When did you meet François Ozon?
François offered me the film, just before a month of vacation during which I wanted to really experience my pregnancy. My first thought was «no», then I told him I needed to think about it. I was really tempted by the experience, especially with a director like him. So I accepted the role, with some trepidation, and on the condition that we shoot in the place where I had planned my vacation, the Basque country.
Why the trepidation?
Actually, only one thing truly worried me in terms of the subject matter: «What will my child think when he sees the film?» I didn’t want him to feel used. It’s still a real question, but in fact, playing a woman who practices euthanasia, could also disturb my child. Once we have children, must we reduce ourselves to do only Disney like scenes?! In the end, I figured this is my job, as my child grows up he’ll have time to take it all in, he’ll get used to having an actress mother.
Isabelle Huppert, who also was in Saint Jean de Luz, dropped by to see us and she said something that touched me and reassured me: «It’s wonderful when the actress meets the woman, when our lives as women mingle with our fictional lives, when the line between reality and fiction becomes finer. Moments like those are always fascinating.» Still, I’m nothing like Mousse in real life, our stories are completely different, I was playing a role.
What was it like to shoot a film while pregnant?
Usually when I act, I like to take my time. But in this case, I was always in a hurry! In a hurry to have some time for myself, and to rest. The idea really being to protect my child. I wasn’t all that focused on the film, actually. And yet, I retain a very precise sensation of my character, what she was like, the pleasure I felt playing her, the anxiety, the occasional exhaustion. The whole thing forms a very colorful, rich picture.
At the beginning of the shoot I was a little bit wary of François, but gradually I came to realize he was sensitive to my needs, even if sometimes I felt he didn’t understand how tired I could get physically. Once, I really screamed at him! We were climbing the dunes, there was no ramp, and I was exhausted that day. And I was afraid for the baby. But he never wielded power. He was always sincere and well-meaning.
How did he direct you?
He’s very relaxed and natural on set. He doesn’t mince words, he’s direct, honest. He’s very precise with his actors, explaining the exact gestures and expressions he wants. He also leaves room for improvisation, if you want to add something.
He’s such a voracious filmmaker, he has a huge appetite for cinema and for shooting. You get the impression he grew up surrounded by films, cinema is his domain. At the same time, you can be very open with him, he takes criticism very well. He has a healthy, balanced approach to the work and to his craft.
How would you explain Mousse’s relationship to motherhood?
Mousse is in denial about it, she interprets the presence of a baby in her womb more as a remnant of the man she loved and lost. Unconsciously, she transfers his presence, now lost, to the baby inside her. As I was completely the opposite, I liked when François wanted to make some cosmetic changes, like giving me bangs or having me wear heavy make-up at certain times, or earrings or tattoos… It helped me keep some distance from the character. There was also the way he had me play her. He always wanted me gazing off into space, or looking down. Whereas in life, I tend to look up, I smile a lot, I’m an optimist.
How did you get into the skin of a pregnant drug addict?
François asked me to talk to a doctor about what it means to be a junkie and pregnant. I called him anytime, whenever I had a question. We had several long phone conversations. He gave me concrete details that helped me with physical gestures and behavior. Like when you take methadone, it’s like drinking syrup. Which means you feel like running your tongue over your teeth and rinsing your mouth afterwards. He also told me beer enhances the effects of methadone. So we had Mousse drink beer, which loosened her up. I also asked him if taking methadone makes you more fragile emotionally. On the contrary, it stabilizes your mood. It keeps you light, consistent. All this information helped me understand Mousse’s state of mind and emotions.
This is the first time we’ve seen you play a tough person.
Yes, I was really interested in breaking away from the sweet and innocent. Or the polite and vaguely bland. I am eager for people to see something beyond my baby face. I have no desire to play old little girls all my life!
How do you explain the connection between Mousse and Paul
Mousse is very alone, and Paul is a bit lost, searching for himself. It could be he’s looking for some maternal affection that he never received. Even if he’s not consciously aware of it, he comes knocking on Mousse’s door looking for a connection with this woman.
Mousse gives an impression of being solid, not needing anyone, but in fact she’s extremely fragile. That’s why she’s barricaded herself in, and initially refuses Paul’s warmth. When you’ve been alone for a long time, it’s sometimes easier to stay alone rather than let a little sunshine in. Mousse would rather stay in the cold, within the walls she’s built around herself. But gradually, she opens up.
Another new experience for you: shooting with a partner who is not a professional actor…
I tried to be even more sensitive than usual, and keep things simple and down to earth to make him feel comfortable… I felt a great deal of affection for Louis right away. He was so sweet to me, so attentive. His thoughtfulness moved me and probably helped him get into his character. Because that’s how Paul is: he pays more attention to Mousse than she pays to herself. He takes her under his wing.
Shooting with Melvil Poupaud…
We worked together on LES SENTIMENTS and hit it off well. When we met again for THE REFUGE, it was like we already had a past, a history together. I think that helped us create the impression that Mousse and Louis are an «old» couple. Melvil has a strong outlook and personality. He’s very charismatic, part angel, part devil, intense, ambiguous… It’s amazing how much he can get into just a few scenes.
What did you feel when you saw the film?
I was moved to see how personal it was for me, and also for François, I think. The film is so tender, benevolent, pure. Seeing it, I realized just how sensitive François had been to me, how respectful and careful he’d been about what mattered to me. I was touched by his thoughtfulness. THE REFUGE is the fruit of a real connection between us.
If you had to do it again…
Funny you ask, because I asked myself that same question at one point during the shoot. I understood why actresses never shoot films when they’re that far along in their pregnancy! The exhaustion, the energy required, the implications… At that moment I thought to myself, no, I wouldn’t do it again. But then, when we were together again in Paris, in wintertime, to shoot a part of the rest of the film, it was such a pleasure to reunite with François, and the character, and shoot the nightclub scene… I was so glad to be involved in the project and I thought, if I had to do it again, I would.