JEANNE MOREAU - The legendary star of Francois Ozon's Time to Leave
You've worked with many fantastic directors . . .
“Yes, I’ve been very lucky.”
There’s not time to talk about them all, obviously, but can you say something about some of them?
“I’m going to tell you something, first. I missed one of the greats, just because I was madly in love with a young man, and I had forgotten about it and it came back to me reading things and looking at my papers. I refused Stanley Kubrick, in Spartacus, the part played by Jean Simmons. I thought, ‘God, how crazy!’”
All because of love. . .
“Well that’s a good thing.”
Because you have worked with so many great directors, you must have high expectations whenever you work with someone, especially a young director like Francois Ozon.
“It’s not a question of expectation. My experience has taught me lots of things. It’s taught me how to respect each people’s individuality. It’s taught me a taste and a sure instinct for directors. You know? Not making mistakes. And it’s taught me to always be at the service [of the director]. So it teaches humility. It’s far beyond my ego as an actress. You know, with time passing by and my age, it’s not the point. It’s the love of cinema that matters. And the cinema is not glitter. Of course, you have people here in Cannes, walking up the red carpet, with their jewels and things, but cinema is something that becomes more and more close to what’s going on in the world. It’s the mirror of the world. And if we look at films, not only do we see the world in which we live, but we see us. You know? That is why, sometimes, I resist a director like [Michael] Haneke; because Haneke shows the world as if we, the others, were responsible, and he’s the judge. I like directors to be like us. To be involved. And who say not ‘Look how you are’ but ‘Look how we are’. See what I mean?”
Do you find these qualities in Francois Ozon?
“Yeah. And I’ve watched his first films since the beginning, because I love cinema and I’m interested in what’s going on. There is a cinema just the near outskirts of Paris where they show all the new little short films, and when I saw Francois’, I thought, ‘My God, there’s something about this one.’ And, as time goes by, though the stories are different, there is a red thread running through them, you know? He gives up things, intimate things, more and more.”
Could you compare the cinema of today with how it was early in your career?
“Well, the world was different then and it was all fantasy first. Orson Welles wrote about cinema in a book called Ribbon of Dreams, and now we could call it ‘Ribbon of Nightmares’. Orson was a very, and is a very, special person. He started in the theatre and he was a great liar - a great liar - but also fantastic, because he was telling beautiful stories that were very revealing at the same time. There is that saying of Jean Cocteau, ‘This beautiful liar who tells the truth.’ Orson then went to the States and he was so charming and got the money for Citizen Kane and all that. And then it was the victory, the end of the war, and the world was open, and everybody was expecting so much. So the stories were different. If you think about the French New Wave, what was the main topic? Young directors wanting to know, how is a real woman? How is she? What is my fantasy? And I was very lucky to be at that time because I became part of the fantasy. But now the daily life is far beyond our own personal relationships, and there is what I call the ‘third sex’: men love women, men love men, women love women, and why not? You know?
“But we are unbalanced. We don’t rely on tradition. That’s the way it is. It used to be that you have to get married, you have to get children, earn some money, retire, you know? Now it’s difficult to find work; you can be a brilliant student but it doesn’t mean you’re going to find some. And maybe you find the woman you love or the man you love, but after a while the excitement with sex is over, so you divorce or you separate. There’s not that idea of stability.
“That sexual liberation has its good sides and the worst. Because people get stuffed with sex, like with food. And, I think, one has to keep the fantasies to oneself, because not only is it dangerous for others, but it’s dangerous for yourself. I mean that thing in Hidden, that dark corner that you can keep, it’s good. That’s the way I feel. People can say, ‘Oh well, she’s an old woman and sex is over,’ but the memory of sex is there! You know what you like and you don’t like. There’s a scene in Francois’ film that shows how cruel it is to have to give it up. It’s not only about the sex: there is a desire to touch skin, for tenderness. You know? If that is over, and you just do it, bang-bang, it’s depressing. It’s not good.”
Francois Ozon seems to be particularly good at working with women. Why do you think that is?
“Yes, he is. It’s because he’s a man and a woman. He accepts it. And he needs women to live. Some men, it’s not a question of being homosexual, but there are some men who are not comfortable and they reject women, they find them frightening, they don’t know how to handle them. I know some directors who are frightened to death by actresses. Francois is at ease.”
Is this why his actresses feel so at ease as well?
“Well, it’s because he’s not macho. And he’s homosexual. He’s not machoist (sic). And I don’t use that as an insult because we women are responsible by the way we bring up our boys, you know? ‘Boys don’t cry. You’re a young man, please don’t do this.’ I remember my mother-in-law, when I met the father of my son, we had Sunday lunch, I was cooking with her and when the dishes were ready, we were the two women, and I had seen that in the country with my father’s family, serving the men. But the son first. And the best pieces. And when he was finished [slams her hand down on the table], ‘Have some more!’ And now he’s obese.”
Do you have a working method when you’re preparing a role?
So how do you do it?
”It depends with whom I work, on the atmosphere, and on the story. For example, I just made a long series for television - five 90-minute films, with Josee Dayan, who directed me in Cet amour-la, it’s a co-production, it’s American-Italian-German - and there were lots of lines. So you learn the lines perfectly so you can forget them and arrive empty. Whatever the part, have no preconceived idea. That can be between what the director decides and yourself. Sleep well. Be obedient and on time.
“I’ll tell you one thing that is very interesting in ageing: it’s that emotion is closer to the surface, it goes up. When I was 25-years-old or 30, and I had to cry, it was difficult. Now, I don’t have to think about it. Pfft! It’s as though the skin were getting very thin. So time is good. As an actor you can improve. It’s really good.”
Do you feel like you’re still learning?
“Of course. Because each time it’s different. Even on stage, you know, there is not one night that is the same. Never! Your partners are different, and if you are alone on stage, as I am, travelling all over the world, the audience is different.”
Are you afraid of getting older?
“Do I look like somebody who is? Fear is the worst expression in a human’s face. I love life. I respect my life. I respect other people’s life. And as long as I have this energy of life, thank you! I don’t give a damn about what you’re talking about. Maybe it worries you. Please, don’t worry.”
You’ve got freedom.
”Freedom? It’s a word. It’s just a word. The only freedom that exists is the inner freedom. Physically, you’re not free. You’re a citizen of Europe, of the world, and you depend on all the others around you. And there are very strange things happening. Tiramisu [she corrects herself], tsunami, volcanoes, pouring rain, wind, the wars, so . . .”
You said earlier on that glamour is not cinema, but here we have the red carpet and everything . . .
“Well that’s the outside thing for you, because we need promotion."
Yeah, but do you sometimes think there is too much emphasis these days on the glamour and celebrity side of cinema rather than the art?
“Even if I think so, people don’t mind. So let it go. It’s beautiful to see beautiful women in beautiful dresses and some men well-dressed. And it’s funny to see vanity and fear. That’s human nature. Or some women like Sharon Stone, she’s so natural, she shows herself. She’s generous. It’s part of the work. Be generous. Give to people what they expect from you, otherwise stay home.”
Time to Leave is released May 12