Roman Polanski’s latest play-to-film "Venus and Fur" opened at the end of last year’s Cannes Film Festival because it was the only day its star Emmanuelle Seigner could get away to the Riviera. Thus the film (adapted by playwright David Ives) was a bit of an afterthought at the fest. It finally arrives via IFC stateside with terrific reviews.
Fair to say that Seigner dominates the film (S & M male-female power dynamics are central to the story) as over the course of a night she comes to overwhelm and control playwright Thomas, well-played by Matthieu Amalric, who happens to be a dead ringer for her real-life director husband.
Seigner and I talked on the phone from Paris.
What was different about the film from the play? I haven’t seen the play, but I read it in French. That makes it different. The girl that was playing the role in America was very young. Maybe that’s different.
I didn’t think too much about how we were going to do it. I learn my lines– a lot of them– that was a big job, I didn’t want to fabrique–make it in a way that was not organic. I wanted it to be very organic. With Matthieu playing it, I let myself be invaded by the character. I didn’t try to do things, you know, mostly I had fun with it. It didn’t feel difficult or struggling, I didn’t try to perform anything. I had a lot of pleasure doing it, it was like being a kid and playing games.
Also, she’s funny.
I enjoyed the fact that the woman manipulates and controls the man. What’s really good is, the film is a feminist film. Mostly in movies women are victims–like a prostitute, or like objects, like the wife of somebody. It’s nice to play a character who is strong and in control and a woman. And she wins, also, that was really good.
Was it weird to play opposite Matthieu Almaric, who so resembles your husband?
He does resemble Polanski. But he was not hired for that. Roman hired him because he’s such an amazing actor. There are not so many French actors that could do the role. The fact of his looking like him was bothering him more. At the same time it’s great that he looks like him, it adds something to the piece.
Maybe it’s because he had a Polish grandmother. When he did the "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly," Julian Schnabel cast our son to play to Matthieu when he was a child, a little boy dancing at the station. That was our son, so we knew Matthieu was looking like Roman. I can promise you Roman did not cast him for that. He thinks he’s the best actor in France.
You need a good actor to do the job, it’s not easy. We’re the only two in the thing. It had to be right. If one is not doing the right thing it’s not working. It’s not easy to find the right actor for that particular role. He’s great, such a good actor, and his role is more difficult than mine, because she’s in control in a way. It’s always more flattering.
Also, he’s funny.
How long have you and Polanski been married? And how many films have you made together?
A long time, we were married in ’89. We have two children, 21 and 16. Three times on a movie, one time he directed me in a play, and he directed one of my music videos. I’ve been in a rock band for ten years, first called Ultra Rage and now Emmanuelle. He made a few of them, eight or something. He directed the last one, which is not out yet.
Your husband has a reputation for being a demanding director. It was fun. It was one of the best moments of my life doing that with Roman and Matthieu, in the theatre, in the winter, snowing outside. It felt like we were doing our first movie, like a youth movie, something very special, intimate and fun. And the crew was great, it was a really good moment. We were not struggling.
He is hard, very demanding. He wants everything to be perfect, It’s not easy to work with him, you’d better be good and you’d better be trained. But also at the same time, he’s such a good director, you know you do it for the right result. You know? It’s nice when you do something good and it’s fun. And when the results are horrible it’s depressing. So when you do something hard and difficult and see the result and you’re happy, it’s worth it. He’s a good person. He’s never mean or vicious. He’s always good. He’s not like some director who will torture you or make you feel humiliated, never. He just wants to to be perfect.
Did you both take your work home?
On that movie, we only had a very short time to shoot it. We were working all hours, from 8 in the morning until 11 at night. We didn’t have time to talk about it. We didn’t have a life. We were working all the time, just doing the movie, that’s it.
Have you read "Fifty Shades of Grey," which is also about S & M and the power dynamics between men and women?
I haven’t read it. A lot of people told me about it. The power between men and women and how it switches between one and another is what is very clever about the play and the movie. Actually David Ives makes fun of it also. He talks about it, he criticizes it at the same time. It’s all bullshit, how men are humiliating to women. And so it was very clever about the piece, I think.
We learn that women are much more clever than the guys, that’s a fact.
Does Polanski believe that?
He does. If not he would not have done a movie about that. It’s such a feminist movie written and directed by a man.
Why did Polanski want to do this with you?
Because we’ve been together so long, he always felt like I was underused, taken as a beautiful thing walking in movies but I didn’t have much too do. I was so frustrated. He always wanted me to do something great. So he gave me the occasion to do something good. That’s very important to me.
I love that photo of you kissing him at Cannes, you clearly love each other.
He really loves me, and I love him too. He’s been so good to me. I’m really lucky.
How did Cannes go?
It went very well in Cannes, it’s a pity it was shown on the last day. I was on tour in a play, "Homecoming," in Vienna, and it was the only day I was free. That’s why it played so so late. All over the world, it had good reviews, people really loved it, it was well-received, France also.
It’s a French movie. To have a French movie coming out in America is very good. A lot of movies don’t come out in America, even the movies that are in English. So I’m pretty happy.
What next? I have an album that came out in France, I’m promoting that, and I hope to get some great roles. I had a lot of offers, but nothing I really liked that was so amazing. I don’t want to settle. Theater is sometimes more rewarding?
I did theater for ten months, and I want to do theater again. I’m waiting to choose. I will do it again for sure, I love it.