With Les Combattants hitting our screens this weekend, we had the pleasure of sitting down with the film’s leading lady Adéle Haenel – a role that earned the talented performer the award for Best Actress at the César’s.
Speaking to HeyUGuys in Paris during an unforgettable weekend in the French capital, Haénel discusses the joy in playing a strong, female lead, why she doesn’t personally see the attraction in being a soldier, and on her chemistry with co-star Kevin Azais.
There were many things. On a basic level it was very funny. Jumping in rivers, fighting, having fake guns, I thought that would be fun. I also like the way it talks about the present and society, but in a way that has a lot of humour, that’s what I like about the movie, it’s not avoiding reality.
And a strong female role too…
Oh yeah, of course [laughs]. I think in cinema, there is a problem with representation, because we are always talking about the same person and it’s boring. Okay, we get it – it’s difficult to be a middle-aged white man, having an affair – but can we talk about somebody else please? Les Combattants does that. Actors and artists are creating the way society looks at itself, so we need to face it and take responsibility and talk from the perspective of all of the people in that society, not just the same person. Anybody can be a hero.
Are you in a position where you can be quite picky with your roles? Because you keep making good choices…
I’m lucky I can do that. But there was a time when I didn’t have a lot of jobs, and I was lucky because many proposals came out of the blue. After that I always had enough work that I was able to refuse work. It allowed me to choose. I love my job, and with Les Combattants, right from the beginning it was a movie I really believed in. I enjoyed reading it, and I enjoyed shooting it, and now I enjoy talking about it. Right now I’m a bit tired, but it’s still a pleasure.
Madeleine doesn’t smile very often, as though she’s defeated by her own sense of pride. Must be fun playing somebody like that?
Yeah, and the humour in the movie is really based on this. Some people think that she’s a weirdo.
Were there any scenes where it was quite difficult not to smile when shooting?
One time I laughed, because it was the moment when we were all eating, and I couldn’t stop laughing. It’s stupid, but she’s on her own level.
She wants to be in the army of course – did that require a lot of physical training on your part?
Yeah, I did a lot of training beforehand. Not because it was required, but because it was more fun. I didn’t want it to be restricted by my physical possibilities.
So what exactly did you do?
I did swimming, which is now my speciality in cinema [laughs]. I also did boxing and while preparing for another movie at the same time I did dance also, though I didn’t really use that in this movie.
When you finish the project, do you find you keep up the physical exercise out of habit, or do you just drop it completely when it’s no longer needed?
I had to, but the day after the end of the shoot I started a theatre piece so I didn’t have time to get fat [laughs]. It didn’t become a habit for me anyway, not at all.
Can you see any of the attraction in this soldier’s life?
Here in France we have something now, where everybody goes to an army camp on one day a year where they introduce to us programmes about the military. I’ve got to be honest, when I went along I thought, yeah, this is so cool, but I was brainwashed. But it works, because they present it like an enterprise, ‘you can jump with a parachute and it’s going to be fun, you’ll be in the mountains with your friends!’ so they are selling themselves. But you have to go and hear what they’re saying. But I don’t think I’d fit in to the military structure.
Because if you are looking for a meaning in life, I’m not sure you’ll find it in the army.
You have a great chemistry with Kevin – is that something that comes naturally, or do you have to spend a lot of time together off-set to help build up that relationship?
Well it was easy with Kevin because we have known each other a long time. He’s the brother of a French actor I made my first movie with. The first time I met him he was nine – so we don’t know each other that well, but we’ve always been around each other. So when he arrived at the casting, it was a shock for me, discovering somebody you know already. So weird.
So did that make it easier or harder to slap him?
[Laughs] That was not easy. Not easy.
You’ve got The Forbidden Room and Seances coming up next…
Well, I made them three years ago! So for me it feels like it’s never going to come out. I haven’t seen either. They’re made with Guy Maddin, so they’re experimental. Will be interesting for sure.
What he’s like to work with?
Well, I didn’t work a lot with him, just four or five days. But he’s crazy. He’s really mystic. I don’t know what else to say, he likes everything he does.
When making a movie that is so experimental, and then returning to something a little more traditional – can that be quite comforting?
No, it’s boring. If you stay in what you know, you need to change your job. These are the opportunities. I don’t think you should stay where you belong. When you know where you are you know the sort of relationships you should have with people, and you don’t discover new things. It’s good to be uncomfortable, it’s good not to know exactly where you are. Then you’re fragile and when you’re fragile you meet more people, because you aren’t so self-assured.
Les Combattants is released on June 19th.