Mélanie Laurent hails from Paris, France and has garnered critical acclaim in her own country for films like Dikkenek and Don’t Worry, I’m Fine which garnered her France’s equivalent of the Oscar, the César, for Most Promising Actress.
She soon garnered international attention for her role as Shoshanna Dreyfus in Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds. Now, the 28 year-old hopes to gain further attention in America with a role as Anna in the drama Beginners.
Beginners tells the story of Oliver, played by Ewan McGregor, a man who must come to grips with not only the fact that his recently widowed father, played by Christopher Plummerhas now come out as a gay man, but is dying from terminal cancer. At the same time, Oliver is also dealing with a troubled love life, which he hopes will be fulfilled by Laurent’s character Anna. She tells of how she first met up with McGregor at Six Flags Magic Mountain in Los Angeles.
“Well, I was only there for two days and he said, ‘We’re going to Magic Mountain. You’re going to meet Ewan,’” she remembers, “[I replied,] ‘OK. What is Magic Mountain?’ We arrived and I said, ‘Hi, I’m Mélanie. I don’t know what are we going to do, but it’s going to be fun or not. I don’t know.’ So we took the Rollickers and I was like, ‘I don’t want to do that.’ It was a nightmare. And [director] Mike [Mills] was like, ‘He just put you on a ride close to each other.’ And he was like back and he said, ‘You know that feeling of being terrified and excited at the same moment?’”
“And we were like, ‘Yeah.’ [He replies,] ‘It’s exactly the movie,’” Mélanie continues, “And we were like, ‘Aaaaahhhh!’ And I had my Flip camera, so I just did a movie of our faces. And I put it on my computer and someone just stole my computer in Paris. I lost all the little movies I had. I did a lot of making-of, well, I’m stupid. I should have just saved something, but I didn’t. It’s my fault.”
Mélanie was asked who was doing more of the clutching on the ride, her or McGregor.
“No, no, no, I was proud because it was the first time I had met him,” she replied, “I was like, ‘No, I’m not afraid.’ And it’s funny because I used to love doing these when I was a kid, I always wanted to, and when I grew up, you just have a fear, and it’s stupid when you think about it.”
“You just have fear more and more and it’s become terrible,” Laurent continues, “You’re like, ‘Aaah! Please stop!’ But I thought it was an amazing, crazy, great idea to just meet your actor and partner and, yeah, it’s exactly about this in the movie.”
Laurent was then asked who screamed louder.
“Mike,” Mélanie answers, “He’s a big screamer, like, ‘Aaaaaaahhhhhh!’ Which is really funny, because you don’t know the guy in a way.”
Mélanie talked about what it was like to work with the cast.
“Well, I worked almost just with Ewan,” she says, “I had nothing with Christopher. And I’m starting to shoot when they had just done their parts. So I remember everybody being in like release because everything used to be big drama and a lot of very sad scenes in the hospital.”
“And we did a break during one week,” Laurent adds, “And so, it was almost more like a second movie and we started with funny scenes together and I don’t know. I’ve done 25 movies and I’ve never had a part when I was like Ewan. It was like we had exactly the same vision of everything. Like we wanted to do exactly the same thing. We wanted to be real.”
Beginners is Laurent’s first acting role completely in English. She talks about the experience of acting in a language foreign to her.
“It’s more easy,” Mélanie says, “Because when you’re speaking English and it’s not your language, it’s not you. It’s more easy to say, ‘I love you,’ more than, ‘Je t’aime.’ I loved it, but I was terrified and I said to Mike, ‘What am I going to do with it? He’s going to say something and I’m not going to be able to respond, because I don’t know how to say it.’ And he was telling me all the time, ‘Say it in French and it’s going to be great, because she’s French and you can use that.” And I use it.”
Mélanie also expressed what most spoke to her about the film.
“It’s the homosexuality subject,” Laurent replies, “It’s not a big deal anymore [in France]. It’s the inverse. It’s still taboo everywhere unfortunately. I always grew up with a friend of my parents who is homosexual and the more I grew up, the more I realized that a lot of people think it’s not normal. And I’ve always been in that sort of situation when I’m like, ‘You don’t understand what people think.’ It’s always normal because you grew up with a homosexual. And so, when I read the script, I thought, ‘Oh, that’s a beautiful subject, because it’s pure and dedicating. It’s real.’”
