|"I don't want to be the topping
on the cake"
She is honoured as if her career is over, but Catherine
Deneuve is alive and kicking and ambitious as ever. "All those tributes
and retrospectives are flattering but also embarrassing" .
Nobody likes getting older but for movie actresses
time has no mercy, says Catherine Deneuve. Everyone knows the stories
of Betty Davis and Joan Crawford, who for years had fallen out of favour
with the public until they made their comeback in their old age. Nobody
talks about all those famous women who after a certain age fell into oblivion
for good. There probably isn't one actress who doesn't live with that
Catherine Deneuve (58) herself seems to be an exception
to this cruel rule. The past three years she played in no less than twelve
films, among which François Ozon's "Huit femmes".
But don't forget, she says, that those were mainly
smaller parts. That there were many of those parts, is a coincidence.
I have to admit that I underestimated how tiring that would be. Each character
has its history that you need to show even if you are only on screen for
10 minutes. Two weeks or two months on a set, the preparation and the
concentration are the same. And when you are as timid as me, it takes
time to get acquainted with the crew and the actors. Now I always had
to leave just when I was beginning to feel like family. That made the
work a bit sad, I'm bad at saying goodbye.
These days, your contribution
to movies means something like: royally approved.
That is the risk when, like me, you've had the chance of working in films
that have become classics. If the part I play is enlarged by memories
I unintentionally evoke, the better, but there has to be a character,
not a reference to movie history. For such a guest role, the standard
is: does the story stand if you would take my part out? I don't want to
be the topping on the cake. Maybe looking back it seems as if in those
forty years I only played in masterpieces or successes, but often enough
people commented "What is she thinking of, how can she mess up like
that?" You always have to get back on your feet. Zigzagging, I had
the chance to maintain my position, without any periods in which the audience
rejected me or directors ignored me. And luckily there are always people
who think I'll never be good - that helps you to put yourself into perspective.
These days all those festivals organise tributes. Flattering but embarrassing.
I'm not good with compliments. It is nice sitting at home reading favourable
reviews but when someone expresses his appreciation in person, I don't
know how to react. Especially not to compliments on how I look. Maybe
that is my inheritance from before "Les parapluies de Cherbourg",
when I was cast for my looks and nobody thought I could act as well. When
someone says I look good, I think they really mean: and that's all you
are. Truffaut once said that the audience creates an image of actors,
on which they have no control. Everyone sees you the way they want to.
I'm afraid that is true. First I was called cold and sophisticated, now
the grande dame du cinéma français. For the umpteenth time:
I am not a lady. I fought for years not to be a lady (bursts into laughter)
and then this happens!
Is insecurity the driving force
I have to stop talking about my insecurity all the time. It's boring for
everyone, and especially for me. But actors who are professional in every
circumstance, are in general not actors I like to see. Passionate people
move me and the more you have to overcome the bigger the passion. If I
am not challenged by the part or the director, I get bored which makes
me the dullest actress in the world. With my shyness - adult and so-called
famous, but blushing immediately when someone spoke to me - it was not
obvious to reveal myself to the camera. I hate the term therapeutic but
forcing yourself on the set is a way of dealing with the problems in your
life on which you don't have a grip. With that experience I can better
handle doubts, but they never disappear. They even get bigger. The more
you know about your profession, the bigger your awareness of what can
go wrong and that is addictive. After a hundred parts, film still has
not lost its magic, if possible I'd see every movie ever made. Like every
kind of love, love for movies is painful, it should come from two sides
and that you can't enforce. Fortunately my life does not depend on film
only but I still wasted several years on defeatism. After the triumph
of "Le dernier métro" I thought: after this it will only
go down, maybe I should stop before the inevitable downfall. With every
movie I was afraid it could be the last, I had to force myself to do my
best, I was constantly tired. Looking back on it, all that worrying was
for nothing, but I probably needed that "down" period, happiness
only exists through fear and regret. The mentality changes by the way.
Not only me, a lot of actresses from my generation have more work than
ever, not in measly parts, and by young filmmakers. François Ozon
is years younger than my son.
