While most in America still know Audrey Tautou as “Amélie,” in France, the actress has carved out a robust career by playing wildly varied characters in films that couldn’t be further removed from Jean-Pierre Jeunet‘s Parisian fantasy, in hits like “Priceless” and “Coco Before Chanel.” In her most recent role in the late Claude Miller’s final film “Thérèse,” based on the classic 1927 novel by François Mauriac, Tautou proves her formidable range by embodying the titular heroine, a woman stuck in a loveless marriage and dull provincial life after wedding for convenience. With the female oppression of the period and her arrogant husband weighing her down, Thérèse makes a reckless decision that could potentially threaten her social standing for life.
Indiewire sat down with Tautou in New York to discuss her turn in the drama which opens today, working with the late director, and her career post “Amélie.”
Watching this, I was reminded of your turn in “Coco Before Chanel,” just based on the similarities the two characters share — the fact that they are both feminists, in their respective periods.
Is that just happenstance that you’re drawn to these types of roles now?
Yeah, it’s a coincidence. But it’s true that those two parts have similarities, because both women were feminists and ahead of their times. They were not formatted for the lives which were written for them. Chanel was a rebel. Thérèse is the opposite, though. She’s a very obedient person. There’s more pressure on her.
That’s what I like about Thérèse. She’s not a heroine. She’s a regular woman.
She’s so fascinating, because for much of the film it’s hard to gauge what her motivations are, what she’s thinking. How did you play that, and make her a sympathetic figure?
Because I’ve always been on her side. I always thought it wasn’t her fault. She’s the result of this education and this family. I understand and feel empathy for people who are different, people who feel different. Sometimes the social pressure doesn’t allow them to know themselves, to know who they are. For me, Thérèse is a victim of that.
Was it suffocating to play her?
No, because I really like her and she doesn’t feel and she doesn’t behave as a victim. She doesn’t whine about herself. She keeps her head high. She has pride too. It was not painful to play her.
I read that Claude let you take over once you got to set.
He did. We had a lot of conversations before shooting. Almost everything was very clear before we began shooting. We totally agreed on everything about Thérèse and her relationships. He told me something that helped me through the whole movie: “No pity for idiots.” For me, that’s a very important idea.
In his adaptation, he chose to end it differently that in the novel. He gives Thérèse a happy ending.
He didn’t want to judge her. I think it’s his approach. In all of his movies, he never judged his characters. He let the audience form their own opinions. He’s not one to give all the answers away. Since I’ve started to promote this movie, I’ve felt that everyone’s had their own feelings about the character. I think it’s more modern and interesting not to create the bad husband, kind wife scenario. Humanity is much more complex than that.
Have you ever felt like her, trapped, maybe following the success of “Amélie”? Did you feel pigeonholed in any way?
In fact I didn’t feel that way. But I felt that I had to fulfill the dream of all of the people — a dream that wasn’t really my own. So I had this pressure of being that actress who wears the “nice actress costume,” because of my sudden popularity. I found that a bit disturbing in the beginning. I was not really ready for that.
But you’ve done a formidable job of choosing varied projects following that early success.
I never tried to escape from “Amélie.” The movie’s never been a problem for me. I never felt like I was in jail! Maybe some people thought it would be, but for me it never was. I never tried to work against that. I never tried to prove anything because of that film. I think it gave me a lot of freedom. I learned to work at my rhythm and not at the rhythm that others wanted me to work at. It’s just a question of following your instinct.
It’s so easy and comfortable to lie to yourself. Success is to become who you are. I think Hollywood thinks in a totally different way. But I think that as a human being, and not only an actress, that’s really how you lead a successful life.
You’re very fortunate to be working in France, and not within the system here.
Well it depends. I think there are several systems here, but the biggest one, the super powerful one is tough.
Is that the reason why you haven’t ventured that much into English speaking roles?
I thought the opportunity I could get in Hollywood would be very limited, and I’d always be the “foreign actress.” To obtain really interesting and deep parts in Hollywood would require so many sacrifices. I put my life before my career because it’s more precious to me. But I really enjoyed the experiences I had in English speaking movies. I would love to work on more, but I really don’t have this fantasy of being in a blockbuster. I’m not excited by fame, money and power.