LUDIVINE SAGNIER: The Swimming Pool interview
By Greg Muskewitz
Posted 07/04/03 06:01:09
Ludivine Sagnier: Currently gracing magazines and television programs in France as one of their rising stars, the 24-year-old from Saint-Cloud is furthering her acclaim with her third collaboration under the direction of FranÁois Ozon. (Not in the least forgetting that she had two films in competition at this yearís Festival de Cannes: the current Ozon film and Claude Millerís La Petite Lili.) And the embrace of American audiences could well be under way as well, as the partnershipís film in release, Swimming Pool, ventures a thriller in English ó a first for both to sustain for an entire film. Additional support, meaning mainstream American exposure, is also due around Christmastime, with the release of a live-action Peter Pan and Ludivine as (the mute) Tinkerbelle. At first that may sound like a roundabout way of doing things ó star in a French-made and French-directed film in English; do an American-made blockbuster without dialogue ó but the raspy-voiced, voluptuous actress had a unique path into the industry to begin with.
ďOnce I looked in the mirror with this tan, this girl, these clothes, this makeup, all these artifices, I couldnít recognize myself.Ē
Ludivine Sagnier: Currently gracing magazines and television programs in France as one of their rising stars, the 24-year-old from Saint-Cloud is furthering her acclaim with her third collaboration under the direction of FranÁois Ozon. (Not in the least forgetting that she had two films in competition at this yearís Festival de Cannes: the current Ozon film and Claude Millerís La Petite Lili.) And the embrace of American audiences could well be under way as well, as the partnershipís film in release, Swimming Pool, ventures a thriller in English ó a first for both to sustain for an entire film. Additional support, meaning mainstream American exposure, is also due around Christmastime, with the release of a live-action Peter Pan and Ludivine as (the mute) Tinkerbelle. At first that may sound like a roundabout way of doing things ó star in a French-made and French-directed film in English; do an American-made blockbuster without dialogue ó but the raspy-voiced, voluptuous actress had a unique path into the industry to begin with. Her first on-screen role was in Alain Resnaisí second English-language feature, I Want to Go Home, where Ludivine appeared briefly without lines as a young village girl, and later won the bid to dub Natalie Portmanís voice in the Luc Besson-directed Lťon/The Professional.
Ludivineís first role in an Ozon-directed film was in Water Drops on Burning Rocks; a forgettable movie, but a memorable and well-performed supporting role as a spurned girlfriend attempting to take her ex back from an older man in 1970s Germany. (Ozon adapted it from a relatively unknown R.W. Fassbinder play.) Her second outing avec Ozon came last year with Franceís smash-hit 8 Women, a musical-comedy-whodunit in the tradition of Clue. Going from seductress to a tomboy, Ludivine not only held her ground with some of the filmís respected big stars (Isabelle Huppert, Fanny Ardant), but surpassed some as well (Catherine Deneuve, Danielle Darrieux). She garnered a Cťsar nomination for Best Female Newcomer, but the favorite lost out to another actress in an upset. (Remember that for later.) As the story goes, Ozon tended to ignore Sagnier during the filming as he had never worked with any of the other cast members, so for Swimming Pool he teamed up his two favorite actresses (Charlotte Rampling, his one woman of Under the Sand), ďspoiling Ludivine with a sexy new role.Ē
When I heard she would be having a press day, I immediately jumped to get a one-on-one interview, which was instead shot down for a roundtable of print journalists. And then, after booking my two-week vacation in New York, came to find out her only appearance would be in L.A., and the day before I returned. As luck would have it in Atlantic City (and on a slot machine entitled French Quarters no less), it assured that I would make it back if even for a roundtable. (I later heard another journalist refer to it, and only after twelve or fourteen of us were crammed at and around the table, as a gangbang.) I flew back to San Diego on a Wednesday, and the next morning drove up to West Hollywoodís Mondrian ó a hotel full of good memories from when I spent an afternoon with another of Franceís most talented, AgnŤs Jaoui. A little downtime followed the two-hour (plus) drive before being directed to the twelfth-floor suite we would utilize. After being informed several times that Ludivine would be in in five-minutes (the same each update, although those five-minute prompts wound up being longer than the interview itself), it wasnít announced until she was escorted into the room that our initial 25-minutes had been reduced to fifteen. Her hair, distinguished by thatches of peroxided blonde and her own natural dirty blonde was twisted and woven back in a messy ponytail. She wore a sleeveless red blouse that concealed the top-heaviness that would otherwise be unexpected unless you saw her sans shirt. Her long, slender shoulders, baring a faded tan with freckles not quite the bronze from Swimming Pool, follow suggestively down her arms, holding closely against her tight-fit (but not mini in the Ally McBeal sense) brown skirt. The interview session kicks off quickly allowing us to indulge in her British-English accent Ö
Warning: Plot spoilers are discussed throughout the interview.
Roundtable Participant: Who is Julie?
