Juliette Binoche: The Secret Meaning of Binoche

"Are they actors you'd like to work with?"

Binoche nods with no hesitation.

"Funny," I tell her, "That's exactly how I felt, until I actually interviewed them."

Now Binoche definitely thinks I'm kidding--who would dare disparage the darlings of American cinema?

"I think of _The English Patient _as two movies," I tell her, changing the subject. "One part has Ralph Fiennes as a bully who's in love with Kristin Scott Thomas. That one takes place in the desert and it's all golds and reds. I hated that movie. But then there's the movie you're in, which takes place in Italy, and it's pale whites and blues, and Ralph Fiennes is now a nice guy, even though he's burned beyond recognition and dying. I loved that movie, and I was totally annoyed when they kept going back to the desert. And trust me, if I was dying, I'd want you to be my nurse, too ..."

"I would want Hana, also," says Binoche, letting loose with one of her howls. "I feel bad that you didn't like the other part of the film . .. But Hana was a character that was just so right for me. She can be very warm, very afraid, very serious. But also she has this happiness that I just loved."

"Not too many of the characters you've played have been happy. I'm thinking of Anna Barton in Damage, who caused an accidental death and a spiritual suicide, or the woman who loses her husband and child in Blue, or Tereza in Unbearable Lightness, who's tortured by her husband's infidelity while the Russians crush Czechoslovakia's hopes of freedom ..."

"But I am not like that," Binoche says. "For me, my characters are people who are on a journey. You have to go through something to get to something great, right? Just because my characters feel pain doesn't mean that my life is a mess. Sometimes people confuse that."

Isn't this great? In America, actors try to convince us that they're a lot more serious than we think they are. Here, they try to do just the opposite.

"What roles have you turned down in the movies?" I ask.

"It's not that I turn down roles--for me, it's like I choose others."

Binoche is definitely doing doublespeak, but with her beautiful accent, it's hard to get annoyed. "But you were offered the role Laura Dem played in Jurassic Park, right?"

Binoche nods. "But then I decided to do Blue." And since Jurassic Park was one of the biggest grossing movies ever, and only 13 people ever saw Blue, you can see right away that she did the smart thing.

"I can see that look you're giving to yourself," Binoche says, catching me. "What I'm saying is that if I had been free, I probably would have done it."

"When they were looking around for someone to play Sabrina, you would have been perfect. You are the closest thing we have to Audrey Hepburn..."

"I made the test for it," Binoche says in a barely audible whimper. "I wanted it so badly. But I think now that nobody could have made that movie good."

"You did? You would've been so good."

"Don't tell me that, and don't tell them that."

"You got fired from a film last year," I say. "It was something Claude Berri was directing. Not that any of us know who Claude Berri is, but what happened?"

"Really? You don't know his work? He did ..."

I wave her off. I loved Jean de Florette too, but what I want to know is why Berri fired her.

"Well," she says, "Even the first day, there was a feeling of anger on the set. I didn't understand. It wasn't the right spirit for the film. The director didn't want to hear what I had to say. And that, for me, makes a very unhappy experience. When you've had experiences like I did with Anthony Minghella [on The English Patient] or with Krzysztof Kieslowski [on Blue] you cannot go back to this world of 'I'm the boss and you shut your mouth.' Berri couldn't bear to hear what I had to say.

"Are you hungry?" she asks me, shifting gears. "Should I make you something to eat?"

"Hors d'oeuvres?" I ask, that being the second of the three words I know in French.

"No," she says seriously, "I thought we should eat a good meal." I follow her into the kitchen, where a large wood table dominates the room. She opens the refrigerator and takes out a roasted chicken, which she proceeds to cut up and put in a pot, adding a bowl of carrots and peas. While that simmers, she cuts an avocado in half, pours balsamic vinegar into the wells, and hands one half to me. Then she takes out a plate of tomatoes, mozzarella, basil and olives, and sets that down, too.

"Nobody I've interviewed has ever made me lunch before," I tell her.

"Is that true?" she asks, dead surprised. "Don't you eat with them?"

"Yes, but it's always catered or we're in a restaurant."

"I hope you don't mind this ..."

The food is fabulous. And Binoche isn't one of those waifs who just picks at her food. Although she looks like she barely weighs a hundred pounds, she eats ravenously. When the chicken is heated, she puts the pot on the table, ladles out two pieces for each of us, and eats that, too. Then she uses the back of her hand to wipe her mouth.

"When you were a kid, did you look like this? Were you pretty then?"

"I wasn't conscious of how I looked."

"That means you were pretty. Because if you were ugly, you would've known. When you go to a party, do you gravitate towards the men or towards the women?"

"Towards the light," Binoche says with a giggle.

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  • Mike Dearing says:

    What an amazing interview with Juliette Binoche, by Martha Frankel. So revealing about many things borne out by what the actress said later in life. I only regret not reading it when first posted.
    Juliette B is an amazingly talented actor and painter; brimming with humanity and an example for other woman to follow. I absolutely concur with MF about The English Patient: I too was frustrated by the scenario switches to the desert away from the more compelling story of Hana and the patient; even more so after reading Ondaatje's novel. Still Minghella's film was a masterpiece and JB deserved her Oscar (should have been awarded for Best Actress though).
    Tant pis, c'est la vie