Mélanie Laurent may be one of the most sought after French actresses of the moment, but she’s also proven herself as more than that. She’s a triple threat actress-director-singer, whose most recent feature “Respire” debuted to fine notices out of Cannes (our review called it “beautifully shot, radiantly acted and artistically made”). Since her film debut as a teenager across from the legendary Gerard Depardieu in “The Bridge,” she’s become a creative force in the world of filmmaking, with great taste in projects and directors. Laurent was in Morocco as a member of the jury at the Marrakech International Film Festival (check out our interview with jury president, another formidable French actress, Isabelle Huppert), and sat down for a chat about her directing career, her creative process, and what it’s like to work with Brad and Angie.
Laurent wasted no time getting back to generating her own projects after “Respire,” and she’s just starting to work on a third film. “We’re just starting to write, which is the best part, I love that part, where you’re just kind of starting with nothing and you have to build everything, you have to build the characters, you have to build the whole story and you start to have pictures in your mind, it’s inspiring,” she said. Though when asked to name a favorite part of the process, Laurent admitted she loves it all, though the writing is, “especially super exciting because you have everything to do and most of your ideas come from that first part… you just imagine things, and you imagine actors.” The shooting process she described as “the fun part” because of “working with people I love—it’s always a great human moment because we’re sharing things and it’s good to see people who are here for you and your story, to tell your story. It’s really beautiful, it’s why I love making movies.” She also mentioned that as a writer-director she enjoys that “you don’t wait for the desire of someone else” when it comes to starting new projects.
Laurent stated that for her, when it comes to filmmaking, “the people who really matter is the audience,” and tries not to pay attention to reviews (though she was excited and happy for the good reviews for “Respire”). She did mention that being on a festival jury helped her to understand journalists and critics, saying, “I can see sometimes just because I’m tired, just because I’m sad I’m going to love a movie more than another one. It’s super not objective in a way.” However, her criteria for good films comes down to the emotion of the project, because “it’s the only thing I don’t think about, and I don’t like the idea of judging things all the time. It’s very organic—sitting and waiting for something to happen or not.”
Directing is a passion for Laurent, but she has no plans to slow down her acting as a result, and has projects lined up, including “Eternity” with Tran Anh Hung, and the recently wrapped “By the Sea” with Angelina Jolie at the helm. She also co-stars in Claudia Llosa’s “Aloft,” which premiered at Berlin earlier this year. She’s excited for “Eternity,” which will begin shooting in March, saying, “I can’t wait, it’s going to be a very very beautiful movie… I love the book a lot and he’s so sensitive, and I’m sure he’s going to put so much poetry in this movie.” She’s also a big fan of Llosa, praising her talent and saying, “ I cried so much when I saw the movie in Berlin. I just totally forgot I was in the movie… I was crying and crying, I couldn’t stop. I love that movie.”
As for the Jolie project “By the Sea,” co-starring her “Inglourious Basterds” co-lead Brad Pitt (though it’s the first time the couple has actually worked together), Laurent couldn’t say much about the story, but had nothing but warmth towards Jolie as a director and the two as a co-stars. Laurent said of Jolie, “She’s a great actress director, which means she directed actors like an actress, who loves actors, who understands actors, she’s doing everything to make you feel so comfortable…she’s always super calm, she knows exactly absolutely what she wants.” Laurent did have to pinch herself a few times on set, saying, “Sometimes you don’t really realize you’re playing with the best actors in the planet. I think the most difficult thing is to take that step back… When I had a scene with them and I was in front of them I was like, ‘is it real?,’ sometimes, but then they are so nice and you forget and just play.”
Laurent has worked with many great directors in her career and she’s borrowed tips and tricks from them for her own shoots, saying about Tarantino, “I stole the fact that Tarantino [plays] music between two scenes on set. I stole that idea, so I put music on my set.” She also has great affection for her “Beginners” director Mike Mills, saying, “I wanted to steal everything from him. I want to be Mike Mills. He’s my reference of everything I love because he’s so sweet and so talented and he loves actors.” She also mentioned Martin Scorsese, Paul Thomas Anderson, and Alejandro González Iñárritu as directors she would love to work with at some point.
Though Laurent started as an actress, she did say that she always wanted to be a director, though she was only 14 when she got her start and wasn’t sure about her path in life just yet. “I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do but 14 is really young, you forget but it’s really young. it’s really the perfect age when you’re just starting to ask your own questions.” And while directing was always in mind for her, she said, “I was not ready, absolutely not ready. I didn’t have any maturity, I didn’t have any ideas, I think I would have been the worst director ever. I did a lot of short movies where were absolutely not good.” She also added, “That’s why I’m so impressed when I see Xavier Dolan work” (she mentioned “Mommy” as the last film that really impressed her). However, she does think that “everybody has their own timing and maybe the big goal is not to be a big director. Having fun, making movies you like and when you make people happy, it’s good enough.”