The ac­tor talks about her ca­reer so far and her new film Re­turn of the Hero.

France - - CONTENTS -

For emerg­ing ta­lent Noémie Merlant, show­ing up on the set of com­edy Re­turn of the Hero every day was like at­tend­ing an act­ing mas­ter­class. Hand­ing out valu­able les­sons were Os­car-win­ning ac­tor Jean Du­jardin and Mélanie Lau­rent, who has two Césars on her man­tel­piece. “Jean and Mélanie were both very gen­er­ous and car­ing,” re­calls the 30-year-old ac­tress. “They both gave me a lot of ad­vice. They told me that, with com­edy, the im­por­tant thing is to be sin­cere, as it is in drama. It’s just the rhythm that changes. Work­ing with them was an amaz­ing op­por­tu­nity.”

Re­turn of the Hero is an im­por­tant step­ping-stone for Merlant. While the Parisian has been in the in­dus­try since 2011 - and was nom­i­nated last year for the Most Promis­ing Ac­tress César for drama Heaven Will Wait - Lau­rent Ti­rard’s farce marks the first time she’s tried her hand at a comedic role. In what is a part that re­quires her to put in an over-the-top per­for­mance, Merlant plays Pauline, the feisty daugh­ter of a wealthy land-owner in 19th-cen­tury France, who finds her­self caught up in an on­go­ing game of one-up­man­ship be­tween the swindler who wants to marry her (Du­jardin) and her well-mean­ing but schem­ing sis­ter (Lau­rent).

“I al­ways thought drama was more sat­is­fy­ing but af­ter Re­turn of the Hero, I re­alise I love com­edy just as much,” she en­thuses. “It re­quires a huge in­vest­ment. It’s in­tense, it takes con­cen­tra­tion and you work tire­lessly. I still have a lot to learn, but the more you are com­fort­able with do­ing com­edy, the more fun you have. It’s like start­ing a new mu­si­cal in­stru­ment.”

Star­ring in Re­turn of the Hero was both an act­ing and phys­i­cal chal­lenge for Merlant. With the story tak­ing place from 1809-1812, she had to deal with the scourge of many a pe­riod pro­duc­tion – the corset. “It felt like I was suf­fo­cat­ing,” Merlant re­mem­bers. “We were film­ing dur­ing a heat­wave and the role of Pauline re­quires en­ergy. But at the same time the cos­tume helps a lot. When you put on your out­fit in the morn­ing and get your hair­style and makeup done, it takes a while and this is a time ac­tors use to en­ter the role, to get into the skin of the char­ac­ter. We go back to an­other time.”

Merlant is no stranger to spend­ing hours in the make-up chair and wear­ing un­com­fort­able clothes hav­ing once earned a liv­ing as model. It’s not a time she looks back on fondly. “It’s a pro­fes­sion that I found de­struc­tive, both phys­i­cally and men­tally,” Merlant says. “I felt like a piece of meat. I was weighed con­stantly. I was never asked my opin­ion. It was a case of ‘Be beau­ti­ful and stop talk­ing’. It did teach me not be afraid of the cam­era and to be strong, alert and less naïve in the face of in­ap­pro­pri­ate be­hav­iour. And it paid for the­atre classes so I could be­come an ac­tress and fi­nally ex­press my­self.”

Hav­ing found her voice, Merlant is in­tent on hav­ing her say, not just through the roles she picks, but also as a direc­tor. “I want do a short film about the Roma com­mu­nity in Paris,” she re­veals. “I’m not in a hurry to get it done but I find it com­pli­ments my act­ing. I have things to say that I don’t nec­es­sar­ily have the op­por­tu­nity to say in roles.”

Un­til Merlant slides into the direc­tor’s chair her­self she is con­tent to learn as much as pos­si­ble on every set. When I catch up with the ac­tress, she’s busy film­ing Cé­line Sci­amma’s Por­trait de la Je­une Fille en Feu along­side Adèle Haenel – an ex­pe­ri­ence that has her pos­i­tively buzzing with en­thu­si­asm.

“It’s the story of a fe­male artist in 1780 who is paint­ing a young woman for her up­com­ing mar­riage,” Merlant ex­plains. “When I read the script Cé­line wrote, it made me shud­der. It’s full of emo­tion and in­ten­sity. I like women’s movies made by women. It’s been such a plea­sure work­ing with Cé­line and Adèle. It’s great to be able to lis­ten to what they have to say.”

I felt like a piece of meat. I was weighed con­stantly. I was never asked my opin­ion. It was a case of ‘be beau­ti­ful and stop talk­ing’.

Re­turn of the Hero is in cin­e­mas from 7 De­cem­ber. See Pierre’s re­view on page 86.

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