I wouldn’t be of this world any more.”
Have you ever been tempted to go off the edge? With alcohol, VH drugs, meeting strangers in the small hours, for example?
I could have been. I should have, even, as I have a pretty IA extreme character, always ready to break out of the mould. But I had a brother who spent his youth out at night. I used to compulsively despair of him. He was just two years younger than me, but I was always worried about what might happen to him. And obviously things did always happen to him. He fell into living by night and its thrills — alcohol, drugs, a form of madness. And yet he seemed to be indestructible — one of nature’s children built to tolerate the intolerable. I always worried about this brother, my double. I was like some Emily Brontë desperately seeking her Branwell in the night, and got him back in the early hours. In fact, I was more on the side of the people who watch, who have to be able to stay alert when they have to intervene — like those emergency paramedics. I never allowed myself the luxury of trying to lose myself. In fact, if I’d done that I wouldn’t be of this world any more. I knew very early on that I just wasn’t cut out for it. A sleeping pill knocks me out for two weeks. I’m spasmophilic, dreadfully fragile, and hyper–sensitive. My magnesium levels could plummet and I always had to fight off dizzy spells and a sort of interior flutter that cut me off from reality. I feel as if I’m dying if I’m cut off from reality, it’s one of my terrors. Before I discovered digestive medicine, these symptoms I experienced, even when sober in every way, destroyed any desire to accentuate the phenomenon. I can be deeply moved by night owls. But I prefer to help them, dream about them. Night life isn’t my thing.
Did you have a feeling that your brother would die young? VH
He wasn’t really young when he died, but he had always IA been a sort of man–child for me. I don’t know how he managed to live like that for years. I really don’t know"… He was an absolutely charming man, irresistible. Beautiful as an angel — damaged, obviously"… No–one could resist him. There was period of accidents, suicide attempts, overdoses. And then one day, his body just said stop, that’s enough. Because what lay in wait for him was just awful in terms of procedures to undergo, and pain, with no guarantee of remission, he bowed out. I had that vision. And what if he had said to himself: “I have this little window. Shall I do it?” At the hospital, I saw on his closed eyelids and in the shape of his mouth, just the tiniest hint of a smile — a message of love for his two children. I had seen him the day before, on Christmas day. He was completely upright, he was Prince Myshkin. Just before they go, humans are regally themselves, each in their own way. With him, everything princely was self–evident. I also know that he bowed out to bring us relief, to free us. And it happened in the end at night.
Yes, well, it certainly happened at night — and what IA a night! Hell! He really put me through the mill! I found him at this creepy country hotel — It was like something out of a slasher movie. The floors creaked. He was seated on cases of great vintage wines, and his room was lit by candles. Then he dragged me out into the marshes and it was misty. He kept on saying “You’re scared, aren’t you? Are you scared? Can you feel the ghost of George Sand?” It was crazy. I explained to him that I needed Camille Claudel and that she needed me. The she and I had to collide psychologically, metaphysically, spiritually, and even physically, so that something could translate from an artist’s cry when an artist is under threat. A true artist is always under threat. It comes with the territory. It’s part of their persona, their grace, and it had become essential for me. She was going to save my life, and I was going to save hers, or at any rate, force the necessity of remembering her existence. I said all that to Gérard. It was absolutely wonderful. It was worthwhile venturing out there to convince him.
How did you feel under threat? VH
It was just when those rumours were going about, at IA the start of the Aids epidemic. In their cruelty, the fit and healthy said I was ill and predicted that I would be dead before the end of shooting. That made some people loath to get involved in the project. Gérard must have thought that he would be getting mixed up in a complete mess. He can exhibit a certain subversive originality, but he’s very conformist for all that. It’s his “practical down–to–earth” side. Things have to be worth the trouble. I call him the “fairweather friend”. What I mean is, he’s around, but if there’s something that gets in his way, he won’t make any effort to be there. I think he must have said to himself that he didn’t want any trouble (#laughs#). While we were shooting, he was incredible in the way he respected the stature of his character, never taking him down a different path just for the hell of being provocative. Bruno Nuytten and I are rebels, and Gérard could feel that, so he didn’t have to play the delinquent or the renegade. It was complicated for Bruno and me to do that job. We weren’t part of the system. There was something that wasn’t quite right, something uncomfortable and prickly.
Is that one of the reasons why Bruno Nuytten stopped directing, do VH you think? One of them, yes. For me, it was a calamity I’ll never IA get over. I love directors who film the women they love or have loved — even unto death. It just blows me away.