Capone sits down with the lovely star of HEREAFTER, Cecile de France, to talk Clint Eastwood, MESRINE, and life after death!!!
Published at: Oct. 19, 2010, 11:58 a.m. CST by Capone
Hey everyone. Capone in Chicago here.
Being a fan of Belgium-born actress Cecile de France began for me a year prior to me seeing her in the lead role of Marie in that nasty piece of French horror HIGH TENSION (HAUTE TENSION), released in 2003. A year earlier, she played a slightly unhinged character named Isabelle in the fun ensemble piece L'AUBERGE ESPAGNOLE (or THE SPANISH APARTMENT), as well as its 2005 sequel RUSSIAN DOLLS. De France probably had her largest American audience thanks to a modest-sized part in the 2004 romp AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS. Some of her better-known European work in recent years includes AVENUE MONTAIGNE, Claude Miller's A SECRET, and this year's powerhouse crime docudrama MESRINE (she was the first installment, KILLER INSTINCT, playing the notorious Jeanne Schneider).
But this week, she will take on her highest-profile role in an American-made film in director Clint Eastwood's HEREAFTER, which is not a film about the spirit world. HEREAFTER is actually three very different films--one of which stars Matt Damon, one of which focuses on twin boys in London, and the third (and my favorite) is about a high-profile French television journalist (De France) who nearly dies during a tsunami in Southeast Asia. She has a very clear vision during her near-death experience, and rather than simply bury it and move on with her successful life, she decides to write a book about not just what she saw but also about the way others who have had similar vision are treated by the medical community and the general public. HEREAFTER is a fascinating look at the way unexplained phenomenon is dealt with in the public's collection world view.
De France came to Chicago to present HEREAFTER as part of the Chicago International Film Festival, and, in person, she's a delightful, charming woman who speaks near-flawless English with the most adorable Belgian accent (which sounds amazingly like a French accent). Her hair was considerably longer than I've seen it most of her recent screen appearances (excluding HEREAFTER), and she manages to exude elegance while still seeming very down to earth. I had a blast talking to her. Please enjoy Cecile de France…
[A publicist reminds Cecile that someone at Ain’t It Cool (not me) had interviewed her for HIGH TENSION.]
Capone: We're all obviously huge fans of that. I actually run a column on the site that deals more with the foreign films that make it to America, so I was familiar with your work even before HIGH TENSION.
Cecile De France: Very good. Thank you.
Capone: [I point to the HEREAFTER poster in the room.] So this poster is in virtually every theater in America. Your face is on a poster with Matt Damon for a movie directed by Clint Eastwood. When you see that, what does that mean to you?
CDF: It’s unbelievable, you know? Yes, when I received the poster on email, I was like “Whoa, I’m in the poster!”
Capone: Did you not know you were going to be featured?
CDF: No, no, I didn’t know I was supposed to be on the posters, and, yes, of course I was surprised and so happy. It’s already an amazing thing to shoot a film with Clint Eastwood and to have very good characters that I can defend and to be on the poster. Yes, it’s amazing. I don’t know what to say.
Capone: Is there a different poster in Europe?
CDF: The film will be out in the middle of January, so they didn’t have one ready yet.
Capone: I wondered if it would emphasize you more, since you are better known throughout Europe.
CDF: Probably, yeah. I don’t know. I will see, but because Matt Damon is very loved in Europe too, perhaps they will keep it the same.
Capone: Could be.
CDF: But with my name more clear, you know?
Capone: That’s right. Exactly. [I glance at the smaller print at the bottom of the poster and notice that the only names before the title are Damon's and hers.] You are listed before the title down here, so that’s pretty good.
CDF: Oh yeah, good.
Capone: When you first auditioned for Clint Eastwood, did he care or ask you whether you believed in any of these things regarding the afterlife? Perhaps you being skeptical was better for the character.
