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December 1, 2004.
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 Jeunetís
earlier films. Tacitly the story of a young woman searching for her
long-lost (and assumed dead) fiancť after World War One, A
Very Long Engagement tackles the big issues of war and love with depth
and feeling. Tautouís next film is the follow-up to French director Cedric
Klapischís LíAuberge Espagnol.
Tautou again play the off kilter character,
with both humor and charm.
How have things changed since youíve 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 personóyou donít
like the whole star thing?
No I do not. I like the creation of a movieóto 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 canít enjoy anonymity. But I can hide myself.
You enjoy being anonymous. Do you find you have more anonymity in the
Yes, itís nice; itís 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 itís
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. Itís 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.
kind of advice did he give you about the character?
I donít 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 werenít 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
Because I love his cinema. For me, itís 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 Frearsí 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 donít know. I have no idea. I donít know this kind of situation of losing
somebody without knowing what this person has become. Itís 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. Itís 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 donít think it exists for everybody.
Would you say that Mathilde has a destiny and works very hard to achieve
Yes. Itís important to try to fulfill our dreams and fight for that. Thatís
the whole message of the
movie and I really appreciate that. Itís 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 wasnít 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 hadnít 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.
She was more extroverted.
Would you have been kept in the character?
Oh no, because the character is the baby of Jean-Pierreís film and he is
very discreet about it.
He is modest in his way of being so he likes characters who are modest, who
donít 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 doesnít 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. Itís practically a
mood she plays, a state of her spirit, and itís difficult to play a mood
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
to find his [vision].
When did you read the novel?
Oh it was a few months before. They hadnít 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.
I just finished The Russian Dolls, the follow-up to LíAuberge
Espagnol. That was great. It was the same pain-in-the-ass girl part.
Itís 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 du France) and the other main ones are there. Itís
difficult to talk about it as a story when it itís 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. Itís the
same--very, very funny.
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