Cécile de France, an actress who burst onto the scene with an incredible performance in Switchblade Romance (aka High Tension), and now finds herself wondering about the afterlife in Clint Eastwood’s latest directorial offering, Hereafter, out this week on DVD and Blu-ray.
We quized de France about working with the legend that is Clint Eastwood, hardly seeing your co-star, and dealing with severed heads on the set of low budget horror.
Do you enjoy watching your films back? Have you seen Hereafter?
Yes, usually I like to see the movie, because I don’t have a problem with looking at myself. Also, because the film is very close to the script from Peter Morgan.
When I read the script the first time I was very- I liked it very much, because it’s cleverly done, you know? Three characters converging towards each other. And when I saw the film, it was very close to the script. It was not a big surprise, of course. I wasn’t there when Matt Damon and the twins were shooting in London, but because it’s very close to the script it wasn’t a big surprise, and because it’s shot in a very simple way. And I was very, very impressed by the English parts. I don’t remember, what’s the name of the actress who played the mother?
The mother of the twins?
Lyndsey Marshal. Yeah, Lyndsey Marshal! She’s a great actress. And also I was very touched by the loneliness of the three characters. You couldn’t feel it in the script, and for me, in my very subjective opinion, I think that Clint Eastwood brought out the lonely part of the characters. Because it’s talking about, of course, it’s talking about death and life after death, but most of the story is about three characters, normal people with their weakness and defects. And so the loneliness is very interesting, to feel what they feel in their lives.
Did you have discussions with Clint Eastwood about that? Because he has a very macho image. Did you talk with him about the emotional side of things?
Not at all, not at all. Because, with Clint Eastwood, he trusts everybody. He trusts all the members of his crew, he trusts all of the actors, he trusts everybody. So, for him, he knows that we know what our job is. And because the subject is very personal, whether you can believe or not. If you didn’t have a personal experience in your life, you don’t have an opinion.
So, we never talk about the subject. We never talk about the emotion of the characters, because he trusts us so much. He just offers you the freedom and the responsibility to build your character as you want to do.
And because it’s Clint Eastwood, everybody on the set is very prepared and we wanted to adapt ourselves to his direction. And the shooting is very quick. He only does one take and the day finishes earlier than it was supposed to, because he wants to capture the magic moment of the first shot.
And so, I think, he doesn’t like to talk about the emotional difference. He prefers to just let you do what you think, what you know about your job and what you feel. Because, I think, for him the casting is the most important part. And I think that once he had chosen us actors, he just let us do what we wanted to do.
So, how do you approach that? I take it that style – one take, or very few takes – isn’t the same as a lot of what you’ve done. Does it make the emotional stuff harder or easier?
No, for me, because I’m an actress who prepares a lot. So, I prepared a lot for my character. I read a lot of testimonials of near-death experience and about a lot of people who, in real life, live this kind of experience as my character. So, I built my character at home and I wasn’t frustrated to- because my job is to adapt myself to any kind of direction and because it’s Clint Eastwood!
So, if Clint Eastwood says after the first shot, “Okay, let’s do another sequence. Let’s do another scene. We change the set and everything,” of course you don’t feel afraid or frustrated, because it’s Clint Eastwood. You’re in good hands. So, he just let us follow him and it was not a problem for me.
I’ve worked with very different directors who have very, very different ways of directing, and for me, I’ve learned to adapt myself to any kind of direction, and for me, it is very important to be able to do that. And fortunately, it’s a way of shooting that I love, because I’m from theatre, and when you used to do theatre, you used to prepare and rehearse a lot, and when you enter on the stage it’s one shot again. It’s the same. So, it was very exciting. It’s like the Olympic games, you know? [laughs]
You must be prepared, and when it’s your turn, it’s your turn. It’s now or never. So, each actor can do that.
You mentioned it’s a film about loneliness. What I found quite interesting is that you didn’t actually spend much time on screen with Matt Damon, or the other principal cast members. Did you see them at all on set?