Ludivine Sagnier: Julie, sheís a young French girl. Kind of a stereotype from the South of France. She is very aggressive, kind of pretty, kind of sexy and kind of pathetic. Thatís what we think about her at first sight. And as the movie goes, she [Ö] happens to be the target of Sarahís imagination and she becomes the source of her inspiration. Want me to go on?
RP: I was thinking in light of the ending, there are a number of possibilities, one of them being is she a fictional person from the very beginning? Or based on an actual person who is Charles Danceís daughter? Or is she a real person who evolves into someone fictional?
LS: I would say that itís up to you. ĎCause, what I like about this movie is you may think sheís only a reflection of the fantasy of Sarah or you may think that sheís the editorís daughter and that sheís been really disordered and really accomplishing this crime. Or you may think everythingís in Sarahís mind and whatever you may think, youíve got the truth.
RP: This is your third movie with FranÁois Ozonó
LS: Are you French?
RP: Oui. Is it easier to work with someone you have already worked with? Does it make your work easier?
LS: Well, itís easier in a way that you know that youíre working hard on something with somebody who trusts you and who believes in what youíre doing. And itís also easier because FranÁois Ozon always uses the same crew so Iím not only working with him again, but with a whole bunch of people. But itís harder in the way that heís more and more demanding towards me and every time itís a new and harder challenge.
RP: But you like it?
RP: Do you have any ambition to break into American cinema?
Another RP: She already has. (A rumbling of yesís and nodding heads break out among the better-prepared journalists.)
LS: Iíve done one, so it was a wonderful adventure. I would even say that it was an awfully big adventure.
RP: It was a big movie Ö in terms ofó
LS: Money? Yeah, yeah, itís a big movie.
RP: Itís probably the biggest one youíve ever been in?
LS: I think the whole budget of the movie is the amount of all the low budget movies Iíve done! And I think it would be more, maybe. [Ö] Peter Pan was a great opportunity, and not for entering the American industry. I had been offered other things before but I did not take them because I wasnít interested in the part. Iím not interested in ó it may sound special ó but Iím not interested in making money, being wealthy enough to have a villa in Beverly Hills. In Paris I donít need that much money (laughs). It was more to catch the part of Tinkerbelle in Peter Pan. It was more because of this adventure of being a fairy, being magical, flying, being on the wires, miming a fairy ó because the part is mute. So it was more because of the challenge I had to achieve than a real interest for starting to build up an American career, because Iím French and I have a little problem with my English as you can see, so maybe Iím not ready enough. I would love to meet some directors and why not do some other movies in America. Iím not obsessed with this idea, Iím feeling very free in Europe. But I like America, though.
RP: Would you say itís an advantage or disadvantage to be silent as Tinkerbelle? Because we know itís been done different ways.
LS: Advantage or disadvantage Ö I donít know. It was a pleasure because it was very different than what I had done before. It was more of a miming action than proper acting and it was very clownish. It was the kind of work I hadnít been proposed [before]. It was very different for me. The references were more like cartoons and silent movies [Ö] and comics, too. So it was a very thrilling opportunity to get into that kind of cinema and also to have the occasion of working with the special effects and to have a view of how they make the movies [of this scale]. Oh and the mute part. What was hard about this character was that I was on a blue screen all the time. I didnít have any [acting] partners. All the partners I had were gafferís tape (laughter), so I felt very lonely sometimes. I had to recreate the whole world in my imagination. Thatís a lot of work focussing and imagining all this, so it was very draining. Plus the wires, plus sometimes I had to actó
RP: So Charlotte Ramplingís better than gaffer tape, I assume?
LS: Oh yes, sheís a much more living person.
Moi: With Swimming Pool and Peter Pan does that mark an interest, like Charlotte Rampling, in alternating between French-language and English-language roles, and American-made movies?
LS: Yes, I think so. I didnít really compare [myself] to Charlotte. [But] I like to bounce on a different universe, so in that way, yes, I like to do the middle budget in France and to have the opportunity to know whatís bigger, and I want to come back and do some small theatre play in Paris maybe, and [other] changes of environment. Definitely. And compared to Charlotte, yeah, I think sheís been taking a lot of risks throughout her career and sheís now fiftysomething and sheís still as daring as she was. She got wiser, she stayed beautiful and calm and graceful and clever, so of course I would take that as a big example of her.
RP: As the creative process, does that ever blend into your life, too? How do you keep the two separate? Because the theme of this movie is how does the artist keep them separate, so how do you?
LS: Well, itís really hard to keep them separate, actually. Thatís why I felt so close to Julie because I wasnít supposed to be that close to a little slut coming fromó
RP: But you turned into one?
