To kick off the Unifrance-sponsored Rendez-Vous with French Cinema festival in London, now in its fourth year and running until 7th April, Kristin Scott Thomas sat down with The Independent film critic Jonathan Romney for a wide-ranging, convivial chat about her film and theater careers.
The actress, who resides in Paris, divides her time fairly evenly these days between English- and French-language films and stage appearances (she’s coming to the end of a West End run in Harold Pinter’s “Old Times” and had to dash off after 45 minutes for that evening’s performance). Scott Thomas has a reputation for not suffering fools gladly (least of all those of the journalistic variety) but had an easy rapport with Romney, who asked smart questions and got equally smart and frequently funny replies. Here are a few of the highlights, which include some insights into working with Nicolas Winding Refn and Ryan Gosling on their Bangkok-set follow-up to “Drive,” “Only God Forgives” (to see Scott Thomas in a Donatella Versace-style blonde wig, check out the film’s new red-band trailer).
On the film projects she’s found as richly satisfying as her varied theater work:
“Very few, sadly! Anthony Minghella wrote fantastic screenplays, so ‘The English Patient’ was a great one. Francois Ozon’s screenplay for ‘In The House’ was absolutely solid. And anything by Pascal Bonitzer, who I love [she’s starred in two of the French writer-director’s films, ‘Small Cuts’ (2003) and ‘Cherchez Hortense’ (2012)]. His dialogue is brilliant. But when we made that film with the horses [Robert Redford’s ‘The Horse Whisperer’], which is a wonderful film, by the end of the shoot they’d run out of colors for the new pages so the pages were coming with dots and stripes and checks and they were coming every day. Sometimes that can work very well, like with “Casablanca,” but for an actor that can get quite frustrating.”
On Romney’s observation that her breakout role in the 1988 costume drama “A Handful Of Dust” cemented her image as “a classy dame, which has been both your glory and your albatross”:
“Being aristocratic with a cigarette and a glass of champagne, that’s haunted me. The thing that you’re most noticed for when you kick off a career does stay with you for a very long time. But I’ve been involved in quite a lot of films and that is to get away from being typecast. I remember getting the ‘Gosford Park’ script and thinking, ‘Great, I can play the maid! But no, they wanted me to be Lady Sylvia da-di-da-di-da,’ and, oh, my heart sank because I thought, Robert Altman! At last something different! No, I got the toff. But to counterbalance that, the French films I’ve done haven’t been so class-obsessed. The scope has been wider.”
On the kind of director she prefers to work with:
“There’s nothing duller for me than to have to recreate the same thing I did two films ago because that was a huge success, ‘so let’s try and have that again, please.’ Working with a director who’s brave enough to let you loose, that’s really good fun. I’ve just made ‘Only God Forgives’ with Nicolas Winding Refn, and when he asked me, I thought, ‘He’s made a mistake. A gangster’s mother?’ But I absolutely loved ‘Bronson,’ that’s my favorite of his films, and I thought, ‘I want to play with him.’ It’s as childish as that, the prospect of being able to go round to their house and play all afternoon; it’s really good fun. But when we got to making the film, everything had twisted because it wasn’t English anymore, it was American, and we weren’t shooting somewhere sensible, we were shooting in Bangkok. I suddenly felt like I couldn’t cope, but I did. I’m so totally thrilled to be part of it because it pushed me way beyond my comfort zone.”
On whether she ever felt “lost” on big Hollywood films like “Mission: Impossible”:
“I used to love it. I love it less now because I’m more impatient. When you’re working on a small film, you feel very much part of the actual filmmaking process. When you’re on a huge film, it’s all technical so that’s when I enjoy being told to stand there, duck my head because something’s going to fly over it. I like all that, too. On ‘Mission: Impossible,’ Brian DePalma gave me one of the most cruel notes. I was standing in a lift trying to look like I’m a spy and Brian said, ‘Cut! Kristin, stop looking like you’re thinking about your orchards in Russia!'”
On Refn/Gosling pairing:
“We lost the first actor who was supposed to be the lead, and Ryan heard about this and asked to be in the film. He was very keen to work with Nicolas again. I did feel sometimes it was a boy’s-only club. They talk a lot about obscure music and look at computers all the time. They’re young men. They were very, very close, they knew exactly what they were doing, they were so obsessed with it all. What struck me the most about them was not only the enthusiasm but the general excitement and pleasure they both had at making this film, and how excited they were about it and how cool it was all going to be. You’ll see. It’s quite an extraordinary film.”
On upcoming projects “Suite Francaise” and “The Invisible Woman”:
“We’re going to start ‘Suite Francaise’ this summer. It’s a novel that was found about ten years ago, published by a woman who wrote it just before she was sent to Auschwitz: Irene Nemirowsky. Saul Dibb [‘The Duchess’] is going to direct, Michelle Williams is going to star in it [as a French villager who falls in love with a German soldier] and I’m playing her mother. I’m playing all the mothers these days. In Ralph Fiennes’ Dickens film, ‘The Invisible Woman,’ it’s Mother No. 19. Ralph’s film is an adaptation of Claire Tomalin’s book about Nelly Ternan and I play Nelly Ternan’s mum. I think she has a bit of a dodgy relationship with [Dickens], the idea that her daughter is going off with a man old enough to be her father, and married.”