Even though she
has made over 20 films in her native France, unless you are a
regular at your local art-film house, in the US the only way you have
likely heard of Mélanie Laurent is for her appearance in Quentin
Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds.
In that film,
Laurent played Shoshanna, a Jewish refugee in World War II who
survived the violent murder of her family by the Nazis, only to end
up a vital cog in the French Resistance in Paris,
under the front of running a little
movie theater. When a gala Nazi premiere is planned in her
building, she attempts to assassinate many of the leading names of
the party – including Hitler himself.
was Laurent’s first major American role – despite the fact that her
character spoke mostly in French – after starring in such French
favorites as Paris, Jusqu'à toi, The Concert, Le
The Beat That My Heart Skipped.
talented Laurent has also recently finished her first musical CD
with Irish singer/songwriter Damien Rice and is putting the
finishing touches on her film directorial debut.
For her second
American film – and the first one in which she acted in English –
Laurent decided she wanted to do something a bit more intimate than
Tarentino’s blockbuster. The project she chose was Mike Mills’
comedy-drama Beginners, the story about an emotionally
cut-off man named Oliver (Ewan McGregor) learning to find love.
Oliver is already having relationship difficulties when his father
(Christopher Plummer) announces at 75 that he is gay and
after a few
brief happy years out of the closet.
Anna, a beautiful-but-neurotic French actress who recognizes the
sadness in Oliver and falls into a tempestuous relationship with the
man, eventually convincing him to open himself up to the possibility
of love and happiness.
A week before the
film was due to open, we were one of a few websites to get to speak
with Laurent at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York about the film
and her fascinating career.
Michael [Mills] wants us to ask you about Magic Mountain. What
Oh, my God. What
happened? I was in LA for like two days and he said, “We’re going
to Magic Mountain. You’re going to meet Ewan.” Okay, what is Magic
Was that the
first time you met him?
Yeah. And we
arrived. I said, “Hi, I’m Mélanie. I don’t know what we’re going
to do, but it’s going to be fun. Or not, I don’t know…” So we took
the rollercoaster and I was like, “I don’t want to do that.”
Because I saw it, you know? (laughs) It was just a
nightmare. Michael just put Ewan and I close to each other in the
back and he said, “You know that feeling of being terrified and
excited at the same moment?” We were like, yeah. “It’s exactly the
movie!” And we started [going down] and we’re like “Aaaauggghhhh!”
(laughs again) It was funny. I had my Flip camera, so I
just did a movie of our faces. It was in my computer and someone
just stole my computer. I lost all the little movies I had.
you making little movies throughout the making of the film?
I did a little
making-of. Well, I’m stupid, I should just save something. But I
clutching onto him for dear life?
No, no, because I
was proud. It was the first time I just met him. I was like, “No,
I’m not afraid!” It’s funny, because I used to love doing this when
I was a kid. When you grow up, you just have a fear. It’s stupid
when you think about it, but you just fear more and more. It’s
become like, “oh, please stop!” But I thought it was an amazing,
crazy, great idea. To just make your actor your partner.
(mimics the director) “Yeah, it’s exactly about this in the
louder, you or Ewan?
He made a bigger snort like “aaaughhhhh!” (laughs) Which is
really funny, because you don’t know the guy.
How was it
working with the cast?
Well, I worked
almost just with Ewan. I had no scenes with Christopher. I started
to shoot when they had just done all that part of [the film]. I
remember everybody going off and they’d be released, because it used
to be very big drama and a lot of sad scenes at the hospital. We
did a break for one week for Magic Mountain, and then it was almost
like a second movie. We started with funny scenes together. I have
done 25 movies and I’ve never had a partner like Ewan. It was just
like we had exactly the same vision of everything. We wanted to do
exactly the same things for Anna and Oliver. We wanted to be real.
You act and you
also do music. You have an album that just came out.
Yes, and I’m on
stage. And I directed a movie.
How do you juggle
all these things?
I’m tired, but
it’s super. (laughs) I always want to do more things. More
inspired. And when I’m working on a record, it’s inspired me for a
movie. Inspired me for a character. Everything inspires me. And
you meet people. You meet these amazing artists, amazing people.
I’m working with Damien Rice [on her album
It was like pop-punk with French lyrics.
was your first film that was mostly done in English. Even in
Inglourious Basterds, most of your dialogue was in French. Was
it different as an actress to work in another language?
Yeah, but it’s more easy. I don’t know, when you speak in English
and it’s not your language, it’s more easy to say “I love you,”
than “Je t’aime,” because it’s your language and it’s [more
meaningful somehow]. I don’t know, it’s easier in a way. I loved
it. I mean, I was terrified, because sometimes we did a little
touch of improvisation. I said to Michael, “What am I going to do
if they say something to me and I can’t respond because I don’t know
how to say it?” He was telling me all the time, “Say it in French.