In "Place Vendôme"
and "Dancer in the Dark" you played without make-up. Why was
I had to swallow when Nicole Garcia insisted on that for "Place Vendôme",
but coming from a woman who acts herself, I knew she had a good reason.
If it were a man, I would have thought: he doesn't know what he's doing
to me, I'll talk him out of it. It did appeal to my stubborness: when
you've worked so hard to look like what other people expect from you,
it is liberating to show yourself the way you really are. For "Dancer
in the Dark" I proposed myself not to use make-up. As a worker, playing
next to the tragic, little troll Björk, that would have been out
of place. In "Huit femmes" it was different, in that film everyone
has façades. Ozon suggested an older Marilyn but I couldn't see
it like that. I thought of those melodramas with Lana Turner who was so
overdressed that it wasn't ridiculous but sublimated. That's how the costume
designer and I came to that Hollywood, just out of place version of Dior.
Perfect for a part as parvenu but everything but flattering. And with
a bum like this!
You do appear in L'Oréal
commercials. I heard Paris whisper: it's probably not going well, she
(bursts into laughter) It's going great and I need money. Who doesn't?
Now everyone does commercials, but in the eighties when I was approached
for Chanel that wasn't the thing to do. I had my thoughts but photographer
Richard Avedon said: "You're crazy if you don't do it, you not only
get paid well for a few hours work, it is your business card, recognition
in the whole world". That was true, if the big public knows me, it
is not from my films, but from Chanel. As long as I don't lie to the public,
I don't see what is wrong with it. I buy independence with it, the freedom
to turn down parts that I don't like or to act in low-budget films.
You are celebrated as the "actress
of Buñuel, Demy, Truffaut". Were these also the directors
that were important to you?
Only the result is important. Afterwards you separate the real artists
from those who only master their profession. On the set there isn't a
big difference, only a bungler you recognise immediately. For me it's
always the director that counts. The same material in the hands of Godard
gives a different movie than Bernard Blier would. In "Belle de jour"
I was very aware that I played a lot more reserved than Buñuel
wanted. He had seldom worked in France, was used to Mexican actresses
with a different temperament. On top of that difficult role came the feeling
that the director was not satisfied. Maybe he saw in the editing that
my way of acting also worked. I was euphoric when he asked me for "Tristana",
that he had confidence in me. Buñuel was a quiet solitaire who
never had spontaneous contact with actors, and certainly not actresses.
He preferred to shoot one take, otherwise, before the next take he had
to explain how he wanted it. With Fernando Rey and Michel Piccoli he seemed
at ease, he filmed a lot with them. When they were around, for a moment
you could see a different person. So I think that others are better placed
to talk about directors.
You approached yourself De Oliveira
and von Trier.
I thought De Oliveira made beautiful movies. He worked regularly with
French actresses but was almost ninety. I thought: what if he dies before
he realizes he can ask me. Who could have believed that six years after
"Le couvent" I would be on his set again for "Je rentre
à la maison"? Von Trier is a different case, I had admired
"Breaking the Waves" and his TV series "The Kingdom",
but knew the stories on his phobia about travelling. I thought: the chance
that I run into him, is small, so I'd better write to Denmark. Then came
his reaction that in his new script there was a part for which he had
thought of a fat black woman but that maybe that was something for me!
About "Huit femmes" a lot was said before anyone had seen something.
That makes me superstitious, a movie can better be speech-making after
people have seen it. And they are stories for the wrong reasons. No one
finds a movie with only men in it special, or reckons that the actors
will begrudge each other. From 8 famous actresses everyone expects that
they will be at each other's throat. That did happen, but only on stage:
we're all monsters, one by one, but we share moments of sympathy and comfort.
I grew up with sisters, have lots of female friends, I like playing with
women. As the only woman in a movie - it's typical that no one finds that
strange - it feels as if I don't play a complete character. You're never
only the mistress, you're also daughter, mother, sister, friend. François
Ozon has such a specific style ánd he knows precisely what he wants,
that in his movies there was never the chance of crises or emotions. All
is focused on one set, with a kitchen that only just appears on the screen.
In between the shots, we didn't sit in our dressing rooms but we stayed
in that kitchen: smoking, drinking, talking.
Almost all the parts are written
especially for you.
