Interviewed by Guillermo Troncoso as part of the 2014 Alliance French Film Festival.
Actress-turned-director Nicole Garcia has directed a new drama titled Un beau dimanche, or Going Away in English. The film played at the 2013 Toronto Film Festival to great acclaim. We sat down with lead actress Louise Bourgoin to talk about the film, her character, her director and her journey to becoming a French actress to look out for in the next few years.
Baptiste (Pierre Rochefort) is an inspiring primary school teacher, who finds himself looking after Mathias (Mathias Brezot), one of his students for a weekend. When Baptiste takes Mathias back to his mother, the radiant, impulsive Sandra (Louise Bourgoin), he is instantly enchanted. For three beautiful days of the Whitsun holiday, a new beginning and new love seem possible with their troubled pasts a distant memory. However all too soon Sandra’s problems threaten their fragile idyll, and Baptiste is forced to make a choice: help Sandra and face his dark past or walk away again.
The Reel Word: Sandra, your character, is quite complicated and layered. Did you have any input in her creation?
Louise Bourgoin: Nicole Garcia, the director, doesn’t say your character is doing this or this. She hates that. So, she just shows you with gestures what you have to do. But it’s only about the way you should sit, the way you open a door, the way you put your knife on the table. At the beginning I thought it was really strange and I felt like a child, but after a few days I started to think, “What is behind this gesture? This way of sitting down?” I found, by myself, the mood my character was supposed to be in, just in seeing what kind of gestures I was meant to be doing. It’s a really interesting manner in directing people, I know, but I really love the fact that we weren’t in the mind like a bad psychologist. It was more instinctive, as if I was a worker in a factory. She gave me her personal manner to perform as an actress. I was really pleased because she’s a huge actress [acting in over 75 films], she’s really well known and really great. She has worked with many great directors, like Alain Resnais [who directed Garcia in the Oscar-nominated My American Uncle (1980), opposite Gérard Depardieu]. It was really refreshing and pleasing to perform in this way.
The Reel Word: You and Pierre Rochefort, who plays Baptiste Cambière in the film, have a really good chemistry together. Was there a lot of rehearsing involved with the two of you?
Louise Bourgoin: It’s hard to imagine, but we rehearsed a lot. A lot of people have said, “Wow, it looks so natural.” They said it looked like parts were improvised on the spot, but it’s not like that at all. Everything was really prepared, especially our body and space, where we were supposed to go.
The Reel Word: The scene were Baptiste gets very drunk and fights that guy who is trying to pick you up, that must have taken quite a lot of rehearsal.
Louise Bourgoin: Yeah, of course. Pierre had to be very believable.
The Reel Word: Did he actually get drunk?
Louise Bourgoin: (Laughs) No, no! He had a fight coach and everything. He had to punch that guy in a really realistic way, which is not as easy as it looks.
The Reel Word: Did you find that the relationship between Sandra and her son is quite important in understanding her character?
Louise Bourgoin: I started working as a mother in movies from the beginning [of my career], five years ago. I’m still not a mother in real life, but lots of directors can imagine me as a mother (laughs). So I’d already played a few mothers, but I really loved my character in this movie because I was really moved by her. I think she is really modern, realistic, and she has to raise her child by herself and life is really tough with her. She has many money problems and she’s not always happy to be with her son. I mean, sometimes it’s not a good moment and she’s not completely happy to see him. Especially when she sees him on the beach when she’s working, she wasn’t ready. And I really loved the fact that I couldn’t imagine that you could not be really happy to see your own child, as a mother. I’ve got this stupid idea that a mother is always happy to see her child, but that’s not always the case. It’s what I like in this movie, everything is like in real life.
The Reel Word: The character of Baptiste is quite interesting, considering we don’t get to understand his past until the second half of the film.
Louise Bourgoin: It’s beautiful in this movie because there are two parts. In the first part, you know, he’s looking at me and he is falling in love with me. And in the second I look at him and fall in love with him. There is a symmetrical way of filming this couple. I love the philosophy of Baptiste Cambière in this movie. He says no to a big inheritance and it’s really unconventional, really refreshing in our society. He believes that he can be happy without any money, just with her. He’s like a philosopher, he doesn’t expect too much, just the basics in life. I like the way he says no to this family who is supposed to be this thing that people want to be: bourgeois, really rich, with a castle. His act is actually really beautiful.