“It’s still a problem in a lot of countries, and when you think about it, it’s like absurd,” she continues, “I remember I did a movie in Singapore and when you are a homosexual in Singapore, you can go to jail. And when you’re in France, you can see homosexuals everywhere and you’re like, ‘Oh, there’s a big problem in using that word.’ But it’s kind of the subject of the racism. It’s crazy and it’s terrifying because in France, in politics right now, it’s a big mess. So there is no taboo in France, but we are assholes.”
In the film, Oliver has a pet dog named Arthur. Laurent talks about her experience with the dog that plays Arthur.
“Two things about that dog,” she remembers, “First, the trainer was French, so she was my best friend. Second, the dog was a little bit jealous of me. Can you imagine that? He was in love with Ewan and every time I was arriving, he was like growling. I was like, what was that? I’m not going to steal your master. Don’t be like this.’”
“And every time I was like, this was with Ewan and it’s like, OK, OK, OK, but it’s funny,” Mélanie adds, “And he loved Mike. He licked Mike’s face, but only his face. No other faces. He was crazy about Mike’s skin. He loved the director. He loved the actor. He doesn’t love the actress, not normal.”
Mélanie also discussed how director Mike Mills gave her background information on his own family life, which served as inspiration for the plot of Beginners.
“He talked to me a lot about the relationship with Oliver and the father, because he wanted to tell me why he did the movie and why it was personal and why he wanted to write that script, rather than Anna is like this and I don’t like this,” Laurent recalls. “I don’t like being informed.”
“I’m not that sort of actress who needs a lot of information,” she continues, “I don’t need that, so maybe he just needed to say the story is about my father, and I was like, ‘No, I don’t need that.’ I’m super-instinctive, so I never take notes and I don’t really need to know all the shadow of my character. I don’t know what I’m going to do before, ‘Action!’ I have no idea.”
Mélanie says she’s not only an actor, but a director and a singer. She was asked how she manages to juggle all those different roles.
“I’m tired, but it’s super,” Laurent says, “I only do things when I’m inspired and when I do a record, it’s inspired me for the movie and it’s inspiring me for a character and everything inspires me. You meet people and that job is amazing for this. You meet amazing people.”
Throughout the interview, Laurent often struggled with speaking to us in the English language, which she had only begun learning when she did Inglourious Basterds. According to an interpreter, Laurent told us that she recently directed an hour long film called The Adopted.
“I can’t even tell you in French what it’s about,” Mélanie claims, “I finished everything in two weeks and did everything like one week ago. And it’s kind of difficult for me to talk about it. It’s still my baby, but it’s talking about family and it’s complicated. Some of it [is about adoption]. Someone has an accident, she’s in a coma, and it’s about waiting for someone who is asleep and you have to adopt each other around her, because you are waiting and have discovered people.”
“And here’s the lover and the sister, ‘I used to hate you, but now she’s asleep. Let’s meet,’” she continues And I’m playing on it and I have a little boy and I don’t know the father. So the lover’s going to adopt the little child because he never had any father. And that guy is going to be the father and he doesn’t know how he’s going to manage it. So it’s all about this and it’s a little bit complicated to explain. It comes out in France. I don’t have any American distributor for now.”
Mélanie was asked if she would ever like to direct herself in a film.
“No, I don’t really want to work with me as a director,” Laurent replies, “I love actors who are like big workers.”
Laurent also shared with us the music she is working on.
“I’m working with Devin Rice, so it’s like pop/rock with French lyrics,” Mélanie says.
Finally, Mélanie revealed compared working with Quentin Tarantino on Inglorious Basterds and working with Mike Mills on this film.
“The dance,” Laurent explains, “[Quentin] puts music between two scenes. And everybody dances at like 9:00 in the morning, like ‘Woo!’ So I stole this and with Mike, when I finished a scene, and he goes, ‘Cut!’ and I go, ‘It’s so beautiful!’ And I just keep that for Mike. So in my set, it’s like music and ‘Cut,’ and I’m like, ‘Oh, my God, it’s so beautiful!’”
“It was like a night of crazy eight guys,” she adds, “And on my set, the actors call me ‘The American Director,’ because when you’re French, it’s true. You’re like, ‘Cut!’ and ‘Thank you,’ which is true. Mike and Quentin are really different, but the common part is they are captain of the boat in a really different way. But it’s really this, it’s like, ‘OK, guys, let’s do the movie.'”