CS: You talk about the passage of time but Juliet is playing a fairly well known actress so we’re seeing the passage of time of someone in the spotlight.
Assayas: I knew that the one thing I could do with Juliette and few other directors could do is make a film where she would be herself. She’s not exactly Juliette Binoche. Maria is someone slightly different, but still, when you’re watching the film, part of you is watching Juliette Binoche. A lot of what we assume about the character is what we imagine what we know about Juliette and her career. In a lot of movies, you try to erase as much as you can of what the audience knows about a specific actor. You want that actor to blend into your narrative, to become someone else completely, so you end up forgetting it’s Gerard Depardieu you’re watching. In this case, it’s the opposite. In this case, it was important for the film that the audience stay aware that the actress they’re watching is also Juliette Binoche, and also, it echoes through the whole film because in the end, you never forget that you’re watching Kristen Stewart, even though she’s playing Valentine, you always have in the back of your mind that it’s actually Kristen. Same for Chloe. There’s one layer in the film that’s something I haven’t really used often in my films, which kind of gives to this story a specific light.
CS: Absolutely. Even when Kristen is playing a personal assistant, a lot of what she’s saying are things you’d expect maybe her personal assistant might say. It does make it a very layered movie.
Assayas: It shows you Kristen’s sense of humor that she has a wit, and it’s all things that again, if you’re watching the film, you might think, “Oh, I didn’t know that Kristen Stewart would have that sense of humor,” that she would have fun with the way people perceive her the way she does in this film. It’s all elements that play into the film.
CS: How important was it for you to get Kristen for that role?
Assayas: Oh, she was vital to this film, because Juliette is a very powerful actress. She absorbs all the energy around her so she really needed to have someone very strong in front of her who embodied, not just a talented actress but also a very successful young actress. Because that’s more threatening, that kind of pushes Juliette and it obliges her to try things. It challenges her, and I think it’s so important to give challenges to actors, especially when you’re working with someone like Juliette, who has done so much, who has proven so much. I think that this is also what’s exciting for her. The bigger the challenge, the more exciting the part really. I think that Kristen was very much a part of what challenged Juliette on this film.
CS: In the center section which is just the two of them and the line between reality and them acting is so blurred, but she’s also dealing with playing a role that’s an older version of herself.
Assayas: You know, this is emphatically not a complex film. I think it’s a very simple film. It becomes complex in the viewer’s eye in a certain way, because it plays on a very simple line. It’s just like an actress works on a part with her assistant, disagrees with the assistant on how to approach the part, the assistant leaves and she ends up on-stage playing the part. The rest is anecdotes, so it’s really as simple as that. But then, because there’s an echo between what’s happening in the play they’re rehearsing and the dynamics between that woman and her assistant, because Juliette is Juliette and is simultaneously Maria, and because Kristen is simultaneously Kristen and Valentine. All of a sudden, it’s really like pinball. Things you have no control on begin echoing. You use some elements and all of a sudden they come alive, which is ultimately what you always hope in movies. They come alive and they provoke interaction, they provoke connections that ultimately you have not imagined. In a sense, it’s like a game, and the audience is part of the game. The audience is not just witnessing the game, the way the audience interprets what’s going on is pretty much part of it.
CS: Juliette seems to be taking on challenging roles in general, whether it’s movies like “Certified Copy” or this and she makes interesting choices.
Assayas: I think it has to do with two things. It’s a matter of personality, but also, when you’ve done so many things, when you’ve acted so many parts, you’re looking for things that are different. You want to try new things. You want to do things that you have never done, then of course you have actors and actresses who like to play it safe or more or less play similar parts over and over again because that’s their comfort zone. What’s exciting about Juliette is she’s scared to be in her comfort zone. She feels that if she’s in her comfort zone, she will fall asleep or something like that. She needs to try things, just to stay awake and stay young in a certain way, which is pretty much what this movie is also about.
CS: This also seems to be the closest you’ve come to straight comedy, at least it’s one of the funniest movies you’ve directed.
Assayas: Yeah, with “Irma Vep,” it was sort of a comedy but since then, not so much. When I was writing, I knew it was a comedy. I had no idea how far I would take it, then I gave the screenplay to the guys who finance movies and they said, “This? Comedy? Are you joking?” I was there sitting in offices of guys financing the film and I was like, “No, I promise you. This is going to be funny.” And they say, “Well, don’t bullsh*t us. You just want to sell us your film. We know it’s not going to be funny.” “But I promise you! This stuff is actually funny.” Of course, it becomes funnier than the screenplay based on the dynamics between the actors. It’s the way I emphasize those elements with Juliette and Kristen. It’s things that happen on the set. You have the elements to go there, but ultimately, it’s how you use those elements on your set, and how you channel your actors.
Penguin Random House
The discussion of the superhero movie is one of the best scenes I’ve seen in ages. I love that it both takes that kind of text seriously and also says that you can’t help but laugh at the same time.
