Life of Riley marks the very final cinematic endeavour for Alain Resnais, as the venerable filmmaker passed away last year. For Hippolyte Girardot, who plays Colin in the adaptation of the witty Alan Ayckbourn play, it was a pleasure to have ever had the chance to collaborate with such an innovative, esteemed director.

Speaking to us exclusively in Paris, Girardot said, “I’m just pleased I had the chance to meet him before he died. I had the chance to work with him on two movies. It’s still sad, but the memory of Alain for me is a guy who was laughing. He had a very nice laugh. He was so lively and funny, smart and witty. That’s all you remember. When I watch the movie back I remember only good things.”

Girardot also claims that it was the credentials of the director which enticed him into the project. “Yeah, it was to work again with Resnais because I worked with him on a previous movie and I was praying for myself that I could do another with him – and suddenly I had a phone call from his assistant saying “Alain wants to see you again, he has a new project and he would be delighted if you accepted to read the script”. So I was jumping on my bed – it was great. So what attracted me to this? Nothing but Resnais, I would have done everything and anything with him.”

Girardot had so much faith in the filmmaker, he even signed on to the project prior to knowing which character he was even set to play.

“When I read the script at the beginning, I didn’t know which role I was going to play,” he claimed. “Was it Jack, or was it Colin? I wondered which role Alain would give me, and I thought whatever it is, it will be the opposite. I waited a week and I was right – Alain did the opposite. Jack was too easy for me, a guy who cheats on his wife and is ignorant – I knew how to play this role completely. But I was afraid of Colin. It was too complicated for me. But that was Alain, he chose me to play this role, and I had to work. It wasn’t my choice – it was his.”

Colin is a doctor – and amateur actor – who breaks the news to his wife Kathryn (Sabine Azéma) that their dear friend George has been diagnosed as being terminally ill, with just months left to live, and so as a gesture of goodwill, they invite George to join their acting troupe for one final performance. Also starring Sandrine Kiberlain André Dussollier, it was a cast made up mostly of former collaborators of Resnais’, which Girardot believes helped them prepare for the roles.

“Since we all knew each other and everyone had worked with Alain before, it was easy for us to talk about what we were going to do,” he said. “Alain was working on the staging, and we were working on the characters. We rehearsed by ourselves for one month and a half to be ready for the shoot. Because we knew how Alain worked, we knew how to rehearse. It creates a real troupe.”

The film is set in the Yorkshire Dales, as Resnais opted to keep this project England based, and the characters English. For Girardot, this was an exciting role to portray, and different to what he’s used to.

“It was complicated to play English people as French people. But I feel very close to English people, when I was young in the 60s I went to London by boat to buy some records you couldn’t find in France – and to see the amazing clothes. For French people it’s remarkable how modest you are, and shy of yourselves and emotions. For me when an Englishman shows his emotions it’s out of the blue and can be very extravagant. This play is typically English and it doesn’t happen in France, this is not the way French people react. That’s why it’s nice to play, to keep your emotions inside, it’s a game and I love it.

“We spoke a lot about that with Alain, but for him the characters were completely English and it was stupid to try and transpose them as French people. At one point we were wondering – can we say jam or marmalade? Alain just said, “who cares?””

The film – which is out in cinemas on March 6th, is an entertaining, comical production, while offering an indelible visual experience. The performances are strong too – though the lead character, in some ways, is George – and he remains completely unseen. For Girardot, he has a certain image of the character in his mind…

“Everyone had a George in their mind – and no George is the same. My George was Bill Nighy.”

Life of Riley is released on March 6th.