Every year HeyUGuys are fortunate enough to be invited to a long-weekend in Paris to interview some of the industry’s finest performers (stay tuned for our feature with Isabelle Huppert next week) – and this year we had the pleasure of meeting Berenice Bejo, in the French capital to promote her latest endeavour, Sweet
After spending time discussing her role in the Marco Bellocchio production, and her love for Italian cinema – she then went on to discuss the role of women in the film industry, and her disdain at the financial inequality between the sexes. She also goes on to discuss her role in her husband Michel Hazanavicius’ latest, the Godard biopic Redoubtable, and just how often she and her partner help each other in their respective careers.
So what’s your relationship with Italian cinema?
I have a very strong relationship with Italian cinema, because my dad is a huge fan. I’ve grown up with Italian films, so when Marco called me, I was very proud to be able to meet him and even though it’s a small part, it was like putting a little stone in Italy, just to let them know I can learn, maybe I can be a part of your cinema.
There is something very distinctive about Italian cinema, when starring in one, did it feel like you were in an Italian movie?
Yes, but maybe because I’m from Argentina, but I felt really at home, the people, the way they are together, the energy of the Italians, it has nothing to do with cinema but I feel very connected with this culture, and so I felt really good. But I wouldn’t connect this movie to the Italian movies I grew up with, because in the 60s Italian movies were as good as American movies, maybe even better. It’s so sad that we lost that, because they did movies that were so strong. Today I would love to make those sort of movies, they talk about us, and they’re hard and strong, and there’s always lots of humour and distance about ourself, and there’s always lots of love, even when it’s very sad, and I would love to do those kind of comedies, but we don’t right them anymore.
I don’t know, I’m not a writer, but I think today we do comedies very simple, one story, and there’s not many dimensions or levels like we used to see in Italian movies.
Because of your Argentinian background, do you think it’s true that directors don’t typecast you in any particular role and you’ve got the whole world as your oyster, in terms of the characters you can play?
I wish you were right, because I really intend to work everywhere in the world, I like the idea of not just working in France. I just did a German movie too, and I think it’s a good sign to give to the people that you can work everywhere and you’re welcome everywhere, and that’s how I explain it to my kids when I work all around the world. To show I’m not scared, I don’t have a good German accent, and I can’t speak Italian, but I just go. America is already taken up by French actresses, I should stay in Europe!
Do you think it was the success of The Artist that opened up these doors?
Yeah, for sure. This German guy would never have called me if not for The Artist. He wouldn’t even have known who I was [laughs].
Back to Sweet Dreams – Marco Bellocchio is of course an older gentleman, is he still very active on set?
Yeah, he’s amazing. He’s like a 20 year old, he’s the first on set, the last to leave. He works six days a week, he works all the time, he has ideas all the time. He’s very strong, he gets angry when he doesn’t get what he wants, but in a very funny way. I saw him doing the promotion of the movie and he’s still working, telling people what he wanted to do and defending his movie.
When he called did he tell you why he thought of you for the role?
He wanted me because of The Artist and The Past. I think it’s because Elisa in Sweet Dreams is quite similar to Peppy Miller, that loveable character that arrive on screen and you know they’re gonna save the lead guy, she’s suddenly the right person. He told me I had to smile, but I also had to be very strong, he was very strong directing me in this role. It’s a small role, but I had a director really directing me.
Though choosing projects from around the world, what’s the quality of the role that makes you choose one?
First it’s the director, the most important thing is having a director with a very strong view, and a specific way of shooting their story. Normally I am very faithful to that, and it doesn’t mean I’m always right. I worked with Brady Corbet for Childhood of a Leader which is his first movie, and I knew it was going to be very specific because of the way he was telling me this story, and the way he wanted to shoot it. So it’s not whether the director is famous or not, it’s more about their point of view. That’s the first thing, then of course the script, so while this German guy just sent his script with a later, thinking I’d never answer and one day my agent asked me if I had read the German script and I said no because I thought I wouldn’t do a German movie, so I declined the offer and then I thought, I can’t decline something I didn’t read, so I read it because I felt bad for him and the letter was nice, and I loved it. It was so interesting, so I called my agent and then my guy, and it just happened.
Who is the guy?
