Learning to teach
‘ 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