The creativity of an actor - if at all it exists - is indescribable, it
escapes even himself. The most beautiful experience as an actor is that
you inspire creativity in those you work with. I prefer to experience
that on the set. He who thinks of me at his worktable, is guided mostly
by the parts he knows me of and writes a variation on them. Maybe I'm
being ungrateful, I prefer parts that were not meant for me, then I can
improve myself. Recently I turned down the film written by someone who
said he would write for me. He had a good script, but as soon as my character
came up, my interest disappeared: it was nothing that I hadn't played
many times before. I thought: the audience will yawn, this is wrong for
the movie, he has to find a less predictable actress. So I react neutrally
when someone wants to write for me, even if it seems blasé. I will
not influence him. An actor has responsibility, not power. When we go
over the script I give practical suggestions: that scene seems more efficient
without dialogue, or, there I need a sentence. I never ask to adapt the
character or the story. Once I signed for a movie without a script. "Les
voleurs" by André Téchiné. After three movies
he deserved that confidence. It is important to have Téchiné
in my life. He has been my friend for twenty years now and he has seen
me evolve as a human, without associating with movies, even if he is the
biggest film fan I know. Every few years he has a part in which I have
to show that evolution, reveal what I would rather have kept hidden. After
his movies I feel stronger and I notice that afterwards other directors
reconsider their view on me as well. A lot of versions were written of
"Les voleurs" and suddenly my part was that of a lesbian philosophy
professor. That was frightening. I doubted whether I could be convincing
as a scholar. Then I thought how beautiful it was when in a movie in which
no one shows his feelings, it is exactly the intellectual who, uninhibited,
reveals her emotions.
People say: if Téchiné
asks Deneuve to jump from a window 4 storeys high, she does it immediately.
I would look first whether he put any mattresses. Maybe not: I know that
he will take me far along in his enthusiasm, maybe even hurt me, but he
is never destructive. Would you please not say that I am brave? I am not
brave, I am impulsive and stubborn. Provocation is fun and useful, but
I have been raised to be polite. As soon as I see the chance with subversive
filmmakers as Buñuel, Téchiné or Ozon, I like going
to the extreme with them. But that is borrowed courage. I am stunned when
I see what shocks people still. That I dared to play a lesbian, that such
a thing could cause a scandal, I could not have believed possible. Naive
I guess. And it stays bizarre: a movie always has a few aspects that get
attention, while the rest is not spoken of. Everything that Buñuel
implied in "Belle de jour" has been elaborately discussed, but
never the attraction between Séverine and the madam. In "The
Hunger" it was apparently so astonishing that I played a vampire
that only that aspect was commented, not that I seduced Susan Sarandon.
Although, in America I heard that "The Hunger" is a cult movie
now. I thought that was because of David Bowie, the incarnation of cult,
but it was because of Susan and me. Well, I have to disappoint you all:
our scene is shot with body doubles. On the premiere we saw shots we knew
nothing of. Susan and I were used to doing nude shots, there was no reason
to assume that we would refuse that scene if we were convinced of the
need for it. It would have looked less rancid. Our face was not shown,
there were no gentle gestures, it was just a clumsy fiddling of bodies
with no sensuality. When in "Les voleurs" I am in bath with
Laurence Côte, you don't see any nude, no explicit action, but the
scene is very erotic. Can I be proud of it? I think so. I can easily imagine
falling in love with a woman. You fall in love with a human being, not
with sexual characteristics. Coincidentally, physically that is where
it ends with me, but who knows what I miss? (giggles) Now that people
know nothing about my private life, they start guessing: is there still
a man in her life and who is he then? When they see me two or three times
with a female friend they say: we've always known that. Well, they can
enjoy it to their heart's content, when they see me in "Huit femmes"
with Fanny Adant! And still I can understand intolerance and bigotry,
unfortunately. To accept others, you need to accept yourself, and that
road is long and difficult. But what can be against love? It is the only
thing that really matters, the only real subject. The largest common denominator
of all people, in all cultures, religions, ranks and classes. Every movie
about love is a social movie. Did I think of that or am I quoting Truffaut?
In any case he could have said it. If I can't play that anymore, I stop