May 22, 2014

Olivier Assayas talks about 'Clouds of Sils Maria' & Kristen

How did the idea of Sils Maria come about?

It started with Juliette Binoche calling me. We share a long history. We started together more or less with Rendez-vous . It was my first screenplay and her first big part. It was shown in Cannes and we were the kids in the group. But somehow it never took the shape of working together on something centered on her. So she called me up two or three years ago and asked, “Why don’t we do something?” Usually when I get those calls it’s, “Yeah, sure, but I’m working on something else right now,” and it’s awkward. But this time something told me that there was something more to it. The movie took shape and it became a story of reinvention and I thought I would use Juliette really as herself. She’s a more interesting actress when she acts in English, because she somehow less self-conscious than when she is in a French speaking part and so it started to evolve and became something I would never have imagined.

How did Kristen join the project?

Kristen was it was a fairly long story because originally she couldn’t do it because of scheduling conflicts. She loved the screenplay but the timing wasn’t right so we moved on and had Mia Wasikowska, but then she had a contract with Disney for the Alice sequel and the minute the movie got moving she was not allowed to be in any other projects during that time period. By then Kristen’s schedule had cleared and so instantly we sent it back and she was able to do it. That’s the technical side of it but the more exciting and human part of it is that she’s amazing. I hope everybody will share my enthusiasm of what she did with the part, the freedom she found in her acting and a humor that we hadn’t seen much of just came out, I don’t know how or why. It’s really very exciting when you are filming a young actress and see her respond to your material and grow right before your eyes.

So the shoot was collaborative. What was the schedule like?

We had a fairly short shoot and fairly intense because of the schedules of the actress and we had to squeeze thing and shuffle things around in weird ways. When you have those really tight schedules it gives an intensity that can be nerve-wracking because you don’t really have a safety net. You fuck up a scene and you’re dead basically. You don’t have a chance for an additional day because the day doesn’t exist. I think the film benefited from it because it’s so much an actor’s film, I think that the actors somehow reacted in strong and positive ways to the tension. Your job as a director is to somehow channel that the best you can and somehow I think that they took on that energy around them.

What was it like working with two very strong actresses on set?

It’s really a danger zone and in the end I was just amazed. Kristen was very much a fan of Juliette. She loves her work and she felt that she had something to learn from her, and I think Juliette loved that position of being able to pass on something to another actress. Juliette has invented a style and her own way of transforming into a character that is spontaneously part of her language. Kristen watched her a lot and learned a lot from her and used it.  It was absolutely not competitive, it was something symbiotic.

Are you trying to say something about how Hollywood treats actresses and aging?

I’m not good at discussing what my films are about. Films are about representing the world as you see it I never feel my movies are ever really about making a point. My ambition is that when we make movies about acting and theater you’re not making a movie about the trade. You’re making a movie to put things in perspective with very universal human issues, and I’m essentially concerned that people will care about the characters, they will love them and essentially identify with them and their humor and their sadness. It’s all about the human emotion. The film deals with time passing and aging but in many ways it’s a comedy. I’ll be happy if I hear people laughing in the premiere.

What is your take on Hollywood?  You have never made a big American film.

The industry makes movies that are pretty much standardized, which are not about their quality but functioning on fairly similar notions of what a movie should be. If you make independent film, you will have a hard time getting them made. It was like that, it is now like that and it will always be like that. It would be no fun if it was easy.  What you are making is prototypes. Independent films are like the research and development of mainstream filmmaking. So you know you try new things and you keep on trying.

Read Olivier's full interview talking about the film industry at THR.

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