to entice you to want to work on an American film, because you do work predominantly in Europe, obviously. Why do you think this movie spoke to you in a way that made you come and work here?
JB: It was a combination. I was not aware that it was this Disney film, but at the time when I read the script, there was something about it I liked, that I had to meet with the director to know—I hadn’t seen his films. So I saw Pieces of April and I loved it, because there’s sincerity in it, it feels authentic to me and the subject touched me very much. I think Peter is very good at telling stories that belong to your heart and to the family kind of questions, which I could see that in Pieces of April. as well as the comic and tragic aspects of life, because you don’t cry all the time but we have to laugh about crying, otherwise it’s unbearable and I think that his films represent that.
PF: How familiar were you with Steve Carell and Dane Cook before you started?
JB: I didn’t know them, because in France, I didn’t see anything of Steve’s. You know, 40-Year-Old Virgin didn’t work and The Office we didn’t get, so we started to notice him with Little Miss Sunshine and Dane, we don’t know.
PF: So when you signed on were they already attached?
JB: Steve was. Dane was like me. That’s why we met in L.A., because he wanted to see if the chemistry was working. And so Peter made us sing together. I had to sing with Steve Carell. I met him, just sat down and said, “Hi, how are you?” “Good.” And then I had to sing, and so we sang, put the music on, and I didn’t know the song. It was Barbra Streisand, I remember her voice and said, “Oh my God!” And with Dane, we had to dance together. See if the sexual chemistry was working?
PF: And was it?
JB: It was. It was a little frightening, actually. It’s like “Oh oh. No, no, no.”
PF: Didn’t you have to do yoga for them too?
JB: Sort of a yoga. I think it’s more aerobic than yoga.
PF: What are the differences for you in your approach to acting between the two films you did that were in Toronto that are obviously very serious. The Disengagement movie was a terribly intense, sad drama and then this movie. Are your acting muscles very different when you approach these three different films?
JB: No, because I think everybody has his own tragedy and defeat, and when you play a character you’ve got to find it, and it has to be there somehow. Sometimes it emerges, sometimes you don’t see it, it’s covered. But it has to be there, in order for me to feel what’s real in the character.
PF: Flipping the cards a little bit, I don’t know if you have a sister but have you ever been in the awkward situation of either falling for or being attracted to a best friends’ guy?
JB: Yeah with my sister, when I was like nine years old we were in love with the same guy at school. It was awful.
PF: Is she older, the sister?
JB: She’s older. And there was a moment we were remembering the time were, you know, of this boy and she said to me “No, you were never in love with him,” and I said “Yes, I was in love with him,” you know. It still wasn’t over, you know. But she was denying my being in love with him. And I just was so curious.
PF: Who did he pick? Or didn’t he pick either one of you?
JB: No. No. I mean we were so little, it was just the heart beating at that point.
PF: Where did the actress in you come from? What fuelled that particular passion for you to become an actress?
JB: I think it comes from being at school and not belonging in the school system. I felt very, very unhappy in having to do the right thing. I felt that I didn’t belong to this kind of system so very early on and also I was in a boarding school very, very early, when I was four years old, so I had to invent a sort of surviving system, which was fine. I played and played and played, and the space that I gave myself in order I think to prepare myself for life and I think the imagination is really what made me survive.
PF: Do you still feel like that in a way? Do you still feel a bit like the survivor or like the outsider?
JB: I always felt an outsider and it feels quite all right I have to say because for me you have to be independent in order to be with the others. I don’t like being dependent.
PF: Are you surprised at the international success that you’ve attained or are you…
JB: Yes I am. But at the same time when I was eighteen I felt like “(gasps) I’ve got to go away from my country. (gasps) I can’t breathe here. (gasps) let’s get out the country and learn a new language where I can travel and to go somewhere else.” That’s really what was in my guts, I felt I’ve got to expand and express myself around the world. And it wasn’t especially American, and it wasn’t a specific country. I just wanted to meet great minds, people with visions and integrity and authenticity, and go in the world. But expressing possibly acting, or it could be directing, or designing. I’m going to do a dance show next year, and for me that’s part of it. It’s the same movement. I think we’re all about movement, and so acting is one of them because you’ve got to do that, you know, you have expose something of yourself, but it’s so deep inside and so hidden and intimate, and in dance it’s another way of reaching something of yours that is, you haven’t—I don’t know. I think life gives us so much and we’re just exploring a tiny little bit of ourselves instead of trying new things and painting and writing, but it wasn’t an artistic layer I had to go because I can—it’s like my choices have now related to business, you know, and I see here that business comes first sometimes and when I got all the questions that I’ve been doing for two days now, I feel sick. I feel like, “Oh, it’s terrible to be a woman here.”
JB: Well, because they tell you, “Do you still get parts,” you know. And I feel, “Well, in ten months I did five films, so yeah, I still do get parts.”
JB: No I tell you, “And so what’s your role about?” “The role? You haven’t seen the movie?”
PF: Would that be the TV journalists?
JB: Yeah. Oh my God.
PF: Everyone complains about them.
JB: But I’ve never felt that before, and I think because I’m doing this film with Steve Carell, so I have to promote Steve Carell’s career the whole day, because it’s very male oriented.
PF: But in Europe you don’t get treated that way?
JB: I don’t feel that.
PF: You just mentioned you did five movies in ten months. Can you talk about the other films that you’ve done?
JB: We were just talking about one which is the Hou Hsiao-hsien film called The Flight of the Red Balloon. He’s a Taiwanese director. He’s one of the most talented and interesting directors. I did a film with Cédric Klapich, a French director. We did a film called Paris. I did a film with Amos Gitai, an Israeli director, called Disengagement. It’s about the Gaza pull out and the relationship between brother and sister. And I did a film with Olivier Assayas, called Heure d’été, L’ [Summer Time].
PF: And the dance film that you’re going to be doing?
JB: It’s not a film. It’s a show. Yeah. We’re going to tour.
PF: Will it be in Paris?
JB: No we’re going to start at the National Theatre in London. And then we’re going to go to different places?
PF: Will you go here?
JB: We will come to L.A. at the UCLA theatre.
PF: When do you think that will be?
JB: January 2009.
PF: What is the nature of the dance show.
JB: We don’t know yet because we haven’t stated the rehearsal, and the idea is to improv and start from the unknown, which is very scary, but it’s where you have to find your true belonging things.
PF: Does it have a title?
JB: Inside Eye.
PF: Inside Eye, E-Y-E- or in side I?
PF: And you’re going to perform in it?
PF: A whole run?
JB: I hope so.
PF: When’s the last time you were on stage?
JB: That was in New York in Betrayal, I did on Broadway. About six years ago.
PF: Are you looking forward to getting back?
JB: Yeah, I do, yeah.
PF: What’s the Richard Eyre movie you’re doing?
JB: Oh… The Other Man? I’m not sure I’ll be able because I’ll be rehearsing for the show so I don’t know yet whether I will be able to do his film because we were supposed to do it next month and it was postponed because of money problems.
Paul Fischer is originally from Australia. Now he is an interviewer and film critic living in Hollywood.
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