Ses interviews / Presse 2000-09 / Knack 2002
  Presse 2010-2019
Presse 2000-2009
Presse 1990-1999
Presse 1980-1989
Presse 1960-1979
Radio et télévision
Centres d'intérêt

Mode de vie
Coups de cœur
Sorties et voyages

"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 fate.

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 for acting?
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 that?
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 needs money.
(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. Brave.
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 acting immediately.

Par : Ab van Ieperen
Traduit du néerlandais par : Haike Goovaerts

Films associés : Huit femmes, Le dernier métro, Place Vendôme, Dancer in the dark, Belle de jour, Tristana, Le couvent, Je rentre à la maison, Les voleurs, Les prédateurs


Documents associés

Nicole Garcia
Luis Buñuel
André Téchiné

Condition d'acteur