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A Conversation with Actress Deborah Francois
What did you like about Rose Pamphyle, your character?

This part is a gift for an actress. I sensed her potential and her sincerity when I first read the screenplay: she touched me. She is sensitive, likes to laugh, gets angry, there's a whole range of emotions that are great fun to play. That's why there were a few of us trying to get the part. I wanted it so badly, I hung in there like crazy. When I met Regis for the first time, I said to him: "Hi, I'm Rose Pamphyle, with a Y." That really made him laugh!

How did you convince him?

Regis and I were very much in synch; Rose touches us both and we're like her in more ways than one. I think that when he met me he understood that for me the challenge was going to be very much like his, my eyes were telling him: "Take me". To convince him I played the first meeting between Rose and Louis; I'll always remember because I rehearsed it so many times! But in the end, my idea of the character was close to the performance I gave in the film.

Had you ever heard of speed typing competitions before?

No, not at all! At first I even thought it was Regis' invention, so I didn't try to find out anything about it. When he told me these competitions had really existed, he inundated me with all sorts of documentation. One short film about a speed typing championship sticks in my mind. It's an unusual and impressive document. He also gave me handbooks for typing and paper-changing techniques, and a video by an American Marines secretary showing how to change paper in three moves. It's staggeringly fast! I also looked at documentaries about the youth of the time, newspaper articles and a great number of illustrations. I saw or saw again several films with Audrey Hepburn - from whom we drew inspiration for Rose's character -- such as SABRINA, LOVE IN THE AFTERNOON, FUNNY FACE and MY FAIR LADY.

Did you get any typing training?

I spent two or three hours a day for three months during preparation, and during the shoot as well, but not every day. When I had to type for one scene, I didn't train in the evening because I was afraid of injuring myself. In the beginning I almost got 'typist's elbow', since it's not a natural posture and typewriter keys are hard to push. It's a very particular movement to get used to. Having to type with my little fingers was hard, as I'm not used to typing with all my fingers. And as soon as I made a mistake, I had to go back to square one.

Does the era in which the film is set indicate the beginnings of women's liberation?

Yes, and that's what the two female characters embody: Rose, who comes from the provinces, has a '50s style whereas Marie, who lives in the city and is more affluent, has an early '60s style, with her headbands, her tight cardigans and short trousers. It's difficult to know what comes from the pressures of the time and what comes from women's personal choices.

How would you describe your character?

She's a feminist who doesn't know it. At first I was concerned that, with the film set in the '50s, Rose could appear submissive. But in fact she's a fighter, she's driven, a true female "Rocky", but doesn't know it. She's also clumsy and lacks self confidence, even if she turns out to be a lot stronger than Louis. In fact we discover that he's the one with a deep crack inside him, much more than Rose. As a result the roles get reversed little by little thanks to the love relationship. That is what's beautiful.

She lets success go to her head for a while...

We felt like shaking up her character so the audience would worry a little about her and think, "She's losing it! This isn't the Rose we've seen up until now!" So we shot two or three scenes where she is not herself anymore. In the one with Nicolas Bedos for example, she is not the same person. I almost wanted to make mistakes in my acting so it would be clear that there was a discrepancy with the rest of the film, and that then she'd come back to earth. We wanted to show her weaknesses.

What is it that attracts Rose to Louis?

His aura. She finds him handsome and is seduced by the fact that he is educated, by his social status. I also think she is attracted to him because he's her boss, even if she refuses to admit it. Rose loves Audrey Hepburn and Marilyn Monroe, deep down she's very romantic and becomes besotted with Louis because she wants to experience great love with a handsome man, slightly older than herself, who looks good in a suit. Besides, she finds him touching. When she discovers that he is not as sure of himself as one would think, she can't resist him. That's when she falls in love. I like the idea that they fall in love in stages: it's love at first sight, and then Louis changes his mind, then there is the final dramatic change...

Out of love she doesn't hesitate to defend Louis against his father.

That's Rose for you. In fact in this scene she behaves like she does with Louis -- she can't help it, she just can't keep quiet. She's had a few drinks, and it's the first time in her life that she's drunk. But in fact I think his father's behavior truly infuriates her. Through her annoyance she sends a message to her lover but also expresses what she'd like to say to her own father.

How did you find working with Romain Duris?

It was a real pleasure. It's great because with Romain something new and intriguing happens with every take. He's always wondering about things, searching, he has very high standards. We felt a real alchemy between our characters and we kicked the ball back and forth really well. And of course, when one of the two weakened slightly it forced the other to change. There was real competition between us.

Is Regis Roinsard very demanding with his actors?

He is extremely precise, sometimes to the point of obsession. We had the same idea of who the character was so there was no tension on set. He is intransigent when he needs to be, he sticks to his guns. I think it's important for a director to have a strong vision. At the same time he knows how to listen to his actors and crew while getting the most out of them to improve a set, the actor's performance, a line, and so on. At the end I felt that I had great freedom, and this is the film in which I have had most input, including costume and hair, and certain changes in the script. I thought for example that some of her lines were a bit too 'little girl', and not feminist enough. Both writers were extremely understanding and accepted these changes. What was wonderful was to be involved at each stage of the film, always exchanging ideas.

Did you enjoy the '50s costumes and hairstyles?

I loved them. Many costumes were created especially for the film and I was able to discuss them with the wardrobe mistress. I would often consult her to know if such and such outfit was accurate, if such a collar line suited the character. In particular we worked together on the pink dress at the end. At first we hadn't chosen the off-the-shoulder dress that we ended up with, that I loved in HOW TO MARRY A MILLIONAIRE, in the scene when the three actresses arrive at a dinner party wearing evening dresses. I had to be comfortable in it to be able to change the paper easily and use the typewriter. I had a bow added and some pleats to the top, and we gave the dress a slightly more loose-fitting look so it would resemble the cocktail dresses of the time. The color comes from a '50s magazine. The wardrobe mistresses suggested the magnificent fabric. I was crazy about it the minute I saw it and thought it was marvellous that my character would wear a dress that matched the Japy typewriter at the end, even if Regis thought it was a bit too cliched at first. But the costume ladies and I all ganged up on him, and when he saw the girls going into raptures over the fabric, he gave in.

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