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Catherine Deneuve and Chiara Mastroianni

An Actress and her Daughter Step into Persepolis

by Brad Balfour

Cartoonist Marjane Satrapi's extended graphic novel, Persepolis, was remarkable in its humanness and candid retelling of her days as a kid in pre-Revolutionary Iran; the events around Ayatollah Khomeni's Islamic Revolution; of going to school in Europe; and of her eventual escape to France. But her adventure in graphic storytelling didn't end there. Satrapi joined forces with director/animator Vincent Paronnaud to transform her printed autobiography into an animated feature using line drawings--not fancy-dance 3-D computer-generated art.

In order to make her cartoon characters come alive, this duo enlisted legendary French actress Catherine Deneuve and daughter Chiara Mastroianni to provide the key voices of Marjane and her mother. Come alive they did, and as a result, the film was greeted with an Oscar nomination for Best Animated Feature.

This generational team provide a curious look into the dynamic between them and how much they enjoyed the opportunity to share their experience of working on an animated film. While they got an insight into the process of making animation, they offered an insight into the lives of a great actress (star of many international classics such as Belle Du Jour, The Last Metro, The Hunger) and her 30-something daughter (who has starred in her share of films as well).

Were you familiar with Marjane Satrapi's story?

Chiara Mastroianni: Very familiar. In France, her book is really well known. We both read the book.

Catherine Deneuve: It was also [serialized] in a very famous newspaper {Liberation] for a long time. So I was really aware of the story.

Did it ever occur to you that you'd be doing voices for this?

Catherine Deneuve: No way. When I heard about the film I said it was a great idea, of course. But I haven't heard anything before I read the book.

You've worked with every sort of director, what was different or similar to doing this animated feature, as opposed to playing a real character?

Chiara Mastroianni: I find that it's the same. The script was really written like a script for film. At times you forget that it would be animated. Also the fact that it's just a voice it is very interesting because you have a freedom physically that you have less when you're on screen. Marjane directed you like she's directed actors all her life. She was very good at it and very good at acting as well. What happened was this... We recorded voices, different voices, not together. No actors were working together and she was playing all the characters. I wish we had some images from that because it was a really funny moment. And she was really good at it. It didn't feel very strange.

Catherine Deneuve: I think it's different when you only do the voice because having the freedom of not being physically involved, [it's] just standing in front of the microphone in a dark room. In a way you have to get over it. I don't want to exaggerate things, but you really have to stylize what you are doing because you know it's going to be just with the voice.

Chiara Mastroianni: But still it's a true story and even if it's animated, it's very realistic. It's [not] like she's playing a squirrel and I'm playing a duck...

Catherine Deneuve: I'd love that [both laugh].

Chiara Mastroianni: Next time, next time. You know you don't fall into doing bizarre things. The acting itself, the way you talk, is exactly the same as you would talk on film. You don't have to invent a different voice.

Catherine Deneuve: So that's it.

What did you do to bring your characters to life? Did you prepare?

Catherine Deneuve: I didn't prepare. 

Chiara Mastroianni: We don't prepare that much [laughs]. This is France. This is Europe...

Catherine Deneuve: We prepare for films, but you just have to concentrate when you play the mother for Marjane in Persepolis.

What attracted you to doing this sort of film, as opposed to a live-action feature?

Catherine Deneuve: I was very excited because I thought it was a very original project.

Chiara Mastroianni: It had been a long time that you had wanted to...

Catherine Deneuve: Yes, I wanted to do a voice for years. An animation film for a long time, yes. My agent knew that so when he heard about the film, he told me about it. I just wanted to be involved. I think it's funny for actors to have to play a voice.

What attracted you to the story?

Catherine Deneuve: It was the whole project. I knew the book. When you know the story and you have been involved with it for a long time...I wanted to be part of it, that's it. That was really the major reason.

One of the problems with animation is that you don't get to interact with the other actors. When making this film, did you talk about how the characters should act with one another?

Chiara Mastroianni: No, never. It's actually strange. When I saw the film finished, that’s when I realized that we didn't act together. It struck me at the moment because when I saw it, I felt that everyone was really working together. That's so crazy.

Catherine Deneuve: That's the miracle.

Chiara Mastroianni: It never crossed my mind that we didn't work together. I was in the studio alone with Marjane. You just have the feeling that it's a puzzle and everything went along really well.

Catherine Deneuve: If you don't know it, you cannot think about it.

You've both seen the finished product; are you satisfied?

Catherine Deneuve: Yes, very much so. It was very moving, very political in a good way.

What would you like this film to convey about the lives of women?

Catherine Deneuve: Well I'm sure a lot of people have no idea what it must like to be in Iran, especially for women. The film says a lot. It's a political film. And it's an animation film. It can bring a different audience that only an animation film can bring. And I like that fact. The fact that it is very touching sometimes, but the film is quite funny.

Chiara Mastroianni: With the media nowadays – especially since September 11th, 2001 – there's sort of a concept of these countries being scary. No one tries to think about what other perspectives the country may represent. What I think Marjane wanted to show in this film, by talking about the everyday life of one little girl, is to get you in touch with the issues that are very important. These are people just like you and me. They dance, they fall in love and they experience heartbreak. Through the media, there's always a story about a bomb that exploded and 3000 people [who were killed or hurt]... It's shocking but there's no reality to it. Of course it's shocking when you hear about it. People tend to forget. Marjane was telling me that when she arrived in Europe, people were asking her whether he father drove a horse. It's all these preconceived ideas. She wanted to show in the film that there are human beings in the country and you have to forget about the other thought because it's scary. It's not always about Iran. The media always brings things out like a concept, but nothing beyond that.

