Learn­ing to teach

Sunday Tasmanian - Tassie Living - - MOVIES - NEALA JOHN­SON

‘ I re­fused so many fi lms – I said no to Elia Kazan, I said no to Spiel­berg – I now’’ thought, ‘ no­body will want me

AF­TER 31 years in movies, French leading lady Juli­ette Binoche doesn’t see it as her job to pass on wis­dom to younger ac­tors.

But the 50- year- old does ad­mit to “a nat­u­ral need for shar­ing” – a need that came to the fore last year when she worked with Twi­light star Kris­ten Ste­wart on writer- di­rec­tor Olivier As­sayas’ fi lm Clouds of Sils Maria.

“When the cam­era was on Kris­ten, some­times I dared to push her. I would go and go and go. Kris­ten has amaz­ing po­ten­tial, but she needs to open up, she needs to get in more. So when you see that, you want to help; you want to go for it.”

Did Binoche push Ste­wart to new heights by shoot’s end?

“She said that, and she knows it,” Binoche replies.

“Be­tween ac­tors, there’s of­ten the back and forth. You’re try­ing to see where you can go to­gether.

“That’s the joy of movies or theatre – other­wise I’d be alone in my stu­dio work­ing on my paint­ings.”

Binoche once con­sid­ered a switch to teach­ing, af­ter her 1991 fi lm Lovers on the Bridge proved a “painful ex­pe­ri­ence”.

“At the end of it, I said, that’s it. I re­fused so many fi lms – I said no to Elia Kazan, I said no to Spiel­berg – I thought, ‘ no­body will want me now’.”

She went to see an old act­ing coach, telling him she wanted to quit act­ing be­cause it was “too hard and phys­i­cal”.

“He said, ‘ No way, I’ll teach you what­ever you want but you have to go back to act­ing’,” she re­calls with a laugh. “It was very touch­ing. He said some­thing like: ‘ We need you to act, so you go back.’ So I car­ried on.”

Binoche is still fi nd­ing ways to im­part lessons, whether to co- stars or by play­ing a teacher in Aus­tralian di­rec­tor Fred Schep­isi’s new fi lm, Words and Pic­tures.

The ro­man­tic drama also drew on her long- time hobby of paint­ing.

She plays an artist who turns to teach­ing when rheuma­toid arthri­tis im­pedes her abil­ity to paint. Clive Owen plays a lit­er­a­ture teacher – drown­ing doubts about his writ­ing skills in drink – who chal­lenges the art teacher and stu­dents to a war that will de­cide once and for all whether pic­tures are re­ally worth a thou­sand words.

De­spite her ini­tial re­sis­tance, Binoche did all the paint­ings for the fi lm, even im­pro­vis­ing meth­ods – like rolling around a can­vas on an offi ce chair – as some­one might when their body rebels.

“Paint­ing means a lot to me and I didn’t know Fred enough, I was wor­ried he wanted some­thing too con­ven­tional. But I have to say I trusted him the more we went on, be­cause of his enthusiasm,” she says.

She had less to worry about on the act­ing front in Words and Pic­tures. Schep­isi says Binoche and Owen “crack­led” from their very fi rst meet­ing. Binoche agrees, but isn’t sure why.

“It must be some kind of chemical thing. It took me by sur­prise. You go out be­fore shoot­ing and you smell a lit­tle bit what’s go­ing on and you build the re­la­tion­ship.

“But I had no idea that I would laugh like that in front of the cam­era with Clive. I was more sur­prised than he was. I had to do ex­tra takes some­times be­cause I was burst­ing laugh­ing with­out know­ing why.”

WORDS AND PIC­TURES Now Show­ing State Cin­ema

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