Juliette Binoche: The Secret Meaning of Binoche

"With your Oscar," I say, "you're going to be offered a lot more American films, don't you think?"

"I'm not sure. You never know how that will happen. I will look at each thing separately. I know definitely when I can do something and when I can't."

"What can't you do?"

"Wuthering Heights I think I can't do," Binoche says with a laugh.

She is referring to a film that she did, indeed, do. The 1992 remake of Emily Bronte's Wuthering Heights, which starred Ralph Fiennes as Heathcliff--a role that reportedly brought him to Steven Spielberg's attention and got him cast in Schindler's List--was a dismal commercial failure.

"I think if Jane Campion had directed it," says Binoche, "it would've been quite different." Yeah, and the only role Fiennes would have gotten after that would have been the one in Strange Days.

"As a spokesperson for Lancome's perfume, Poeme, you've said you believe Rimbaud is a great poet. What exactly is great about him?"

"The thing about Rimbaud," she says, as if he really does have anything to do with Lancome or any perfume, "is that he is clear about things. By that I mean that he is someone you can see through..."

Hmmmmm. Binoche has a flawless command of English, so I have to consider this carefully.

"He knows more than the others, he knows without knowing. I think he is that kind of writer."

For the first time, I think something may have been lost in the translation.

"You debated whether to be a painter or an actor. Do you still paint? What kinds of things?"

"Wait, I'll show you some." Binoche goes upstairs and returns with a handful of black-and-white pen-and-ink drawings. They are pictures from the set of The English Patient. There's one of Ralph Fiennes lying on the bed in the hospital covered in gauze. A few are of the scene when they take the patient out into the rain. All of them are remarkable.

"It's funny--you had to spend the whole of The English Patient looking at that icky, gooey, misshapen talking head ..."

"Oh no, not at all. I had a great time with Ralph. I tried to make him laugh all the time, which he couldn't, because of all the makeup. I got so used to seeing him like that, with all the bandages and things, that it felt right to me."

"So," I say, looking over the drawings, "you're gorgeous, you can eat whatever you want and not gain an ounce, and you're talented in all kinds of things."

Binoche stares at the pictures, too, as if trying to see where I am getting all this information.

"I recently did this story with David Duchovny," I say, "and I was telling him that I play poker and that one of my little tricks is to make myself blush, because it makes the other players think I'm lying. And he said, 'You know, I never realized that people could blush on command until I saw Juliette Binoche in The Unbearable Lightness of Being. There's a scene in that film where she sleeps with someone and she's shy and embarrassed, and you can actually see the blush creeping into her cheeks. And I love that scene so much that I now call blushing Binoching."

Binoche laughs. "That's so funny. When I first met Kieslowski, he mentioned that scene to me. And I went back to watch it. Because mostly I see the film once, and it's enough for me. I turn the page and make another movie. But I saw Unbearable Lightness again because he wanted me to blush in Blue."

"He wanted you to Binoche ..."

"Yes, exactly. We made one minute of the scene, and I was trying to blush and I couldn't! He was getting mad, telling me how to blush. But you know what was so good about Unbearable Lightness? It was the makeup artist. She knew not to put makeup on me. And that's why you can really see what's happening with my face. In the old days, they had those big lights, and the women wore lots of makeup, and they looked like flowers. Now it's different because the quality of the film is so precise that you see everything. So when I did that blushing, you could see it. I blush easily, as I laugh easily, I cry easily, it all happens very quickly. But I could never blush for Kieslowski. They must have had too much makeup on me. But let me ask you something--Who is this David Duchovny? Is he that Swedish actor? Oh, no--he's a journalist, right? Or is he the man who ..."

I stop her before she starts guessing butcher, baker, candlestick maker. "He's the star of The X-Files." She looks even more bewildered.

"It's a television show..."

She nods. "Oh, now I understand," although I doubt that she does. "Are you still hungry?" she asks. "Do you want dessert?"

"No," I say. "Merci (my third, and last, French word). I guess I'll be going now. Unless you want me to do the dishes ..."

"Really?" asks Binoche, her eyes widening. "They make you do that?" I leave her shaking her head, wondering whether "they" do or not.


Martha Frankel interviewed Jeremy Northam for the July '97 issue of Movieline.

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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