In America, the Oscars are such a big deal. What do you feel about awards? Do you care about such things?

Catherine Deneuve: I think it can be very different for European films. If you get an Oscar, you get a different kind of distribution, especially in the States.

The reviews for Persepolis [have been] great. People are ecstatic about it. You [are] headed for Hollywood at least for that night.

Catherine Deneuve: It would be wonderful if the film was chosen by Americans to represent France at the Oscars.

Chiara Mastroianni: Persepolis has been an adventure from the beginning. It was produced by two people. It's their first production. In the beginning, no one really believed – like "What? Black and white?" [laughs] But little by little, the thing started to grow. Marjane and Vincent are like soldiers. There's one thing that they are very proud of is that they made the film they wanted to make without compromise. What happened after making the film, going to Cannes, winning a prize, [getting an Oscar nomination]. All these fantastic things that happened; it’s like going to one adventure to another. Three years ago when we started this project, would we imagine ourselves to be sitting here? It's a special experience. Until now it's been great. But we've been very lucky. Speculating on getting a prize and all that, we have to wait and see, we have to wait until [February]. Persepolis has been chosen to represent France. But, me being Italian, I am a bit superstitious...

Catherine Deneuve: I'm not superstitious; I think it would be a great thing for the distribution of the film. It would be great...

Chiara Mastroianni: I'm not saying that I don't want it to happen...

Catherine Deneuve: You're just saying you don't want to talk about it happening, because you're superstitious...

Chiara Mastroianni: Yeah and I don't want to pick a dress now [both laugh].

Loving movies so much, were you ever tempted to move to Hollywood at all?

Catherine Deneuve: No, because nothing ever was proposed that was interesting enough. I think it would have been difficult to move in Hollywood. I wasn't going to go to move and get a part that was less interesting, into an English speaking film, than what I would be offered in Europe.

Have you ever thought of moving here?

Chiara Mastroianni: Well I wish it would be possible to work here without moving here. I love cinema, but I don't think moving…. When I read a script, I don't look if its Italian, American, or French, I just see if it relates to me. And then I would want to do it. Very rarely I had opportunities to work in America, in independent films, produced by the French. I don't have an experience of Hollywood of all. I would love to, but you have to be realistic about it.

Catherine Deneuve: Yes, if you are not an English-speaking actress, it is very rare to see a European actress in an American film.

A lot of the directors you've worked with defined certain styles. Of the people you've worked with, who influenced you in your acting?

Catherine Deneuve: It was not a question for me about how I changed my acting, it was more about growing. Growing. I started to do films very young. The fact that I met Jacques Demy at a very early age, I learned things with him. I wouldn't say I've changed my mind. At the time I was very young, I was involving and learning at the same time. I haven't changed much since I was 18 or 20 – as a moviegoer.

Who were your favorite directors that you've worked with?

Catherine Deneuve: I've done different films with Arnaud Desplechin and I am actually working with him on a project [that's coming out this year, Un conte de Noël]. I feel very [strongly about] with him. I think we are always going on doing something together, [we're always] digging in the same direction.

Chiara Mastroianni: I think Arnaud Desplechin was very important to me because I was looking to meet him when I first started. So he's someone very important to me too. I like people who have a very personal point of view and just bring you into his own world. I would say definitely that Arnaud for me is the "captain of the boat."

What is that difference between Hollywood and Europe in the way they make movies?

Catherine Deneuve: I'm not sure. I don't have that much experience in Hollywood to compare. I think the difference is that in America, the producer is almost as important as the director in making the film. And it can be not so good for the film. I find that having the director completely alone to do exactly what he wants can be good. There are advantages in making films in America, with many people working on the script, having many people to help direct... Sometimes the result is too conventional, but sometimes the result is wonderful. I think personal films are interesting, [having] the personal view of the director. But sometimes I also think a film suffers without the producer's influence, without more concentration on production. So it's always a mix of both.

Do you want to help upcoming actors or directors, maybe produce in the future?

Catherine Deneuve: No, no I'm not there to help. When I do a film, I do it because I think the story is interesting. I don't want to take a chance of working with someone I don't know. It's not a matter of help. I love cinema, and I want to take opportunities to make a story come onto screen. I don't like the idea of taking a project just because "it would be good for them."

Chiara Mastroianni: You're talking about production, and that's something that happens more over here, rather than France. The production aspect in France – there are many actors becoming directors, but it’s not like here.

Have you ever visited Iran in your career?

Catherine Deneuve: No, not yet. And I don't think it's going to be anytime soon before I can go there [laughs].

I don't think anyone can go there.

Chiara Mastroianni: Well going there [isn't the problem]. It's coming back that can be a problem. 

Catherine Deneuve: No, I think you can go but be aware of so many things you cannot do or say, or what.

Is there a place in the world where you wouldn't be recognized?

Catherine Deneuve: That would be something very appealing [laughs]. It reminds me of when I went to Vietnam for the first time. I felt something very special walking in the street, with no one knowing you. They've never seen a European or French film.

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#2 © 2007. Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics. All rights reserved.
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Copyright ©2008 PopEntertainment.com.  All rights reserved.  Posted: February 23, 2008.

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Copyright ©2008 PopEntertainment.com.  All rights reserved.  Posted: February 23, 2008.