ISABELLE ADJANI a candid interview
—Isabelle Adjani is a rare commodity, making rare appearances in the media, in the cinema. Rare, full stop. When she decided to leave the Comédie Française, at barely nineteen, the venerable institution was abuzz and agog: “An Adjani comes along only once in a century.” A presence touched with the divine. Five Césars, two Oscar nominations, a Best Actress award at Cannes and a handful of films — The Story of Adèle H., Possession, One Deadly Summer, Camille Claudel, Queen Margot — have cemented the legend. Adjani is an Actress. With a capital A. The muse of the emotions. A celluloid muse, cast in the mould of Golden Age Hollywood legends. Quintessential mystery and genius.
Except that, Isabelle A. is much more than that. The star of the silver screen is first and foremost one of life’s heroines. Carried along on her tumultuous passions, free to breathe wherever she pleased, to turn her back on the system and its rules. A dizzying career, where she always “seemed to be swimming against the current”, according to Françoise Sagan. A bravery for which the pitiless laws of celebrity and the fantasies generated in spite of herself extracted a heavy tribute. Which probably explains her visceral need to go off the radar, to barricade herself in, and otherwise duck out.
We are talking about the night, and we dream of Adjani. All it took for her to agree to be interviewed by Vogue Hommes was a text message. We met on a drenched Sunday in July. Rehearsals for Kinship, the play she will be appearing in after the summer break, are on hold. No navy blue knit, just a black raincoat and dark glasses “to show everything she wants to hide”. Sincere, devastatingly intelligent, she handles words like precision instruments, high explosives. She knows from experience that they can turn out to be terrifying time bombs.
We listen to her attentively, watch her as her emotions flit across her features, as she laughs, bites her lip, doubts herself, apologises for talking too much, gets worked up about Matthew McConaughey, reaches for the ineffable. Hervé Guibert dreamed of getting her to play a hermaphrodite. She inspired him. He wrote: “A portrait of Adjani? Her eyes, transparent and dense, ice blue or deep ultramarine"… The paleness and matt of her skin belong to another time"… Her voice, her cries, her laughter. That break at the nape of her neck when she throws her head back. An outrageous, shocking laugh that cascades over you like a spurt of blood and which sucks all of life into it"… She is the ideal of my mad desire for the cinema.” Desire, madness, cinema"… An inevitability for the adored, adulated Adjani.
“Night is the time when you can die from wanting to forget yourself.
Forgetting yourself, no doubt, to breathe more easily in your own
skin. That’s not for me.”
The theme of this issue of “Vogue Hommes” is the night. VOGUE HOMMES What does night mean to you, straight off?
What first springs to mind is predators. ISABELLE ADJANI At night, everything that’s dangerous emerges. Including yourself ("laughs"). That’s when the Amazon forest rustles with all those creepy– crawlies. It’s an animal world, and they’re all awake and out hunting. I also associate it with the night–time excursions of Dr Jekyll, when he becomes Mr Hyde. And I associate it with the shadows, the criminal side. What you wouldn’t do during the day, you do at night. Fiction could symbolise nothing without night as a theme. Night takes away the inhibitions. Why, in the light of darkness, do beings, consciously or otherwise, enter into a state of destruction or self–destruction? There’s also the struggle against encroaching sleep and all its nightmares. Night is the paradoxical time, the dreamtime that can’t hold back time’s arrow, alas. Night puts time in abeyance, but it regains the ascendant as soon as the day dawns, and, like the Mad Hatter in Alice in Wonderland, we must despondently observe that time “won’t ever do a thing I ask”.
Do you experience night as an interval of freedom, creativity, and VH rêverie, an interlude when, precisely, time is suspended. Or do you see it as a sort of impasse, paved with anxieties and loneliness? Dreaming in the night–time doesn’t generate anxiety. IA But when you belong to the night, I wonder whether the night belongs to you? I’m not sure it does. I’m not a night owl, I never have been. It’s not natural for me to be with others in the night. It bothers me. Or else, I have to be with people who protect me from my fears. Night is the time when you can die from wanting to forget yourself. Forgetting yourself, no doubt, to breathe more easily in your own skin. That’s not for me. The people around me who liked the night have always ended up liking it too much. On the other hand, I like dreaming when night comes. I love the moon and the stars. That’s something else. It’s different. I like to wake up in the morning saying to myself, there, it was night, I’ve slept, I’m rested ("or not"), but I’m not afraid of death because it wasn’t as bad as all that to experience night. VH So night makes you think about death? You’re right. I must be making the link unconsciously. IA I don’t know why I have this memory that keeps coming back: when I was a child, for years I would have these vomiting episodes while I was asleep. What I was vomiting was perhaps a life that I found hard to bear, or a tragedy I couldn’t express. I don’t know. And then in the morning, there was always my parents’ fear that I might have choked. I was little, and I would wake up in a bit of a daze, but I would say to myself, “Oh, I’m still alive”. Night hadn’t carried me off. It was surely a form of somatisation. In a way, the night protected me and let me drive out something that was harmful, that depressed me, deep down.