Moi, celebrity? Non!
The French actor talks to DONALD CLARKEabout soul-searching in her films, and why she’s not a celebrity
Saturday afternoon at the Four Seasons Hotel in Ballsbridge. Some sort of rugby match is about to take place and – the relevant stadium being just a dropkick away – the foyer is packed with rubicund middle-class folk in old blazers or new Barbour jackets. You’d expect Juliette Binoche to stand out like a princess at a bake sale. This does not turn out to be the case. Wearing a green hoodie, her hair mildly spiky, she looks as if she’s arrived to trim the hedge.
No. That’s not fair. She may be wearing only a smear of make-up, but Binoche still gleams with casual splendour. Now an implausible 48, Binoche asserts her authority from the start. Any flabby, poorly structured question is sent back as one might return lukewarm soup to an inefficient restaurant kitchen. She has a hearty, throaty laugh, but such chortles have to be earned.
I begin by casually mentioning how busy she seems. Next week, she will attend the French Film Festival at the Irish Film Institute. Her days are spent shooting A Thousand Times Good Night, a co-production between Ireland, Norway and Sweden, in and about our capital city. In the course of our conversation, she mentions at least three further impending projects.
“It’s a passion. I don’t see it as work,” she says. Okay. But she still has to crawl on to the set at daybreak. “It’s still an internal search. It’s about the human soul. What we do is done with an immense spectrum of what’s inside ourselves. Any film is always an attraction to another field inside us. It’s always a search for an actor.”
Phew! You don’t get that sort of response from Adam Sandler. So, if the work really does involve that degree of soul searching, it must be terribly revealing for an actor. Can she bear watching herself on screen?
A slightly icy pause.
“That’s five questions in one. You have to ask just one question at a time,” she says with the flicker of a smile. “I am not watching myself. It’s different. You are using yourself and putting in a different layer. That’s called creation.”
Binoche has been inserting “different layers” into her work for close to three decades. Born in 1964, she grew up in a creative environment. Her father was a director and a sculptor. Her mother was a teacher and an actor. In earlier interviews, she has admitted that childhood was not entirely idyllic. Her parents divorced when she was a child and she was largely educated at boarding schools. Was there any frolicking in glades? Did she know she came from a broken home?
“Kids have joy they can’t explain,” she says, before embarking on another bout of quasi-poetry. “If you can keep that up then it’s the nature of life. Nature is giving. When a tree loses all its leaves there is something amazingly beautiful. We are the same. How do we allow it? As a child, my real gift was being given that joy. I could play for hours. And that’s what helped me survive. Childhood is not easy. You have to learn betrayal, abandonment – all the pressures of life.”