It’s going to be great.” It’s just French, so you can use that. So
I used it.
is the project that you directed?
did, what do you call…
(She turns to
a man behind her and asks him a
question in French, he responds and they have a brief back and forth
en français. Then he says in English, “She made a 60 minute feature.”)
Ahh, feature. That’s it.
no, no. Like Beginners.
(The man says “If it’s over an hour
it is considered a feature.”)
is the name of the film?
What’s it about?
I don’t know. I
can’t even tell you in French what it’s about, much less English. I
just finished it to mix and do everything one week ago. It’s kind
of difficult for me to talk about it. It’s still my baby. But it’s
talking about family and, ugh, it’s complicated.
Is it about
Kind of, but more
symbolic. Like someone has an accident and she’s in a coma and it’s
about the waiting for someone who is asleep. And you have to adopt
each other around her because you’re waiting and you just discover
people. The lover and the sister. I used to hate you, but now
she’s asleep, let’s meet. I’m playing on it. I have a little
daughter and I don’t know the father so the lover is going to adopt
the little child, because he never had any father. That guy is
going to be a father and he doesn’t know how to manage. So, it’s a
little bit complex to explain (laughs).
does your film come out?
Will it be called
I think it’s
cool. I was thinking about the English title. I hope so.
Do you have a
I don’t have any
[American] distributors for now. It’s a French movie. It’s almost
What speaks to
you most about
I think it’s
homosexuality as a subject. It’s not a big deal anymore.
[However] it’s still a taboo everywhere, unfortunately.
A friend of my parents was homosexual. Where I grew up, I
realized that a lot of people think it’s not normal. I’ve always
been like in that situation [people are] like, “You don’t understand
why people think it’s not normal?” Because you always grew up with
homosexuals. When I read the script, I thought that was a beautiful
subject, because it’s pure and delicate and it’s real. It’s still a
problem in lots of countries. When you think about it, it’s
absurd. I remember I did a movie in Singapore (Rice Rhapsody
in 2004) and when you are a six year old in Singapore, you can go to
jail. In France you can see homosexuals everywhere. There is a
big problem with that word. But it’s kind of the subject of the
people’s life. It’s crazy. It’s terrifying because in France, in
politics right now, it’s a big mess.
Look at Dominique
Strauss-Kahn (a French ambassador who just the week before had
caused an international scandal when he was accused of raping a
Yeah. There is
no taboo in France, but we are assholes.
What was it like
working with the dog Cosmo? He was quite a scene-stealer.
Two things about
that dog. (chuckles) First, the trainer was French, so she
was my best friend. Second, the dog was a little bit jealous of
me. Can you imagine that?
He was so in love
with Ewan. And every time I was arriving, he was like (growls)
when he would look at me. I’m not going stone your master. Don’t
go like this (growls). Every time I was like this with Ewan
he’d go. (laughs) But it’s funny.
he try to nip at you if he got a little bit close?
(growls). He loved Mike. He’d lick his face, but just Mike’s
face. No other face. He was crazy about Mike’s skin.
He was kissing up
to the director.
He loved the
director. Loved the actor. The actress… (growls). Not
Did Mike give you
a lot of leeway about creating your character?
He talked to me
more about the relationship between Oliver and the father, because
he wanted me to give me all the [info on] why he did that movie and
why it was personal and why he just wanted to write that script.
More than “Anna, she’d like this…” And I don’t like this. I do a
lot of improv. I’m not that sort of actress who needs a lot of
information. I don’t need that. So he just wanted it to be “it’s a
story with my father.” I was like, no, I don’t need that. I’m
super instinctive. I never take notes. I don’t need to know all
the shades of my character. I don’t know exactly what I’m going to
do before actually doing it. Really, I have no idea.
Do you work that
way as a director as well?
No. I really
don’t want to work with me as a director. (laughs heartily)
I love actors who are big workers.
Did you pick up
any tips from Quentin Tarentino when you worked with him?
dance. He puts on music between two scenes and everybody dances.
It’s lovely. It’s nine o’clock in the morning and everybody is
like, “Whooooo!” So I stole this. And I stole from Mike when you
finish a scene you’re like: “And cut. (then screams) Oh my
God, you’re so beautiful!” I just keep that from Mike. On my set
it was like music and “Cut! Oh my God, it’s so beautiful!” It’s
like Mike and Quentin. Hey, guys. (laughs again) On my
set, my actors call me the American director. (laughs more)
When you’re French, it’s like, “Cut. Thank you.”
What kind of
music does Quentin play?
Oh, lots of super
different things. It’s a creative thing. It really depends on the
scene of the day. Sometimes it’s jazzy and sometimes it’s rock and
roll. It’s not like we put some music on. He worked on the
playlist for months. It’s not just like “Turn on the radio.” Oh,
it was super great. Mike and Quentin are very different, but the
common point is they are Captain on the boat – in a really different
way. But it’s really nice. Okay, guys, let’s do that movie.
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