There was something quite remarkable about interviewing Ludivine Sagnier, and certainly somewhat unique. Upon our meeting, taking place in a Parisian hotel, she walked into the room with her one month old baby – a baby that made rather a lot of noise, until the actress decided to feed it. “You embarrass me,” she jokingly said to her wailing child. “This is the first time in my life I’ve done this”.
This inclination to be so open, and so genuine, set the precedence for a candid, honest interview, as Sagnier – known predominantly for her roles in The Devil’s Double, Swimming Pool and P.J. Hogan’s Peter Pan – explained the challenges, and rewards, about balancing a career in film, with being a mother of three.
Sagnier is promoting her latest endeavour Lou! – based on a popular comic strip aimed at teenage girls, and she admits that she required the advice of her 11-year-old niece, when deciding whether to take on the project.
“I’d never heard of this comic strip before they told me about it as it’s only a decade old,” she explained. “So I called my niece who is 11 years old and she was my reference point. I asked if she’d heard about Lou! and she said of course. She was insulted with a very typical teenager’s arrogance. Then I started reading the cartoons and I found them very funny, very exciting and lovely. The children speak in a smart way, they don’t play dumb. I enjoyed that about it.”
Sagnier plays the eponymous protagonist’s unorthodox, quirky mother, a role that the actress admits she’s wildly different from.
“I am the contrary of this character in many ways – now I have three children, so everything has to be planned and scheduled. I’m not at all a childish mum, I enjoy playing with my daughters and making a fool of myself, I don’t let myself go and I show some really solid examples to my children.”
Julien Neel’s production, aimed at a younger audience, is not afraid to tackle depression and adult themes, presenting them in a whimsical, playful manner to ensure they’re accessible. For Sagnier, it’s important these issues are tackled in cinema, while she also expresses what a joy it was to make a film aimed at a younger demographic.
“Depression and the lack of confidence and self-esteem exists at any age, so why not talk about it in this kind of film? Also, it’s portrayed in a playful way, so it’s not too gloomy. All along my career I’ve wanted to make children laugh, and that was a trait in the character that interested me.”
Having children has evidently made a mark on her career choices – though for Sagnier, she explains that it’s more in tune with her own background in comedy.
“My aim has changed,” she said. “I want to make movies that interest my children. It suits me though as I feel naturally close to comedy, when I started to study theatre I wanted to play Juliet and roles like that, but my teacher only gave me comic parts and I could never play a tragedy. So when I started to do movies and I was offered tragic roles, I felt like it was the gift of a lifetime – but if I really asked my natural instinct, it would be to be a comic actress.”
Being a mother of three can be a hinderance too of course, and can prevent Sagnier from taking on projects that could require her to be away from home for a lengthy period of time.
“I can’t go away from home for too long, so I have to compromise, but life is full of compromises and regarding the amount of joy these little noisy things give me, I mustn’t complain.” Then, almost on cue, her infant started to cry. “Voila!” she laughed.
Having to choose less laborious endeavours also rules out any productions outside of France in the near future, though Sagnier admits that in Hollywood, there aren’t exactly a plethora of roles for women anyway.
“In Hollywood there aren’t many roles for women, because when I see actresses of my age it’s not like they’re having 10 great parts a year, they’re struggling. Even a-listers. But I really need to be facing a mountain in order to have the desire to work on a film. If I don’t get this sensation of a challenge, then I won’t go for it.”
Sagnier may only be 35 years of age, but has been involved in the industry now for the vast majority of her life, beginning when just a child. Her experience, she explains, allows her a certain freedom on set.
“The good thing about ageing as an actress is that you have more and more influence on the creative process because trust you. So I get attached to projects very early and have my say. If I had to invest myself more, I’d be a producer. That’s my motherhood coming in. On set people start to trust me more, my experience is effective.
Talking of being on set – given the playful nature to Lou! – Sagnier took her two elder daughters to the shoot, who seemed to have a wondrous time hanging around with their mum.
“They love the comic strip so they’re very proud. They’d come to my dressing room and try on my glasses and my wig. It was very cute.,” she said. “But the only restriction I give them is one day of shooting. Not more than that. But they’re always hanging around on set. During Lou! they would come every Wednesday afternoon because they don’t have school. I’d give them homework, like ‘you have to give me the names of the crew’.”
It’s roles such as this which the actress seems to thrive on, enjoying roles that her children can watch, and enjoy.
“Well, I don’t have so many they can watch,” she joked. “But my middle one still thinks I’m Tinker Bell. It’s good for the ego. The friends of my children love me a lot. When I do a tragic part they don’t care at all, or my business. They only care about movies that interest them. But I need to profit on the admiration they have for me now, because it might be less powerful when they grow up.”
Our interview was first thing on a Sunday morning, and with a day of interviews ahead – and a one month old child in tow – Sagnier has proven that balancing her career and her parenthood is a feasible task. Which is good news for us, because the more films this talented, affable performer is in, the better.