In the opening scene of the 2015 Berlinale opener “Nobody Wants the Night,” Juliette Binoche’s Josephine Peary shoots a polar bear. She’s a powerful force, a woman who is happy to be just outside the north pole at the turn of the century.
Following the premiere of the film, Indiewire sat down with the legendary actress to discuss her decision to play such a character, how she chooses her roles and what’s next in her career.
In yesterday’s press conference, you mentioned and made clear that this wasn’t a true story, but more inspired by a real person. So can you tell me what you had to go through to research her?
Well, I read the book she wrote. She wrote three books and one done with her daughter. I think she wanted to accompany the journey for a kid as well. I wanted to be more aware of what was the period of time and the explorers. It was an amazing time, how courageous they were. How also very proud they were. It was a very ego-oriented need of being the first one to put that American flag on top of the world. It was big as going to the moon at the time in the ’60s. So it’s interesting to compare, but that’s how important it was for the time. And how expensive the exploration was and the expectations were. Having all these stories, and then at the end of the film having that line, “By the way it was not the North Pole”… I mean it’s really the absurdity that we are always looking for the success somewhere outside and being recognized by the world, but the real journey is actually somewhere else, the hidden places inside someone. That’s what I loved in the script when I read it—this willing woman and she’s with God so she’s going to fetch this husband and they’re going to be this incredible couple. And at the end she’s in the middle of nowhere chasing the lover like this and descending into hell. But that’s where she finds a sort of awareness of humanity.
Was her very strong-willed character something apparent in the script or something you brought on your own?
That was in the script. I find it very interesting because I think I was very willing as a young woman. As an actress I thought, “This is so true.” We come with so much pride and need of recognition. The journey is a lot like feeling stuck. And letting go of all of those needs is so liberating. I thought it was metaphorical for the real life.
Would you say that’s what drew you to the this project?
Well, Isabel, she phoned me and said she had this incredible script and said, “I wanted to do it with you.”
She actually said it was for you.
Yeah, she said “I wouldn’t do it otherwise.” And it was kind of a strong assumption she was making. I was wondering what kind of script it can be to be so dramatic about it. When I read it though, I was really touched by it. So, the conditions of making this were difficult. We didn’t have a lot of money. It would have been great to be in real conditions, but with the money it wasn’t possible. I think she did an amazing job knowing the conditions we were in.
Well, I believed you were freezing the whole time.
Throughout your career you’ve worked on projects big and small, and very different, but do you have a list of things that make up your priorities before you sign onto something? What draws you to a project?
I have to love the story and be in touch with the director on some level. I have to like the person, the way they are listening or looking me or other people. It’s a presence that I want to work with. Somebody with a presence. More than words. It doesn’t always need to have so many words because they’re not relevant when you’re shooting sometimes. When it’s the first feature film there’s always a risk anyway, but you have to take risks. And as for directors who have been through a lot of films, you know it works. You know whether you want to work with them or not.
At the press conference, Isabel spoke about fighting forward as a method of not getting stuck. She’s always working. Do you share a similar model when faced with adversity?
Sometimes it happens that you don’t know if you’re going to make a film because there’s another actor. Maybe you will. But that’s been happening since I started. It’s not a big change and I think that happens for men and women. You don’t have to take it personally for the way it is.
Have you had moments in your career that were slower, where you were concerned? What do you do to push past that?
It happened to me, that a project was postponed or canceled. And it’s very painful, but you’ve got to go through it so you don’t get attached to things and don’t take it personally. You gotta learn that. It happened to me. You have to be a little humiliated in life to progress. But I feel blessed because I’m doing a lot of projects I love and I’ve been working most of the time.
Is there any type of role or project you haven’t done that you’d be interested in? A genre?
Genre doesn’t matter to me. It’s really working with someone, a person.
And what do you have coming up next?
I’m rehearsing “Antigone” by Sophocles in London at the moment. And I’m going to be doing the first film of a choreographer and I will be playing a choreographer. I have to dance. I’m also doing the next film of Bruno Dumont. And it’s a burlesque film.