Last week I had the privilege of interviewing the new face of Christian Dior’s Hypnotic Poison scent, Melanie Laurent. Best known for her fierce role as Shoshana in Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds, we spoke about growing up with a dad doing voice over’s for Ned Flanders, making porn films and hanging out with Ewan McGrgeor on the set of her new flick, Beginners.
You recently filmed Beginners with Ewan McGregor. How was that? Was he a total charmer?
Oh yeah exactly. You said the right word (laughs)
Did you go out for dinner or drinks? Or was it all basically work?
We had a burger on the road, actually I had two burgers and he was like, ‘Oh my god you’re the first actress I’ve seen do that.’ But that was about all of the time we had to go out.
Is breaking into Hollywood a priority for you? Or do you love French films too much?
I love all films. I love Hollywood, Spanish, English, Italian, Irish movies. I care about the stories that’s all.
It must be a bit nerve racking as your star continues to rise. Do you have to dodge Paparazzi on the street?
No, I’m not Jude Law, I’m ok.
And you don’t worry about crossing that threshold?
Well, I had my first paparazzi experience like three weeks ago. They just took pictures of me at the airport which was really interesting.
Did you find it exciting.
Oh no. No. I don’t know, it was my first time I just realised a paparazzi guy was hiding himself behind a fake tree. Super ridiculous. And I looked at him and he pretended he didn’t see me and I thought it was such a stupid situation. He kept going and taking pictures of me doing nothing at the airport and so yeah, I don’t know. It was my first time. But in France we are really protected by all that stuff. You don’t really see paparazzi.
Oh no. We don’t have that terrible paparazzi. I know a lot of actresses who want to live in Paris because of that. I mean you can have paparazzi take photos but you really have to be doing cocaine in the middle of the street. Which I wont be doing (laughs).
So just a little bit about growing up in Paris… I read that your mother was a ballerina and your father did the voice-over for Ned Flanders. Did your friends think that was great?
Oh yeah. When I was at school, all the cartoons, my friends knew my dad was on it, so yeah it was kind of funny.
Did they ever get him to do the voice over for them?
Yeah. When he tells me stories, he did all the mouse voice and the cat voice, yeah it was a little bit crazy.
Because your parents were both into the arts, do you think that career path was set for you?
Yeah I think so. I’m sure of it. They just always told me, do everything you want and try everything you want and they were super happy for me when I did my first movie. They didn’t puish me into anything, but they understood everything. I think it’s hard when your parents don’t understand why you want to be an artist.
Your first film was Des Moins en Moins? Sorry about my accent.
(laughs) Des Moins en Moins (in my voice still laughing)… Des Moins en Moins. Very good. Yeah it was my first short movie about a young woman who loses her memories.
What inspired you to make that film?
Honestly I don’t know (laughs). It’s a long story. Ha. Ok, are you ready? I was working on a play as a writer and in my play I wanted to put a screen on stage so I wanted to shoot something to put the scenes on, so I found a producer to produce all those screening things and I was working on my feature at that time and the producer asked me to write a short lovie because she wanted to use the productions to do a short movie and use the short film as a demo for the featuring movie and I’m not good at writing short films because I think it’s super more difficult to write short movies than featuring movies. So I was on a train and I was working on a movie as an actress so I didn’t have time to write a great story and I knew I would have a few hours to make a short movie in one room so I don’t know why but I just had that idea of someone having her analyst meeting and she just loses all of her memories in 10 minutes.
I don’t know if it’s wow (laughs) but I did it. I actually had a big fight with my producer because I didn’t like working with them and they showed my movies to Cannes festival without my permission and I was really not happy with the movie and I was selected for Cannes. I was so surprised. I went o Cannes as a director for the first time with my first short movie. I still don’t know why they chose that short movie.
Following that you directed a porn film?
Yes it was a nice second short movie (laughs). It was a special project, it was a channel called Canal+ which is very famous in France and they wanted to make five female porn movies. Like, we don’t have any female producers in the porn industry so they wanted to choose 5 female directors and have a point of view of the women on porn. So it was very chic and very intellectual project. It was not like, let’s make a porn.