CDF: You know, Clint Eastwood never speaks about these kind of things. He just trusts you, because it’s a very personal subject, you know. For me for example, I have never lived something like that in my life, so I’m very open minded and very curious and very tolerant, but I’m not very touched by something like that. But Clint Eastwood, no, he even would never talk about my character or the story. I just did the audition in one round, and he had chosen me, and that’s it. Next thing I knew, two days before shooting I was at a festival in France, and then we were on the set, and then we were shooting, and after one take, we would pass to another scene, and then it was the end of the day, and it was like that all the time. It’s very easy. I think he just likes to be in the present and so we don’t even speak about life after death. I think he's just happy with his crew and doing his film with everybody for sake of art and our energy and our concentration and that’s it, you know? It’s not like “Blah blah blah…” It’s more like [Snaps fingers] “Let’s do it!”
Capone: No discussions of motivations or backstory or anything like that?
CDF: From him?
Capone: About your character, yeah.
CDF: No, no. I did a lot of research, but no. It’s like that, Clint Eastwood is like “Let’s do it.” And I’m like that too. I prefer to do than to speak, you know? Because he trusts everybody and he trusts me too and he knows that I was prepared and I was involved in my character and I would do it well, as best as I can. He’s like that with all of the actors. He doesn’t really direct us.
CDF: It’s true. He just let’s us… Once he has chosen you, he lets you do what you know.
Capone: He assumes you know what you are doing.
CDF: Yes, and he gives us the freedom to express as we want to and he adapts the creative impulse of the moment. He is more concentrated on the choreography and the position and the movement of the camera and the actors.
Capone: I know he usually only does one take, but was there a rehearsal before the cameras are turned on?
CDF: Not all the time. No, no we used to shoot directly and sometimes that’s it.
Capone: Are you used to having that kind of freedom in some of the other films that you've been in?
CDF: No, no I’ve never seen that. One take? I’ve never seen that, no.
Capone: What about not really being directed that often, is that something you've experienced before?
CDF: No, it’s the first time. There’s such big trust, and no I have never seen that, you know. I think that it’s perhaps because of his experience, because he likes to be in the present and really enjoys the simple job of being in the present I think, something like that, and he transmits that too. But no, perhaps the other directors are more stressed or confused or they are not sure of what they are doing or they are looking for, or they love to look for and take the time. Clint Eastwood is like “Vroom.” He’s like that you know, and you can follow him. It’s possible to do it in one take and to never talk about the character. It’s very possible, and my job, and our job as actors, is to adapt to what is happening on the set, and of course with Clint Eastwood, you are so impressed that, of course, everything he does, you say “Wow.” [Laughs] But it’s true, after that you realize that it’s really “Wow.”
Capone: Were you a fan of his work as a director or an actor prior to this? Even some of his older films?
CDF: Of course, I have seen all of his films and I love a lot of them. It’s very difficult, for example, to say one that I prefer.
Capone: You have to break it down into sections of his career.
CDF: Yeah, exactly, and if I want to laugh, for example, I can look at SPACE COWBOYS. If I want to cry, I can see A PERFECT WORLD. It’s like that, that’s why he’s a master, because he's used to choosing universal subjects and he’s never settled down where we expect him.
Capone: That being said, when you first saw the script for this film were you surprised that he was tackling a film on this subject?
CDF: Not really, because the script is cleverly done, and it’s excellent. The script is very good, so I didn’t think about that. I understood why he fell in love with this script you know, and in the film--and in the script it’s the same thing--it’s more about here and now. It’s more about lonely people, human beings, even if the paranormal is there, that is not all of the energy of the film, because death is part of life and because death is a universal subject too, like in the other films he has done on childhood, on aging. So it’s one very universal theme, so it’s normal that he could do a film on this.
Capone: Because you don’t have a lot of scenes with the other main actors in the other two stories being told, was it strange being separate from those stories? And when did you finally see it all put together, and what was that like?
