[Editor’s Note: This interview was originally published last October. "Clouds of Sils Maria" opens this Friday, April 10 in select theaters.]
Juliette Binoche, also known as La Binoche, is one of the most acclaimed actresses of her generation. The first actress to win the Triple Crown (Best Actress awards at Cannes, Venice, and Berlin), she’s appeared in some of the most widely-praised films of the last several decades, and worked with directors such as Leos Carax, Abbas Kiarostami, Jean-Luc Godard, and Krzysztof Kieslowski, among others. This year, she appears in four of vastly different films: "Words and Pictures," "Godzilla," "Clouds of Sils Maria," and "1,000 Times Good Night." We sat down to speak with the beloved actress about her acting philosophy and the unreliability of the internet. "1,000 Times Good Night," which marks her latest release, opens in select theaters and is available on video on demand platforms on October 24.
You said in a recent interview that you don’t like to speak with the director during filming, it gets "too intellectual" and distracting —
In the moment of shooting. Just before a take, for example. We’re shooting, like, a week before, a few days before, a month before, then I’m open to any conversation. You have to analyze, you have to understand what you’re doing, it depends on the film, really, but I’m open to any discussions. But while shooting, it’s a very special moment. You have to let go of your head, as an actor. You have to try something new in you. It’s a way of controlling, you know? The mental is a way of controlling, and I feel like creating is something… you’ve got to just jump into the unknown. So if you have a director who’s trying to control while you’re jumping, it’s like opposites! [Laughs]
In "1,000 Times Goodnight," you’re playing a cipher of the director of the film. You’re channeling his experiences. How do you jump into a role like that, when the director has such a deep, personal connection? Are there control issues then?
Well, first of all, there’s a script, so I reference the script. Meanwhile, I did a lot of research, and while I was shooting I was still working on some scenes and talking with journalists and photographers because there were things I didn’t believe yet, and I needed to understand the purpose of it, and how you speak. When you embody somebody like this, from this contemporary world, you need to have accurate facts. It can be emotional, but when you have facts, you have to know how it came about, and what language you’re using in this circumstance. I felt like when I first read the script, even though Erik [Poppe] was a war photographer, his perspective was 20 years before. He had stopped being a war photographer many years ago. He shot a lot of films as a director. There was something we needed to work on. He saw how passionate I was. It took a while. It was something we had to work on. There was a lot of back and forth before shooting, but after he understood my needs, in a way, to play this part, he trusted me and it was a real relationship that was creative and full.
You’ve had an illustrious career, and you’ve been acclaimed as one of the great actress of your generation, or really any generation. Does all that histrionic critical praise affect you, or do you just have to ignore it?
I feel like almost every film is a struggle. I wouldn’t say it’s easy. To do one film, and that film, and this film, and another film, each time it’s a journey. It’s not like it just comes out and I have this wonderful golden path in front of me I’m just walking on. It’s not that at all. With Abbas [Kiarostami], he said, "Come with me to Iran," and I said, "Are you crazy? I read the newspapers. Do you think I would come to Iran?" And he said, "It has nothing to do with what’s in the newspaper. Come and you’ll see." So I went. Twice. From that came a story I loved, and the film came just like that. It came from stories. Abbas would have never thought of working with an actor, you know? Or a French actress. It would be out of his mind. With Bruno Dumont, he’s always worked with non-actors, I mean he did the "Camille Claudel 1915," you’ve probably never heard of it…
I’ve seen it. It played at Film Forum.
Oh. Well, when I met with Bruno I said I wanted to work with him, and I was surprised that he was ready to do it. He’s never worked with a real actor before. And Hou Hsiao-Hsien was the same. He never works with actors. Each film is not that easy. Most of the time, it’s me coming to them. Creating is sort of producing, and being a muse in a way, because it’s inspiring and getting inspired. Like, in "Clouds of Sils Maria." There are films that are coming to me, like "Words and Pictures," but it’s different. That was a different kind of movie for me in my career.
