Women and Hollywood: How did you come up with this story?
Celine Sciamma: I had the storyline in mind for a while, as a pitch: “a little girl pretending to be a little boy”. When I decided I wanted to make a second film I was looking for a very simple and catchy story, that I could write and direct very fast. I wanted to make a movie in a crazy energy, as free as possible. I thought that story would be perfect, because it’s about childhood, the rush of emotions, the energy. I knew the story would benefit from the dynamic of production I was longing for. I wrote it in 3 weeks, shot it in 20 days two months later.
WaH: Where did you find Zoe and how were you able to get such a great performance from such a young actress?
CS: Making the movie in such energy, I only had three weeks to complete the casting. I didn’t have the time to go hunting for kids in the street, schools or drama class, which would have been my method otherwise.
So I headed straight to the acting children agencies, spreading the word I was looking for a Tomboy. Quickly the word came back that there was this girl, Zoé, who had what it took. I met her on the first day of casting, and was amazed. Of course she had the looks, but mostly she had such an intense face, and incredibly photogenic. We didn’t have the time to rehearse as we were shooting a month later. I just cut her hair as a preparation for the part, and then all the work was on the set.
To get a performance from such a young actress, I really considered her as an actress. Being very direct, very accurate about the character state of mind and attitudes. I made her commit to the part, and tried never to be in the position of a thief. During the takes, I am constantly talking to her, creating the rhythm of the scene with her. Directing kids is a lot about the trust, and the relationship you build. And also, it’s a lot about making it a big game. Because kids shouldn’t be working anyway…
WaH: Tomboy is a really loaded word. It’s about girls who transgress into male territory. Do you think that there is less of a stigma attached to the word now?
CS: I don’t know about the stigma in the english word. But in french tomboy is “garçon manqué”, which means “failed boy”. I don’t need to comment, you can see how bad it is. That’s why I used the english word even for the french title. Because “garçon manqué” is kind of an insult in french. I didn’t like the notion in failure in the french expression, because it is something you can be very successful at!
WaH: I came out of the film thinking that this movie should be seen by all parents especially parents with kids who are questioning their gender. Did you have any thoughts as to whether this film could really help kids going through gender identity issues?
CS: I didn’t make it as an educational film, but now I see how useful it can be. In France the movie is now going to be shown in primary and secondary schools, as part of the program regarding cinema. I received a lot of testimonies from parents with kids questioning their gender. saying thanks, or asking questions.
WaH: Laure knows that being a boy is more powerful thank being a girl. When do you think kids realize that one gender has more power?
CS: I think kids realize it the minute they goto school…
WaH: The parents are aware that she isn’t girly but they seem to be in denial that she is acting like a boy. Do you think this is common? Did you base the parents on research?
CS: I didn’t do any research for the parent’s characters. And I didn’t try to make them exemplary. I wanted to make the portrait of a family where things are going well, where there is friendship and tenderness, with a committed father. They know that their girl is a tomboy and they don’t have any problem with it, letting her have short hair, painting her room in blue, letting her dress as she wants. They are not in denial that she is acting like a boy, they just don’t know it, because she is good at keeping the secret. I remember having great secrets as a child, keeping things to myself.
WaH: Have you been surprised by the reaction to the film?
CS: I have been surprised by how successful it was at the box office. And also by the fact that it became a family movie, that parents would bring their kids to see. Of course I was secretly dreaming that would happen.
WaH: What was the hardest part of making the film?
CS: Directing the kids, for sure. Plus the fact that you don’t work the same with a six year old and a ten year old. And you have to invent another method when you are facing twelve kids at the same time. Also, even though you have a great fulfilling connection with such a young cast, you feel lonely. Because you can’t share the film with them, your thoughts on cinema, your questions or doubts, as you would with an actor.