CDF: Yeah, it was very frustrating to know that when they were shooting Matt Damon’s part, I was not there at all and it was in San Francisco, and I was waiting in Paris and then they shot again in London, but I met the two boys, the twins, because both of them play Marcus.
Capone: I noticed in the credits that they trade off.
CDF: Yes, and so when I saw the film it was good to discover the other parts and I realized how our characters are lonely. I didn’t really realize that when I read the script. This is from Clint Eastwood especially I think the loneliness, because he takes the time to film the silence, to breath, to pause.
Capone: That scares a lot of directors, to have quiet like that.
CDF: Yeah. It’s very brave of Clint Eastwood.
Capone: I have to ask about the tsunami, the opening which is one of the most incredible things I have ever seen, and it’s terrifying. I realize some of that special effects, but how much of that was real and how hard was that physically for you to go through?
CDF: Yeah, I did all of my own stunts, so I was proud and happy, and it was a tough day, because we did it in one day.
CDF: Yeah, one day and a few like one hour in the real ocean in Hawaii with Clint Eastwood, who joined us in the water. Big waves and the ocean was completely wide, and it was amazing, and yes I prepared for this day too, I rehearsed with oxygen. We always carried oxygen, but I preferred to hold my breath, and we did it like that. Because I had already done two films underwater--one in France and one in Belgium--one was called A SECRET by Claude Miller…
Capone: I’ve seen that, sure.
CDF: And THE HAND OF THE HEADLESS MAN, so I had already shot underwater, so it was not the first time. Before it was with my coach who is a friend, and here it was in a big tank with a lot of English men. I was scared, yeah.
Capone: When you first saw that on the screen, that had to shock you with what that whole scene looks like put together.
CDF: I was happy, because it works well, and I knew that there were some special effects, but I think it works very well. Also, the other thing, is that I realized when I was watching that a real tsunami happened in 2004, so I had some idea of what one looked like, so it was bizarre and I was impressed by that.
Capone: MESRINE finally opened here not too long ago, and I thought you were just great in that first part. Can you talk a little bit about that? He is such a well-known figure in France--and I know you are not from France--but did you have some knowledge of him and his legend before you shot that movie?
CDF: More my parents and grandparents. They knew more than my generation, but, yes, it’s a very interesting story, and I think that Vincent Cassel did it very well.
Capone: I got to interview him for that film. He is so nice and so much fun to talk to and he’s so pleased with the way that turned out.
CDF: I like him very much.
Capone: But even your character is kind of famous in her own way in history, more through being connected to him. Was there any sort of preparation that you had to go to play her?
CDF: Yes, I had to. For example, for this character in MESRINE, I read a book of hers. She wrote a book about her life with Jacques Mesrine and I read it and read it again and it was so interesting and I wrote down a lot of lines from the book, because when you play a character who really exists or existed before, it’s a big responsibility and so it better be done well. And it’s very cool to have some materials with real biography by her, so it’s very exciting to read a book by a character who you will play. It’s exciting.
Capone: And HEREAFTER, was there a sort of a preparation that you had to go through just emotionally?
CDF: Emotionally, no. Like my character, I focused on things from a more scientific direction, and I talked with doctors and asked, “What do you think about death, about what’s happening after life?” It was very funny to hear them “Well, nothing. The brain produces a cocktail of hormones and they hit the neurotransmitters…” But when you talk to some people who have had a near-death experiences, and they tell you their experience, wow, you are so impressed. So I was looking in one direction and in another, and it was very interesting and that’s why after the film, when you watch the film and you go out from the theater, you don’t have answers. It’s the same for me, I don’t have answers.
That just opened my mind more, and I’m more curious to see if, for example, near death experiences will be explained in a few decades or something like that, but the film doesn’t talk only of that.
Capone: Right and I like that your character has the most to lose I think of the three by going public with what happened to her, and she has so much more at risk in her life.
Capone: Cecile, thank you very much. It was really wonderful to meet you.
CDF: Thank you very much.
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