So was it a feminist movement?
Yeah. Completely and I’m an avid feminist.
So moving from your directing and moving onto you being an actress. How did you get into acting?
I met Gerard Depardieu and I was 14 and I was on a set because my best friend at that time had her father working as a technician on the set, so she just asked me if I wanted to see how the set worked and Gerard Depardieu comes to me and said ‘do you want to make movies?’ and I said ‘why not?’ and I was 14 and did my first movie with him, so he kind of chose all of this for me.
And then you went on to do Inglourious Basterds by the fabulous Quentin Tarantino. How did he direct you in the film considering he didn’t speak French and you didn’t speak English?
Oh I had to learn fast because I lied to him. I said to him I was perfectly fluent in English. So I watched again and again Gossip Girl (laughs). Domini xxx who’s playing the farmer on Inglorious Basterds, he became my best friend and he offered me a little screen and put on a lot of TV shows and it was the best way to learn, without titles and I had to learn so fast. So when you have to do something fast, it works. I think it’s the best way to learn a language because I had to understand everything.
Were there any other English TV shows you watched?
Well I’ve started to watch Desperate housewives without sub titles, I don’t know every movie after that I had to watch without sub titles and it’s a great way to learn.
So obviously you ended up getting the part in the movie…
How was it working with Brad Pitt?!
He was cool. Very cool.
How did you prepare for your role as Shoshana?
Well he chose me and I was supposed to shoot like 3 weeks after so he sent me to LA in his house alone and I learned how to project movie. It was complicated because the guy who was teaching me didn’t speak French so I had to learn to speak English and project movies. They were absolutely amazed because I didn’t know really what they were saying but I managed to get it all right.
I read that you’re Jewish and your grandfather survived deportation by the Nazis. Did you feel emotionally attached to any aspect of the film?
Oh yeah. I felt emotionally attached to all of it. It would be hard not to. I mean, I’ve wanted to kill Hitler since I was little, so I definitely was emotionally involved in the film and the connection with it and it was sort of great for me because it was like a release of hatred towards Hitler. But yeah, I definitely was emotionally connected to the film.
Were you stressed out after filming? Were you able to go home and switch off?
I don’t think you can ever switch off from that. Anything to do with Hitler and that history… you can’t just turn it off. It’s always there.
Well it seems you found a connection with Shoshana. Are there any roles you wont take?
Well I choose the roles I like but I would like to make comedy. I would really like to do that. I always seem to be given the serious roles, but I think comedy would be really fun.
You call yourself an ‘artist’ because you don’t pigeon hole yourself as a director or musician or actress. Does your heart belong more to one than the other?
No. Not really. I mean, when I directed my feature I felt myself complete. I prefer being the captain. I like being the big boss and when you’re a director you don’t have to be nasty, you can be very nice. I like being a nice director. I don’t really like being called just an actress. You know, once I started getting into acting people stopped referring to me as a human being. They would say you are an actress, you are not real, you don’t have feelings, it’s all an act and I wanted to tell them, I am still a person. I am still like all human beings.
You’ve met some amazing people during your career. Was there any special person who gave you advice.
Gerard Depardieu. Yes. Definitely Gerard Depardieu. He told me three things when I was young that I have remembered during my career so far. He said first don’t go to acting school. Second he said Don’t try and learn your text and what it’s meant to be, you just have to do and third he told me never be afraid to be ridiculous. Which was great because if you are afraid then you won’t do anything.
Lastly, I heard that you’re a great cook. Can you tell me the last meal you cooked?
Oh… I was in New York and I spent about 4 hours in the kitchen! It was incredible because I had this pressure from being French, you know, I had to do something great. I really specialise in salads. I’m very good at salads and I made them a cucumber salad with radish and yogurt and (asks her translator in French how to say ‘ciboulette’ in English) chives (laughs), some ginger and lemon and I can’t really remember what else. It was very fresh and I think my cooking is ok because I put a lot of time in to making it perfect.