Jan Zebeil. The lead actor is Alexander Fehling, and it’s the story of the relationship between a mother, her son, and her new boyfriend, and we all talk different kind of languages, and I like that. The son talks to me in English, I answer in French and I talk in German or English with my boyfriend, while the two boys talk in German, and that is totally my life, and the world we live in, and so I like this idea. I thought it was interesting, and that’s why I said yes.
How do you fit into your husband’s next movie Redoubtable?
I’m a supporting role, the lead actress is Stacy Martin who I played with in Childhood of a Leader, and then Louis Garrel who is playing Jean-Luc Godard. They’re a love story and I play a friend of the couple. A small part, but a very strong character. It’s a good part.
Have you ever met Jean-Luc Godard?
No. Michel has a very strong point of view, he read everything you can read about Godard, and suddenly he connected with something, and he wanted to tell this moment where you’re at the top of your life, you have a beautiful 20-year-old woman, you have the world at your feet, and you decide it’s not what you want anymore, and you go somewhere else. I think Michel liked that, he wanted to understand why that happened, and why Godard decided to change everything, so he wanted to give his view on that. But what’s most interesting in the movie is the couple and their relationship, and how they love each other but at one point they’re taking different roads, and how she is so much in love with him, but he doesn’t want her to be the woman he marries anymore. And how slowly by slowly she doesn’t love him anymore. It’s funny and it’s touching. I think when you talk about someone famous you have to forget they’re famous and be able to talk about the human being.
Has he said anything about the film?
He got the script but he didn’t say anything, and I don’t think he will. I don’t think he cares really.
Is it quite nice sometimes to take on a supporting role in a movie and not have that sort of pressure from being the lead star?
It was great. I wondered whether I should do Sweet Dreams or not because it’s a small part, but it’s an interesting part, even if it is small. It’s another kind of challenge and I really liked it. When you have a strong director calling you, you don’t have to be a snob. All the Americans do small parts, but the French can sometimes only want the lead role, to have their name first. So it’s good.
Do you have any ambitions one day to direct, or to write?
I think at one point, maybe.
Did you get the chance to see La La Land? A few people are comparing it to The Artist, and the fact it seems to be sweeping up all the awards too.
Yeah, I have and I loved it, the two actors are just so loveable. I’m very happen this kind of movie exists, there’s a lot of freedom. I loved it. It’s very well written, and I know I can’t talk about the end, but I’m happy with how it ended, it’s very strong and beautifully shot. It reminds me of The Artist because of the dancing, and when we learnt to dance. I could imagine them working on that. But they are very different movies.
Was the whole experience with The Artist, the Oscars and stuff, all quite surreal?
Yeah now I know what it’s like, when I see it happening to other films I remember everything, what comes before. It’s fun.
Do you get offers from the US?
I get some, but nothing goes through. I did auditions for things that are not really for me, like superhero movies and things like that, but it’s not my type. Then bigger things I didn’t get, but it’s okay. If it happens it happens, if it doesn’t, I’m not crying and desperate.
Does Michel often ask for your opinion when he’s written something?
Yep, there’s always a woman behind them. Yeah we talk a lot and I go to the editing room too and I try to come on set. He always asks me, I’m always there somewhere, and he likes it, normally I give him good tips. I like the idea of working on script, like a script doctor, and casting, like being a producer. I’m not going to be a producer but I like that, so through Michel I can do that and it’s fun.
Does he help you prepare for a role as well?
No. I discuss the script with him if I have a problem, but normally I don’t give him my scripts. But it’s not the same because I work with other directors who have a point of view who will direct me. Normally he is the one who is preparing me for auditions for Americans, he films me and we do that together.
There’s an ongoing story about this wage-gap between actors and actresses in Hollywood – do you think European producers are more fair?
No I think it’s the same all over the world, they aren’t very fair. Men are always better paid than women, and it’s obscene and very frustrating. It’s crazy and unbelievable. The way an actor is treated compared to a woman is unbelievable. After all I’ve been through, the Oscars, the prize in Cannes, and my César in France, everything, I’m still less paid than men who haven’t done anything these last few years. But I’m an actor and I’m well paid compared to most people, they don’t earn what I earn so it’s obscene for me to always be saying it’s not fair, because in a way it’s already too much, so I think we should all be less paid. So I do fight and not let it happen, but it’s difficult.
Sweet Dreams is released on February 24th.