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POPULAIRE

A Conversation with Actress Berenice Bejo
How did you get involved in the project?

When I received the script last September, I didn't let go of it. It seemed so polished, so sincere and precise. But more importantly, I was moved by the story. At first I told my agent that the part of Marie was perhaps too small. But that same evening I thought how stupid that was, that my reasons for acting are the screenplay, not the size of the role. So I called my agent back to explain that I'd like to be part of this project, even in a supporting role. When I met Regis I was very enthusiastic and wanted him to understand that I was ready to play the part fully, with hair rollers, apron, and rolling pin. I think that might have been what he liked about me. I didn't try to change the character or smarten her up; I wanted to play her the way she had been written. Then I did some tests -- even though I was very pregnant at the time -- to convince him. But I had invited him to the press screening of THE ARTIST so he could understand how I acted.

What was your feeling when you read the screenplay?

I was struck by the fact that it was as tight as could be, each scene had been thought through and nothing left to chance. There was a great expectation in the profession. Everyone had heard about this project! It's very rare to read such a polished screenplay with nothing to add or change.

Marie, your character, is a real emotional catalyst.

That's what I loved about her. She has only a few scenes but one crucial one, where Romain Duris' character realizes he can't miss another opportunity for happiness and living something intense. It's a strong scene that Regis had, by the way, re-written. When you play a supporting role but you have at least one scene where you have to defend your point of view, it somehow justifies making the film. Marie pushes another character in order for him to find fulfilment. She truly evolves and follows a real journey. That's what makes her particularly interesting.

Was the work on costumes helpful to build the character?

Charlotte David, the wardrobe mistress with whom I had already worked on OSS 117, imagined Rose Pamphyle wearing pretty, flowery dresses whereas she saw my character very differently. Since Marie is married to an American and lives in a modern house, she suggested I wore trousers and ballet shoes, which was very helpful in creating my character. For me, Marie already belongs to the '60s. Rose is a young provincial woman and Mary a modern urban woman. It is very important that we can differentiate between them quickly, all the more so since I had only a few scenes and we had to be able to define Marie quickly. The hairstylist opted for a wig since hair at the time was permed and stiff with hairspray so it didn't move at all. I had already played characters from the '50s and '60s so I knew how to hold my body.

Did Regis Roinsard ask you to do any research into the '50s to help you develop your character?

He sent me photos. For example, in the scene where Deborah Francois plays the piano, he wanted me to cross my legs the same way he had seen on a photo in a magazine. He wanted me to wear the same shoes and the same trousers that were in the photo. It's his obsessive side! Every director focuses his anxiety on one thing and Regis needed the atmosphere on set be identical to the '50s. It reassured him.

How does he direct his actors?

I arrived on set late but I knew the crew quite well and had heard a few bits and pieces from the DP, who also worked on THE ARTIST. I quickly gathered that Regis is meticulous and very precise in his direction of actors, while being a good listener. And since I liked to be directed, we got along fine. We had done some readings early on so we knew where we were going. What I love about Regis is that he intervenes in the actors' performance, not only on framing or shots. To sum it up, I had a lot of fun.

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