What I enjoyed when I was writing and shooting that scene is that I felt I was on both sides. And I felt that most of the audience wouldn’t be on both sides, which is basically what makes it funny, in a certain way. Juliette is completely right, and Kristen is completely right. What is at stake is also the difference in generation. You have one object, which, you know, I have fun making a parody of—I had so much fun doing that—but ultimately they are looking at the same object. They are both right, and they have completely different visions, which is what this is about. One generation—the world has changed, and the reference points are different, and what is obvious for one generation is not so obvious for another one. What I am saying is that it inscribes time much more powerfully than the wrinkles on the face.
Yes, and later on in the film, Kristen Stewart says, “the play is an object, and it changes perspective depending on where you’re looking at it.”
It’s such an abstract line, and when I wrote it, I said, “Oh my God. Can I put that stuff in the mouth of an actress? How will Kristen deal with it?” And Kristen is so incredible—at just making obvious, as clear as day, abstract ideas. I was honestly amazed, because she has a few moments where I thought, in terms of my writing, “This is exactly what I want to say, but am I not being too literal? Am I not being too serious with theory?” No—she just makes it natural.
Oh yeah, it sounds like she’s just articulating her only ideas. I think it’s a really great performance. Someone told me the other day that she was originally supposed to be the other character? The younger actress played by Chloë Grace Moretz?
She could have been. It was something we discussed, but she wanted Valentine. I offered the other part, at one point, and she basically said, “No, but no thanks.” I would have been okay with her, but it would’ve been a completely different movie. This movie, it’s like a play. Based on who plays a part, the dynamics change completely. If Kristen had played Jo-Ann, the actress, I think she would’ve been a much darker and much sadder character, in many ways. But then the youth of Chloë—she turned 17 when we were shooting—makes it just some goofy character. She has some depth, but at the same time there’s distance, there’s irony. Ultimately, a lot of things fall into place, in terms of the narrative through the casting, through the difference of a few years between Kristen and Chloë. They both have something like six years difference, which is huge at that age. All of a sudden, it’s two completely different layers—there’s no overlap.
There’s also the idea of real-world corollaries. In the scene, in particular, in which Valentine is defending Chloë’s character, there’s an element of self-defense. It’s Kristen Stewart defending Kristen Stewart. Was this dialogue written with her in mind?
No, it was not written with her in mind; absolutely not. But I think that she really had fun with the notion of dealing with celebrity culture, but from this slightly oblique angle. I think that if she had played Jo-Ann, it would have been a bit too obvious. Here, I think it’s so smart of her, because she can have the right distance. She can distance herself and have that really smart perspective of it. The thing is that it also brings another layer to the film, in the sense that this is a movie where the actresses don’t blend into the characters; they remain visible, in the sense that you, watching this movie, using whatever you know or Juliette Binoche, or whatever you imagine of Juliette Binoche—same thing about Kristen, and same thing about Chloë. Even the slight distance that Kristen takes from the character and from those issues is made funnier by the fact that we are aware from the distance. It’s never completely Valentine speaking. It’s Valentine, and it’s Kristen, and it’s the same about Chloë. Chloë, she’s the age of that character; she could be one of those starlets, except she’s smarter, so she’s able just to catch it, and to parody it. But still: she could be like that. She could have been like that. It was an option to her.
I think some of my colleagues have been dubbing the Kristen night-drive scene as the Demonlover moment in the movie. What was the thinking behind that scene? It looks amazing.
Well, you want the legend, or you want the reality?
Hey, it’s fine if it was arbitrary. You can tell me.
Okay, well, I wrote the scene as the one moment where we have this tiny glimpse into Valentine’s real world, which is completely different. It’s just a tiny window that opens and closes. She has a life. It’s eventually sad, but there’s the whole world there. She’s not just Juliette’s assistant. So I kind of needed that moment, and I was happy to express that moment with images, because of all the talk, and the relationships, and things, so I thought, “Why not deal with them in completely visual terms? Let’s make them strong, as strong as I can.” So all of a sudden I knew I wanted to use music, and loud music, at that moment. But then I filmed her in the car, I filmed the fog, I filmed the car in the fog—I like fake fog, obviously—and then I had second unit stuff. The guy shot the road driving up the hill in real fog.
And then you just trumped it up a bit in the editing room?
I tried to cut it in a fairly conventional way, but I thought it was deadly boring. I thought the second unit guys who had been filming the fog had not done such a great job, I thought that the fake fog looked fake, I thought that whatever Kristen was doing was great, but then not explicit enough; so I said, “Okay, why not put everything together, and just do this tiny experimental moment in the film.”
There’s one shot in particular—it’s a superimposition that makes it look like Kristen is standing in the middle of the road, in the fog. You feel like it’s a charged moment, and you wonder what’s going to happen here.
I feel like the whole thing just gave tension, and for some reason I knew after the driving scene there were the clouds—that was always written in the screenplay—but somehow it took us to the cloud moment in a much more interesting way than whatever I had imagined initially, so it kind of happened in the editing room.
It also feels of a piece with the later scene when they drive home a little drunk from the casino; it’s another element where you feel like something is going to break. And then of course it does.
Yeah, when Val disappears, basically their relationship has finished. It has gone all the way; there’s basically nothing left to say.
Please note: With all Olivier's interviews, we only post Kristen mentions. Therefore, please do read the full interviews at the source if you wish.