In the late Alain Corneau’s final film, “Love Crime,” French star Ludivive Sagnier plays a driven ingenue at a multinational who engages in a deadly battle with her ruthless mentor, played by Kristen Scott Thomas. Think of it as a Gallic mash-up of “Working Girl” and “Fatal Attraction,” with a twist to rival the best potboilers.
For Sagnier, the role marks a departure of sorts. Those familiar with her provocative turns “Swimming Pool” and “The Devil’s Double” (still in theaters), may be surprised to see her playing a meek financial executive who takes flack and seemingly can’t dish it in return.
indieWIRE caught up with Sagnier to discuss the change of pace, what it was like working opposite Thomas and which star continues to intimidate her.
Your character does some very questionable things in “Love Crime.” You always hear of how actors need to rationalize a character’s actions in order to play them truthfully. How did you, without giving away any twists, make sense of what your character does throughout the course of the movie?
Well, it’s true that my character has a lot disorders. She’s completely obsessed with a lot of things like time, details and order. You know, she’s the kind of woman who doesn’t have her own experience in life. She’s not very streetwise. All she knows is how to set up a strategy and how to make a market rise in a third-world country. Those are the only things she’s able to do.
In terms of human behavior, she’s not that good. So I tried to understand how people could be this way. Actually, the director, despite being absolutely charming (of course) had that kind of compulsive personality. He was somehow describing himself in this film. I don’t mean in the criminal sense, but in a very uptight, unleashed, kind of way.
Was he very frank with you about his personal connection to the piece, or did you pick that up over the course of filming?
I mined it out of him because there were a few things that I couldn’t wrap my head around. There’s a moment when you see her in bed, she just sleeps like a mummy. She doesn’t hold her sheets… she sleeps straightforward. I said, “Sorry, but no one sleeps like that. It’s not possible.” And the director, said “Yes I do, I do sleep like that!”
When you have to embody a character, usually impersonating the director is a good way to do it well.
Did you impersonate Francois Ozon on the set of “Swimming Pool”?
You know, the character of Isabelle in “Love Crime” is the only character I feel the furthest from. I have nothing to share with her, so it was really difficult. Being an actor of composition is something, but you always base yourself on something you know about.
With Isabelle, that’s what I liked about her: I didn’t understand anything about the character. It was like I was playing Adolf Hitler. You have to totally forget anything about morals and you have to embrace the character you’re playing without judging.
Is that the main factor that appealed to you about the project?
Yes, it was like a foreign country that I wanted to discover. I’ve been given some parts where I was the mysterious sexy girl. Suddenly being the one that’s not blossomed, who’s driven by anger — that’s not the kind of character I’m used to.
Also, I would say what really hooked me was the narrative construction of the story. I thought it was really appealing because of this final twist. I read it in one read on the beach. When I watched it for the first time, I had forgotten all the details and it was, again, a source of pure entertainment.
It’s funny how human beings are so entertained by crimes.
Lots of that ‘entertainment’ in the final film, is in large part due to the chemistry between you and Kristin Scott Thomas.
The thing is, at the beginning when I told my friends that I was going to shoot with Kristin Scott Thomas, people were like, “OK aren’t you afraid about the competition? If you play two antagonist characters, maybe you will experience a kind of rivalry.”
I wasn’t really afraid. When I came on set, I was really surprised because she enjoyed so much playing the villain. She would say that I was Snow White and that she was the evil mother-in-law. The more aggressive our relationship was, the more fun we had. Anytime there was a lot of tension, the director would cut and we would burst into laughter. We were like little girls on set.
Speaking of Thomas, you’ve worked from such a young age with some of France’s most acclaimed actresses. Does any star make you nervous before stepping on set?
Well, I’m not going to lie to you. At the beginning, maybe 10 years ago, it was intimating to face Catherine Deneuve. I’m still a bit intimidated. Not because she’s an actress, but because she has such an important charisma.
But otherwise, working with actresses is my job. The more famous they are, the more exciting it gets. So it’s not really a problem for me.
You crossed over in a big way to English speaking audiences with “Swimming Pool,” but you’ve stuck mainly to French speaking roles since, apart from turns in “The Devil’s Double” and “Peter Pan.” I spoke with Roman Duris about crossing over and he said he didn’t feel challenged by the roles offered to him in America. Was that the case with you?
Yeah, it’s a bit more complicated. But as you live in America and work for this industry you must know more than anyone that there are rules if you want to be a part of it. If you follow the rules there are better chances for you. So the thing is, when I got the biggest opportunities, I didn’t want to really play the rules. I was a bit too young to jump on the famous roller-coaster.
I was frightened by all the competition, suddenly settling down in LA, trying to speak English as well as my French and trying to embrace a culture that wasn’t mine. I was too young and too immature to leave everything behind me, knowing that there are so many actresses in the U.S.
It was a deliberate choice because I wanted to raise a family. I had two children [since then]. I now feel much more free and released from any inhibitions that you can have when you’re very young.
Also, a lot of people gave me a very sexual image in the U.S. that I couldn’t really cope with. I was afraid that I couldn’t be strong enough to cope with that. But now I’m much better. Now when I work, I’m not so afraid of it anymore.
“Love Crime” comes out in limited release this Friday, September 2 through IFC Films. It can currently be found On Demand.