LS: No, I didnít get that chance because I put on weight since. But this idea of hovering between fiction and reality all the time and being lost in this idea, [Ö] as an actress I am supposed to be creating something from head to toes with the clues, with lines, shapes, and even with that power I felt lost and not in control and I didnít know what was happening to me. Because FranÁois is a very good director and he directed me in a way that I couldnít realize what was happening to me [Ö] I had a lot of questions towards this character. I asked FranÁois to give me some clues about it and he never gave me any answers. I didnít understand why at the beginning, I thought he was very selfish and that he didnít direct his actresses and that he was a bad director, and I was angry at him. I realized as he wasnít giving me any answers, he was [leaving] me in a complete blur, and I was completely blurred with my character; I didnít know what to think about the psychological background and how she would handle the situation with Sarah, so I was lost. I didnít know how to express it, so I was like (breathes heavy) whatís going on?! I was completely lost, I was very feverish and disturbed and then I realized if I was like this, it was because FranÁois fed this insecurity pretending he wasnít directing me. It was that kind of instability, so I was exactly in the same state as Julie was towards Sarah, and as an actress, I think I really understand that stage where you think you are picking reality in order to feed the fiction, but it happens to be the contrary. Itís the fiction that suddenly feeds your reality and you donít know how it has been done. And thatís a kind of magical transposition that is art.
Moi: Aside from the brief dance to Mirrorbal (Letís Do It), did you miss not having a dance number like in Water Drops on Burning Rocks and 8 Women?
LS: (Sarcastically) Yeah, I miss the choreography. No, but in this one I had to be very pathetic, sheís a pool girl, sheís trying to do everything she can, but sheís a bit lostó
RP: But what about the nudity? You seem very comfortable with it?
LS: I wasnít.
RP: But you did it anyway, obviously?
LS: Yes, because I was paid for it. (laughter)
RP: Do you think Julie thought she was being shocking, or do you think she thought the nudity was perfectly all right?
LS: She doesnít care about nudity and thatís why I could cope with it. Once I had embraced the character, I didnít think about my own inhibitions. Once I looked in the mirror with this tan, this girl, these clothes, this makeup, all these artifices, I couldnít recognize myself. I didnít have anything to do with Ludivine being self-conscious in front of the camera. It was Julie who was a bitch who doesnít care, whoís suffering, who needs attention, who needs tenderness, whoís trying to fill a lack of tenderness with bringing a different man every night at home. Thereís a sort of chemical spark that comes with a character sometimes that you donít even have to think of how sheís reacting. You just let yourself go, you let the character take you instead of taking them.
RP: Did you get a good tan making this movie?
RP: In the original script, Julie was a man. Did you hear about that? Julie and Sarah, with their differences in age, Ö do you have any friends with such a difference in age?
LS: Yes, Iíve got a friend whoís called Charlotte Rampling, whoís fiftysomething (laughter). Yes, I have friends this ageó
RP: Did you know about it being a male character in the script?ó
LS: I think when FranÁois is asked this question, he answers that it suddenly it became too obvious that there was going to be an ambiguity between them [the main characters]. And as he wanted to surprise the audience, he didnít want the audience to think it was going to be a sexual ambiguity because itís not about sexual ambiguity between the two characters. As he didnít want to settle the encounter around this idea, he thought that it would be much easier to use a girl and the conflict would be more obvious, the oppositionsó
RP: Thereís a sexual conflict anyway between those two characters?
LS: Yes. But thereís not a sexual attraction. Well, sometimes there could be, but it doesnít take attraction, because itís been not enough in her world.
Moi (handing her a large, wrapped bag): You should have won the Cťsar instead of Cťcile de France.
LS: What is that? (laughter) Where did you steal that? Thatís a big bag! (Pulls it partway out of the bag.) Iím very impressed! (All the way revealing a faux Oscar statuette..) Woooow! Youíre kidding! Thank youuuuuu. Iím gonna put my name on that. Thanks! I canít believe it. Is that? Ö yes, itís the Oscar holding a star.
Moi: Itís the closest I could do.
LS: Thank you very much, I appreciate that! Maybe itís the last ever. (Everyone in the room: Noooo!) The first and the last. Thank you. Thank you very much for that, itís very cute.
Now fifteen-minutes isnít enough time to get a solid, in-depth interview even on a tÍte-ŗ-tÍte basis, let alone with a table full of aggressive journalists, but the best I could have hoped for came through in the short time: her charm and talent that she so easily manipulates on-screen was just as evident in person. So in other words, even though I didnít get to ask any of my more curious questions (i.e., Do you believe in fate?; for example, Vahina Giocante getting pregnant before the filming of 8 Women? (the role Ludivine then inherited), or, Despite the fact that the three roles youíve played for Ozon are quite distinct from each other, do you ever worry that too many collaborations will prevent you from having an identity outside of his films and serve as a limitation?), I will just have to save them for next time. The two-hour drive up and three-and-a-half back down (L.A. rush hour traffic!) was still worth it, as well as her reaction to the award. As much as I wish it were true, the idea wasnít even mine, so a thank you is due on my part to mon amie, the thoughtful Karelle! Merci beaucoup!