The Reel Word: Did you bring anything from your personal experiences to your role?
Louise Bourgoin: When I was young, to pay my studies, I started to work as a hostess in bars and clubs, but mostly to be the face of a brand. It was like being a waitress, but I would give certain alcoholic drinks for free to promote the brand. I did that when I was eighteen and I remember that I did that on the Mediterranean coast all summer. It was actually really well paid, but it was a tough job because I was really young. I don’t know if I had even kissed a boy yet! (Laughs) I remember that drunk people would really get too close to me. They’d try to invade my personal space. They would mix up my job with that of an escort girl! I remember a strong feeling I had at this period was that I wanted to show that it was impossible to flirt with me, but I had to be polite because I was there for a brand. I used to think about this period for the character of Sandra.
The Reel Word: Sandra’s definitely a strong woman.
Louise Bourgoin: Yes, she’s a strong woman and she has got authority. After a punch in the face, you can see that this isn’t the first time. She may not be used to it, but she’s not like a victim.
The Reel Word: She seems to have picked the wrong men in her life, at least until this point.
Louise Bourgoin: We can see, at the beginning, that she has always had bad love stories and that she has given up. She’s like, “Okay, this isn’t for me anymore. I don’t care, I don’t want a man again.” But that’s more my opinion. What I love about Nicole Garcia’s movie, and she says this too, is that her characters do not describe themselves in their dialogue. You know, characters with bad dialogue or in bad movies are explaining everything about themselves. What I like in these scenes, in Nicole Garcia’s cinema, is that you can work out what happened before and you can find things yourself, like an archeologist digging through the layers of these characters. You don’t have to be like, “Yes. He was my ex-boyfriend, but now I have given up with men.” You can guess it on your own.
The Reel Word: Was it the script that really attracted you?
Louise Bourgoin: Oh, yes. The script was really good. When I read it, I was like, “Okay, this is for me.” Then I did a casting actually. It [the role] was not for me at the beginning, it was for another famous actress.
The Reel Word: You have a done a variety of films now, with different budgets and production sizes. Do you prefer big films or small films?
Louise Bourgoin: I think I have more freedom with smaller budget films, because directors can change their minds during the shoot easily. For example, Nicole Garcia was at least able to add two or three scenes because of the weather or if something inspired her during the shoot. We could do it because it was a really small team. You know, for really big productions it’s much less flexible. Big budgets can be really stressful for everybody. Producers are always there saying, “Start. Stop.” I like smaller films because the teams are mostly there, not because it’s well paid, they are there because they are in love with the script or they’re huge fans of the director, so from time to time they’ll be able to put in an extra two hours for free at the end of the day.
The Reel Word: Where you a big fan of Nicole Garcia before making this film?
Louise Bourgoin: I was, definitely. A very big fan. Especially of her first film, called Un week-end sur deux [a 1990 drama entitled Every Other Weekend in English].
The Reel Word: So how did you end up becoming an actress? I read you were originally studying to be a teacher?
Louise Bourgoin: I was supposed to be an art teacher but I missed my exam (laughs). I started working on television just because it was really well paid and I wanted to buy an apartment as soon as possible in Paris. I was noticed by a French director called Anne Fontain, actually you’d know her because she did a movie in Australia called Perfect Mothers [Australian title: Adoration, U.S. title: Adore] with Naomi Watts and Robin Wright. She did Coco Before Chanel and The Girl from Monaco, my first movie in 2008. So I was noticed by her on this TV show and after that I only did movies. 12 movies in five years.
The Reel Word: And you have a movie coming up with Pierce Brosnan?
Louise Bourgoin: Yes, in London. The release in going to be in April, with Emma Thompson, Pierce Brosnan, and I play a crazy French girl with forty cats, completely crazy. I love English humour.
The Reel Word: Are you going to break into different overseas markets now?
Louise Bourgoin: I would love to. I want to be capable of performing in English because I really love this language. I’ve got an American agent, and I actually worked on an American movie last September. The release is going to be in October, it’s called Mojave, by William Monaghan [the second film directed from the Academy Award-winning screenwriter of The Departed], and it’s with Oscar Isaac and Garret Hedlund. I play, again, a French girl, a red wineglass in my hand, two boyfriends, no bra, very French (laughs).
Going Away is currently screening at the 2014 Alliance French Film Festival. Click HERE for the festival schedule and to purchase tickets.