INTERVIEW: Actor: Melanie Laurent

Interview courtesy Optimum Releasing.

Mélanie Laurent was born in Paris on February 21, 1983. Her mother was a dance teacher and her father a dubbing actor. She came to cinema almost by chance after being spotted by Gérard Depardieu, who gives her a role in Un Pont Entre Deux Rives (Frédéric Auburtin and Gérard Depardieu, 1998). In 2000, Rodolphe Marconi offered her a role in his film Ceci Est Mon Corps with Louis Garrel and Jane Birkin. The film is presented at the Cannes Film Festival.

In 2005, Laurent’s reputation is consolidated thanks to roles in Jacques Audiard’s De Battre Mon Coeur S’est Arrêté and in the oddball Belgian comedy Dikkenek (2006). Her career really took off with a leading role in Je Vais Bien Ne T’en Fais Pas, directed by Philippe Lioret. She obtains several nominations and awards for this performance, for example, the Romy-Schneider award in 2006 and the Cesar award of the rising star in 2007.

Her first short-film as a director, De Moins En Moins, was in the selection at the Cannes Film Festival in 2008. In 2009, Laurent gains international recognition for her performance as Shosanna Dreyfus in Quentin Tarantino’s Inglorious Basterds.

In The Concert, she playes Anne-Marie Jacquet, a young virtuoso solo violinist invited by conductor Andrei Simoniovich Filipov to accompany his old Jewish and gypsy musicians in the reformed Bolshoi Orchestra, who after years in the wilderness has been invited to perform at the Châtelet Theatre in Paris…

What made you interested in this script?
I was immediately taken by this group of Slavic has-beens, and also, I was attracted to the rhythmic alternation between the comical scenes and the moments of pure emotion. The script combines themes that appeal to me on a personal level: communism and the hopes that it embodied, the long-gone ideals which some people still cling onto, the power of the Russian mafia, and so on. Behind the comedy and the lightness, there is a political theme which I liked.
   As for my character, I was really excited about the prospect of playing an instrument, even though I was only miming the movements! I also liked the fact that my role is that of a real woman, one who might even be slightly older than I am.

Describe Anne-Marie Jacquet…
She is quite a cold woman, obsessed with music and lives in her own world. She is someone who holds back her emotions, until the final scene in which she allows them to completely submerge her.
   The most difficult thing for me was to stop myself from smiling. I am quite an expressive person, so I really had to exercise a lot of self-control.

What is her view on Andrei?
She admires him immensely. It is perhaps this man that gave her the desire to do what she does: no doubt she’s listened to all his records on repeat for years, and this is what drives her on now. What’s interesting is that she has never performed Tchaikovsky, but she doesn’t know the reason why. So she decides to take an enormous risk by playing a concerto, at a crucial point in her career, because Andrei is involved. Also, she accepts to let her guard down and adapts to the rather unorthodox working methods of these Russian musicians.

How did your violin lessons go?
I had lessons for three months with an extraordinary teacher, Sarah Nemtanu, who is the first violin soloist with the French National Orchestra. She has since become a friend. Thanks to her, I was able to interact with an orchestra and see how it functions. This helped me develop my character and to learn the technique of handling the violin and the bow.

Did you have any particular difficulties?
I’m left-handed and the violin is the only instrument that cannot be inverted: the right hand holds the bow, which was a real nightmare! The movement was so unnatural for me that I ended up getting tendonitis.
   The concert scene is exceptionally intense. It was a scene that really made its mark on me. Not even Radu could foresee that we would get so emotional. I completely let myself be taken by the music and I went into a trance. I had to stop myself because I started shaking: I had let go of my violin and was sobbing. In that moment, I had the impression that my body had become the music. It was so strong that I thought I was going to faint.

Was the world of classical music already familiar to you?Not at all. But now I really enjoy listening to classical music. Since I make music myself, I enjoy listening out for the first violins. I like it when a production leaves something with me, like The Concert has, and that it helps me discover something that will change my life. I still listen to Tchaikovsky’s concerto now, switching off all distractions, from the beginning right to the end…

What was it like filming with Alexei Guskov (Andrei)?Something beautiful happens when two people don’t have a common language: we acted a lot with looks and shared sensations. I found this quite sweet, not having to communicate with language. This placed the emphasis on the acting, without stiffness in the exchanges.

And with François Berléand?We kept laughing uncontrollably. It’s fantastic to meet an actor as brilliant as he is, who has a real gift for lightness and humour.

What is “the ultimate harmony” for you?In my job, there are moments of beauty, like, for example, when you come across a scene that you don’t really know how to approach, and the director comes to have a quiet word. Suddenly, everything becomes clear: you act out the scene and then it doesn’t belong to you anymore. I get the impression that “the ultimate harmony” is something that doesn’t belong to you anymore and is the summit of perfection. It is something that isn’t mulled over, and you can’t look for it.

What are your best memories from filming?
The Châtelet Theatre, and the experience of playing with an orchestra. OR

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