If you look at your career, "Godzilla" kind of stands out. It’s not exactly "Camille Claudel 1915." Did you approach them for that role?
[Laughs] No, they came to me. It’s because Gareth Edwards wrote me a beautiful letter.
Did you enjoy your one brief, dramatic scene?
[Laughs] I don’t know how much fun you can have when you have to die in two seconds, and you’re the one real woman character and you’re dead in three minutes and 45 seconds.
It’s the best three minutes of the movie.
Well, [Quentin] Tarantino said to me, "That was the first time I’ve ever cried during a 3D blockbuster. I had to take off my glasses to wipe away my tears." I took it as a compliment.
You were recently on the cover of Interview Magazine with Kristen Stewart, and the basic gist of the article was that you’re still a sex symbol at 50. What’s that like?
I’m not really aware of it, and I think it’s better not to be aware of it. I didn’t read it because it was in Russian, or German. How did you read it? Did you ask someone to translate it?
The internet takes care of things like that. They were quick with that one.
[Laughs] Really? The internet. [Shakes head]
You mentioned Abbas Kiarostami earlier. According to the internet, which is a dangerous way to start a sentence, you’re working on a movie with him?
No, no, I’m not making a film with him. I would love to, but I have no plans right now.
So, the internet lied to me. Like in "Clouds of Sils Maria."
He’s making a movie in China about a cleaning lady taking care of thousands of rooms in a big building.
In "Clouds of Sils Maria," you play an aging actress who sort of gets threatened by a younger actress. I’m assuming you aren’t actually threatened by Kristen Stewart or Chloe Moretz. Did you take on a mentor or teaching role during filming?
It’s interesting, because I read in an interview — and I don’t really read interviews — that Olivier said that there were moments when I was showing up Kristen, showing her how to act. For me it’s never been like that. Sometimes I push her, because I know her potential. When you see that, it’s very exciting as an actor to go and push someone. I think deep down I would like to teach one day. It’s about mothering, about giving birth, a midwife kind of situation, and there’s something very rewarding in a very hidden place. When you see somebody transforming and growing, it’s such a reward because it gives hope to everybody. With Kristen, in the films she’s done, I don’t think she ever really experienced how amazing she is. Actually, when I saw her in interviews, the way she listens and the way she answers, I said, "This is a great actress." Just the way of receiving and giving back. I think she has an amazing career in front of her, and she’s gonna surprise us.
How does one teach acting?
It’s about opening doors. It’s not really about teaching. It’s about finding the place where it opens. A lot of actors want to act and prove that they’re actors. The teacher is there to show them that you don’t have to act. You have to open up, and be. The being because more interesting than anything you can try to do. It comes through you, you allow life to come through you. It reveals itself because of you, of course, but it’s the ability to open up is what it is.
Did anyone help you open doors?
Yeah, I had a wonderful teacher when I was 18. I was doing what I just described, I was trying to prove that I was an actress, I was so willing, and she just stopped me each time I wanted to start doing something. It was very violent, I didn’t know where to go until I couldn’t go anywhere else. Inside myself. It was an experience that really helped me gain a lot of years of learning. I had to surrender, you have to die in a way. It’s an abdication of yourself. You have to give yourself to a force which is not you.
You said you try not to hold onto roles, you have to commit 100 percent to every new role. Do you ever look back and wish you had done something differently?
"Words and Pictures." I had to paint while shooting, so I didn’t have a lot of time for other things. I wish maybe in the acting I had done something different. She had rheumatoid arthritis. I’m not sure I really went as far as I wanted. I was living contradictions. I had to work on a big canvas, yet having R.A. you can’t move. You have to go smaller, it’s so painful. I enjoyed the film, but if I had to go back, maybe that one I could have done… I don’t know. You give yourself bit by bit, like in life, do you want to change something in your life? It’s like, No [bangs fist on table], I stand on every single choice and breath I’ve taken. Even my mistakes are part of my learning. I find it difficult to regret anything. Life goes not forward, but inward.