One of the purest delights of this year’s South by Southwest Film Festival was stumbling into Mike Mills‘ “Beginners,” not knowing anything about it (this writer hadn’t even seen its artful trailer) and being blown away by its mix of humor, sadness, manageable meet-cute twee and romanticism.
A touching, funny, human drama about a son (Ewan McGregor) dealing with his father (Christopher Plummer), who has both come out of the closet after his mother’s death and subsequently been diagnosed with cancer too, the film also tackles the pains and pleasures of starting a new relationship while still in a wounded, brokenhearted place. Of course, Ewan McGegor falls in love with Mélanie Laurent — who most remember as Shosanna, the Jewish-survivor-turned-theater-owner-turned-Nazi-exterminator, in Quentin Tarantino‘s towering “Inglourious Basterds” — and during the course of “Beginners” running time, you will too.
Last week we talked to Laurent about “Beginners,” working with the sensitive and thoughtful Mike Mills, her desire to make beautiful movies, the relationship between her music and her film work, and why the cute (sometimes talking) dog, Arthur, from “Beginners” hated her guts.
What has “Inglourious Basterds” meant for your career?
Well, people recognize me in the airport now in different cities. It’s an international movie and it was a big success, so I have a lot more propositions from different directors and from a lot of different genres.
What about the “Beginners” script appealed to you? Was the character always an actress?
I thought that the script was really moving and I really liked the subject and the way that he wanted to talk about that problem…Not problem, but I am very tired so I’m having a hard time speaking English today…The way that he wanted to speak about homosexuality in a very modern way, and the relationship between Oliver and Anna is a very real. It’s a very real problem – nobody falls in love very easily. [As for the character] she was an actress but she was American, so he changed her nationality. With the script, you could feel [it on the page], and I knew a little bit about the work of Mike Mills, that the film was very pure and moving. So I wasn’t in shock when I saw the movie. I didn’t have any doubt that it was going to be a super-beautiful movie.
You’re recording an album with Damien Rice, does your music inform your acting and vice versa?
Yeah, I think the more you do things, the more you’re inspired, and everything inspires you. So when I was working with Mike I was recording my music too and I was writing my script, because I directed a movie this year. So I think that everything is part of creativity – the more you create, the more you have ideas, and the more you meet people. And I met a lot of inspired people.
Do you want to keep working in the French film industry or do you want to do more Hollywood movies? Or a mixture of both?
I don’t know. I want to continue to make beautiful movies. The most important thing is to be a part of beautiful stories, that’s all I want. So I don’t care if it’s a Hollywood movie or an independent movie or a Spanish or American movie. I care about telling stories.
Do you find that your French accent is a deterrent in terms of being cast in American films?
[laughs] Every time a director calls me and says, “If you practice a lot in two months, can you be an American?” And I always tell them, “Well, maybe but I’m French. So it’s going to be hard to be someone else.”
Have you talked to Tarantino about his new movie “Django Unchained”? Is there maybe a part for you?
I know already that there isn’t a part for me. But the script is amazing, that’s all I’ll say.
What was it like working with Ewan McGregor on “Beginners”?
Perfect. He’s the best partner ever – so easy and so simple and we were on the same vision of work. It was really easy.
Who was better to work with – him or the dog?
Well, the dog was more difficult. The dog hated me. Well, I think he was a little bit like a sensual relationship with Ewan so every time I was on set he’d growl at me. He was jealous.
Were you bummed that you didn’t get to work with Christopher Plummer?
Yeah I didn’t get to meet him at all. I just met him in Toronto at a screening a few months ago. But Mike wanted to make the movie in two parts, starting with the Christopher Plummer part. Then they took a one-week break, where we rehearsed a lot. And then when we came back it was really cool because Ewan would talk about Christopher and I thought, “Wow, well I don’t know the guy.” We shot in order, which is super-rare.
Is the movie you directed finished?
Yes. It’s going to come out in France in November, and I’m going to be onstage this summer in France to tour for my record. A little festival tour. I was talking to some producers yesterday and we’re talking about how we’re going to [release it here] Maybe, next year [it will hit the U.S.]. It doesn’t have distribution yet.
You’ve directed some short films, is this an avenue you want to continue in?
Yes, I’m going to write my new script this summer, too. I didn’t want to [act] in my movie, but I had to in a way, because I chose unknown actors. So my producers told me that if I wanted to have those actors I had to be in it too. But my next movie is going to be all non-famous actors. So I have to have a big success with my first movie, because if I don’t it’s going to be really difficult. I don’t know how to describe it. I just finished it like one week ago and it’s like my baby. I don’t know how to talk about it.
As for what’s next, Laurent tell us she’s up for a role in a “big” American movie, “but I can’t say anything, [because] I don’t know if they’ve chosen me. I’ve Skyped with the director and it sounds great for now, but I’m not sure. If he chooses someone else [it would be embarrassing for me].”
“Beginners” opens this Friday in limited release.. Everyone should go.