Interview with Lawrence Anyways’ Melvil Poupaud and Suzanne Clement

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To coincide with the BFI London International Film Festival screening of the brilliant Laurence Anyways, I went up to a room of the Radisson Blu Edwardian in Covent Garden and sat down for a chat with the two leads, Melvil Poupaud (Laurence) and Suzanne Clement (Fred). On a cold, rainy day in London, the two stars could not have been in higher spirits, both willing to chat and laugh in a genuinely friendly and warm atmosphere.

After a bit of shaky fidgeting with the digital recorder, and still a trifle awed to be sitting in front of the two of them, we got things under way and I got over my nerves, greatly helped by a little laugh and some small talk about the Festival itself. Now read on…

FlickFeast: Yeah, so, obviously, the first question is, how do you feel about the reaction that the film is getting, across the festival circuit?

Melvil Poupaud: From my point of view I only had good reaction, people are moved by the movie, even people who could be afraid of the subject or the length of the film or anything. They go, they end up very happy, very moved. They follow the story, the characters…

FF: There were quite a few people crying at the BFI…

MP: Yeah, yeah, it’s an entertaining movie, it’s not like a drama, and very dark and very intellectual, it’s more like […] a lot of costumes, a lot of music, changing, so he tried to make the movie, the more, as entertaining as possible.

Suzanne Clement: Yeah, I was in Toronto, for the film festival, the TIFF, and um […] they were really enthusiastic, I went to the bathroom […] there was a young girl crying there also…So they’re really into the story. It’s not a film for intellectuals…

FF: So do you see it as a straight up love story, more than anything else?

SC: Um..I think…

FF: Albeit one that’s slightly different to everything else…

SC: Extreme, it’s an extreme love story

MP: The main character is the couple, and how we can keep on living our love story when Laurence makes that choice and how she handles it, how the surrounding handles it, like, what’s going to happen with that love.

FF: So you see the couple as one entity?

MP: Yeah, because you never really see the characters outside their skin, because he turns into a women but you don’t see how it happens, you find me again, in that position, only because it’s a way to get back to her, you really, don’t find the characters outside of the couple.

FF: Do you think that was a deliberate thing, on Xavier’s part, to not show any of the details…

MP: Absolutely, that was from the start, to have this crazy thing in the movie, but not to make it, the center of the film. It’s something that happens, now there is another story that is more important to us…

FF: So, how did you become involved with this? I know you’ve worked with Xavier before (to Suzanne) but you came in quite late (to Melvil). Did he write the part of Fred for you?

SC: Yes, that’s what he told me, yeah. So I was there from the beginning. He told me when he was doing I Killed My Mother, somebody told him a story similar to this story… and he started writing the movie and told me already he wanted me to play Fred. So I’ve had a lot of time to prepare…be willing to be immersed.

MP: I was supposed to have a small part at first…I didn’t know really that much at first…he saw one of my films, I haddn’t seen his but I knew he was something. So I read the script for the small part, it was okay for the small part, and then something changed with the actor who was playing Laurence […] and I was ready to go, something like two weeks, three weeks before the beginning of the shoot.

FF: Do you think it helped, not having had much time?

MP: Maybe, because the part is so difficult […] so many different things. And the energy that they have all together, because they are a family, almost, in Montreal, Xavier is working with the same people from his last film, same actors. They have this connection, things that they share, I was the outsider, no? But, um, it’s rare to have such great movie, great script, great part, great director and great actors, so I don’t know how you can refuse such a good part. Maybe if I had more time I would be more scared, but I would still do it.

FF: What’s it like, working with someone like Xavier, who’s, he’s only 23, such a precocious talent. Do you approach something like this in the same way?

SC: Well, I got to know him a lot, he’s really evolved so much, he’s reached…he’s in front now, he’s not behind. You wanna follow him, becuase he’s going places that nobody I know is going. So you’re more like, yeah, I wanna follow this guy wherever his brain leads…he’s throwing down the walls around him and learning in the process.

FF: I’ve seen a few other interviews with him, and he doesn’t sound like a 23 year old.

SC: He has two sides to him…he has to perform, as a mature individual, maturity, because some people could not handle this. The fact that he’s still there, doing everything. He could handle always the pressure, being in Cannes a few times, doing even more interviews than, I don’t know which director…so, this means that he’s very strong, that he also has the strength to pretend, sometimes also, that he’s older. He has to do this in order to be taken seriously. He had to get the character going, but still the fact that he can handle this means he has that maturity […] it’s very impressive.

FF: As an award winning actress, did you bring your experience to working with him, did he defer to your experience? How much input did he allow from the two of you..?

SC: He allows a lot of input, even the writing, from the moment he told me he wanted me in Laurence, two years went by, we spent a lot of time discussing the movie. Just in that talking he changed the character also…we changed some dialogue the night before, the morning before the shooting, or while we were doing the shooting. He was really receptive to everybody’s input, and any creative thing that you have but he doesn’t lose his focus. Some directors take input and they take everything and you think, oh, he doesn’t have any direction, he doesn’t know where he’s going…and he [Xavier] can really fall on his feet, that’s the amazing thing…through the boldness, and the strength that he has.

FF: [to PR woman] One minute left? Oh, okay, the question I most wanted to ask was, you’ve both got scenes in this film that, when you read the script, they really stand out…

SC: Yeah! He really likes to write those for actors…

FF: In the restaurant, and when Laurence first calls his mother after being beaten up. How do you prepare for that amount of emotion?

MP: You build up, in your mind, because you know that’s gonna happen one day, so you don’t want to think too much about it, but then you have to be prepared, so you don’t have to do it like, ten times…so it’s like, some kind of hypnosis thing, sometimes…that you know that day, in that position when he will say action, you’re almost ready to let go of it and it’s a relief sometimes.

FF: Was it tightly scripted?

MP: It was tightly scripted, but there was some improvisation because he likes to talk during the scenes, so he can give you indication while you’re doing the acting, and now say this , now do that, so a kind of lively thing.

FF: Did you find that, on set, you kind of stayed in character? Or did you separate that kind of emotion from the way the set operated…

MP: I needed to have a big break during weekends, I have a reggae band in Montreal, to do something completely different at the weekend…to just, liberate me from this. I mean, Xavier is very demanding and he has a strong world around him. He’s somebody very attractive and very special, and he can charm you, and bring you to his things…

SC: He’s got a lot of energy, yeah…

MP: Absolutely…

SC: You have to find your own space, and it’s what he wants too, because he needs people to challenge him and because he really likes a challenge…even from his people and the crew also, and he really brought the crew together, asking challenging things of the crew also, not only the actors. He wants people to love working with him, I think, he wants to give them, what would you like to play? […] I don’t like answering that question, because I don’t like to say, but I know he says this to his actors…

At this point the already quite patient PR lady from Network had to bring us to a close and, after offering my thanks to Melvil and Suzanne, and telling them what a pleasure it was to meet them (it really was) I soon found myself back in the lobby of the hotel and walking out into the rain. I just wish I could see it in slow motion.

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The Québec Cinema Showcase from 2 – 4 November at the Cine Lumiere, Institut Français, South Kensington. Tickets are £10 (conc £8) (https://www.institut-francais.org.uk/book). There will be a public reception on Saturday, 3 November at 6.30pm, with drinks free ice wine – a Québécois speciality.

Laurence Anyways hits UK cinemas 30th November 2012.

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