Virginie Ledoyen – French actress

Virginie Ledoyen – French actress – Interview

Graham Fuller

Whenever a hot French actress comes along, people rush to compare her with Moreau or Bardot or Deneuve. Here’s one who – whether angry, sad, unstable.

Twelve years since her debut In an Italian comedy, French actress Virginie Ledoyen has acted In eighteen movies, including two directed by Olivler Assayas; two by Benoit Jacquot; one each by Claude Chabrol, Edward Yang, James Ivory, and Danny Boyle (who cast her opposite Leonardo DiCaprio in this December’s The Beach); and the unfinished last work of the great Marcel Carne. She is, therefore, a kind of conduit for three epochs in French films, Taiwanese cinema, and two different schools of Anglo-American cinema. How soon before she turns up In an Almodovar (she has Spanish grandparents) or, without makeup, in a Danish Dogma special?

Ledoyen, twenty-two and prodigiously talented, has embarked on a formidable career. She has, variously, brought petulance, melancholy, merriment, and sexiness to her films, and has no peer at playing willful and self-sufficient but troubled women. Above all, she fills the screen with emotion: Deliberately fragmented, her performance as Anne in Assayas’s current Late August, Early September is a remarkably full, nuanced study in romantic frustration brought about by the hesitancy of the man she loves (the excellent Matthieu Amalric) – her eventual lurch into rage shocking to behold.

GRAHAM FULLER: Did Olivier Assayas talk to you in detail about Late August, Early September or simply about your character, Anne?

VIRGINIE LEDOYEN: I did Cold Water [1994] with Olivier, and he’s become a friend, so we didn’t need to discuss this movie much when he gave me the script. Maybe I was wrong, but I think I understood what he wanted me to do, so I just went to work. If I have to play a girl who’s working in a hotel – as I did in [Jacquot’s] A Single Girl [1995] – then I’m going to work in a hotel to know what it’s like, but that’s technical. When it’s a role that’s more about someone’s state of mind, I prefer to jump straight in. Because Anne is quite unstable, I actually didn’t want to know too many things about her.

GF: Why is she unstable?

VL: Olivier’s idea was that she’s a little bit older than me – she’s twenty-five or twenty-six – and very emotional. She lives everything with a hurt. She’s not very interested in being an adult, but she has to accept getting older, which is important for everybody, especially for her [laughs], and she’s at the moment in her life when she has to decide whether to do something or not.

GF: To commit to Gabriel [Amalric] you mean?

VL: Yes. And she’s not the same at the end of the movie as she was at the beginning.

GF: Anne Isn’t the first Independent woman you’ve played, Is she?

VL: I think a spirit of independence is really important, and not just for a woman. I’m always interested in characters – not just as an actress, but as a spectator, too – who have their own way of being, of living, even if it’s not the best way, or even if it’s unstable or sometimes mean. That’s more realistic to me – not in the sense of naturalistic cinema but in the sense that in order to be touched by a character, it has to be true.

GF: So you’re drawn to Independent types?

VL: Yes [laughs]. It’s not like I absolutely have to play them, but just playing the pretty young girl doesn’t interest me.

GF: Some of your characters have been angry, abrupt . . .

VL: Violent?

GF: Anne certainly is when she loses her temper with Gabriel. And i’m Just wondering –

VL: – if I’m like this? It’s probably 80 percent the character and 20 percent me. I know I give some of my own personality to a character. But what you call anger I would call life. I like playing people who are not especially perfect. No one is anyway; it wouldn’t make sense to me if someone was. Do you know the French word degager? [“to release”] When you play a part, something just comes out of you and it works well with the character – but you’re not especially conscious of it.

GF: There’s a moment in Late August, Early September when we see Anne weeping in a taxi. . . .

VL: You can be violent, but it doesn’t mean you’re not sensitive and soft also.

GF: In Jeanne and the Perfect Guy [1998], you played a very free spirit.

VL: It’s probably the most alive character I have played. Jeanne’s completely free in her mind, but just because she sleeps with anyone she wants doesn’t make her a nymphomaniac. She was great to play because, of course, I’m not so free as her. [laughs]

GF: So what’s Jeanne looking for?

VL: Just for life. For vivre.

GF: When did you realize you had some talent as an actress?

VL: Never! But when I first began rehearsing with Olivier [on Cold Water], I knew I understood what he wanted. It didn’t mean I’d be great or that people would like what I’d do, but it did mean [my performance] could work. If I am doing movies, then it’s because I’m not so bad, but I’m not someone who looks at the rushes at the end of the day.

GF: So what’s the Joy in it for you? Is it when you’re inside a character and the emotions are flowing through you?

VL: Completely.

GF: I’ve got a couple of questions about The Beach.

VL: Oh, God. [laughs] Yeah?

GF: Were you bothered by the allegations that the production was upsetting the ecology in Phi Phi Le Island [Thailand]?

VL: Yeah, because it’s very upsetting when people say you destroyed an island when it’s absolutely untrue.

GF: OK. Were you able to establish some chemIstry with Leonardo?

VL: When?

GF: On camera.

VL: I think so. He’s a good actor, very generous, very present. I don’t know what it looks like in the movie, but I feel we worked well together.

GF: I know that stars are gossiped about as much in France as they are in America, but can you . . .

VL: Is he my boyfriend – is that the question?

GF: Um, I wasn’t planning to ask you that.

VL: Oh, thanks. But, as you were saying, there are many gossips. . . .

GF: Anyway, I presume he’s not?

VL: No, he isn’t.

GF: I was going to ask If you can relate to the kind of attention that he has to deal with wherever he goes.

VL: I never think about it. I’m not a huge star – and Leo is – so for the moment it’s really quite pleasant for me. I like being respected for my work, because when you decide to be an actor, you do want to be well known. But I don’t have the pressure of fans sitting outside my door.

GF: I figure you want all the things that people usually want?

VL: Yes. And children, too. [laughs]

GF: And has being a busy actress put pressure on your private life at all?

VL: Not really. I think I’m able to separate my work – my characters – and my own life. And my own life helps me make that difference. It doesn’t mean I’m going to be with the same man all my life – that’s not what I’m talking about – but when you’re stable, it also helps you work better. I have a great family and great friends and a great private life as you say [laughs], so I’m a very happy person, you know?

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