Like many of her middle-aged French peers (Catherine Deneuve, Juliette Binoche, Charlotte Rampling, Isabelle Huppert, and co.), Fanny Ardant remains an in-demand talent across the pond. Whereas in America, actresses over 50 are often delegated to playing the doting mom or frumpy grandma (if they're offered anything at all), in France, the roles seem to get better with time for celebrated actresses.
At 65, Ardant (best known to American audiences for her role in 1981’s "The Woman Next Door," directed by her late partner François Truffaut) is afforded one of the best roles of her career in Marion Vernoux's "Bright Days Ahead," which opens today in select theaters (you can also catch it On Demand). In the drama, Ardant plays Caroline, a married, recently retired dentist with two daughters and grandchildren, who takes up computer classes at a senior center. There she meets a 40-ish computer consultant (Laurent Lafitte), and it's not long before the two embark on a passionate extramarital affair.
Earlier this week, Ardant sat down with Indiewire in New York to discuss the drama and her career.
You don’t read as older than mid-40s, so it was jarring to see you in a senior's club in the film's opening scene where you meet your playmate.
I never thought about age. I thought about something finishing. If you look at the screen carefully, Caroline decides to stop what she thinks is a boring life – where you work, you earn money, and you go to sleep and you wake up and you work. So suddenly, she is at a turning point with age. But for her, she is a happy woman – she has a family, good husband, good house, good job. She is clever enough to understand that life is other things – to feel, to smell, to eat, to smoke, to drink, to meet people. So for me, it can start from going to a senior center – like the end of life. That is the idea carried away by the society and suddenly it depends on what you are going to do with that.
So age can be the beginning of sorrow, lamentation and crying about [the] past. I am old enough, clever enough to know that she had life because you can’t have children, grandchildren, a grandson and granddaughter [groans] and I am old. So I was happy about this part, about this story – because I am not [a] conformist and I don’t like cliché. I love when a story breaks cliché – how [to] become happy in a senior house and everything.
If this movie were made in America, I feel that Caroline would feel guilt about her affair. Like that scene in “Unfaithful” where Diane Lane writhes on a train ride home after cheating on her husband. Caroline is so…she has a joie de vivre, she’s happy with herself.
She’s carnale. She met her lover in a restaurant, everything is set – they eat, they drink, they smoke – so I don’t think she feels guilty because she is in love with her husband. It’s not [as if] she does it behind his back. So she is obliged to lie, but she wants to take the life by the reins. She doesn’t want to say, oh, now games [are] over. She doesn’t give up.
How refreshing was it for your for you to play that?
There aren't roles like this! When it happens, you have to catch it. I was very happy on this set. It was a small movie, small crew, not a lot of money, easily done, quickly done and voilá! It’s not like, oh it’s going to be important [and] a big movie. I think all my life I always had the opportunity to be in movies like that – the movies that you used to call small movies. Off-Broadway!
My only luxury is that I do what I want to do. I never did a movie for false reasons.
I may have made a mistake with my choice because a movie may have not been successful or not very good. But when I choose it, it is because I believe it, because I want to act in this story with this character. I never did something for money or strategy or my career. This one arrived the same way that they [the roles] arrived when I was younger.
Not many actors work that way I imagine, especially nowadays. Why are you different?
I think I love very much this fact to be [an] actress, and I will never put my love under a lie. This is not like another job. I refuse because I am [an] actress too for stage, so it is good because sometimes suddenly you have a great part on stage, and you are not obliged to do a small part where you earn some money. Thank God I can tell you that. Maybe the heavens have been good to me. I'll also often accept a part with a first-time director. It's like an adventure, very often without success. But I don’t care because for me the most important time is the time when you are doing things – when you believe, when you have the passion. After success, it doesn’t belong to you.
Do you watch your own films, or are you one to live in the moment and skip out on the final product?
The second one.
You have four projects in the works that are coming out in the next couple of years. Your work ethic clearly hasn't wavered over the years.
It’s true, I love it very much – I never think of life in terms of holidays. I know for an actress or actors sometimes nothing good happens, so it’s better when good things happen! It was Nietzsche who used to say, "Revolutions can come, earthquakes can come, the whole world could fall, but I prepare myself." When you ask very often in America, they ask [actors] about how they work on this path. I have never had the feeling to work, but I have had the feeling to be prepared – open to any kind of suggestion [or] order from the director. To be open you have to be prepared, but not with certainty.