Unfortunately, Matt Damon and I had only two days of shooting and very quick. And the two boys, the twins, I just met them very, very quickly when we were shooting the last scene at the book fair. And that’s all. That’s it.
But it’s the same for the story. You just have to concentrate on the journey of your character and it’s not your business to know what happened to them, so that was not a problem. And it’s a good thing when you discover the film to discover the two other parts.
And you’ve said how surprised you were that the script stayed so close to what it was. Do you find that, on other films, things have changed a lot when you see the finished film? Are you sometimes surprised by the finished film?
It depends. No, usually it is always like that, it’s the same. Because I work like that. If I say yes to a project, it’s because when you read the script, perhaps with experience, you can feel what it could be at the end. It’s not very difficult. But with Clint Eastwood, of course, you don’t know, because it’s a very special subject and because it could be a ghost story movie in the hands of another director. The script could be very, very different.
And because I think that Clint Eastwood is European in his way of filming, because he is interested in the passionate aspect of the real life. and because he’s shooting universal subjects. And also he has something quite European, because when you can see his films you can feel he takes his time to shoot the silence, for example. Or, for example, he has chosen me. I’m not famous in the United States, you know? [laughs]
And it’s clever, because she’s French. I’m Belgian, but I’m a French speaker, so he prefers to stick with the reality and he prefers to stick with simplicity instead of- It’s not a science fiction film. Another director could do a very different film from the same script.
You may not be that well known in America, but a lot of people might know you from an earlier film, High Tension, in a way, the complete opposite of Hereafter. There, you got dirty, bloodied in the cold and dark, but here you’re in Hawaii, the French Alps, and London. Is there a big difference for you in shooting each? Because High Tension is such a grueling film to watch, in a good way.
Yes, but it’s always the same. Every film, even if it’s in Hollywood, even if it’s in Romania with a very, very, very low budget like High Tension [laughs], it’s about human being relationships. It’s between the director and you.
Of course, the comfort, that changes, of course, the shooting. But the professional aspect, that doesn’t really change. And everything changes if you are not happy. Fortunately, I am very happy all the time, because when I choose a project I really, really want to do it. I don’t care if we have money or not. That’s not the problem.
And how was it on the set of High Tension? It’s filled with severed hands, decapitations and some really intense scenes. Was there fun and laughter? Can you have fun and laughter on a set like that?
Yes. I was very interested by the special effects, which were made by Giannetto De Rossi, who is a big old master of special effects. Everything in High Tension was made by hand, by his hand. There is no digital effects.
But the funniest thing is that, I don’t know why, but I always have a physical part in every film I’ve shot. [laughs] It’s always very physical.
It’s good, because I’m from theatre and I didn’t expect to do cinema. For me, cinema, the movies, they keep the body from the head. And because I’m from theatre, I used to play with my body ,so that’s a very good thing. I’m happy to have a physical part in High Tension, in Hereafter, and in a lot of French movies and Belgian movies.
But its not by chance directors choose me for physical parts. I like to do that. I like to tell a story also with the body. It’s important, because you can tell a lot of things.
And Hereafter isn’t your first American film. You’d previously done Around The World In 80 Days. Would you like to do more American films, or big budget films like that?
You know, each project, it depends if there’s a good script, a very good character and a very good director. And for Around The World In 80 Days there was- At first I said no, because I was on a theatre tour and I said, “No, no. I’m sorry.”
And I met Frank Coraci, the director, and he came to France three times to meet me and say, “Please, please!” [laughs] I didn’t want to leave my friends in the theatre tour. But they said, “Okay, you can go. Do it.”
And because that film joined my dreams of when I was a kid, because the film was pirates, cowboys, an adventure film, that was food for my imagination. I was inventing a lot of adventure films in my head, adventure stories, and so when life offers you the opportunity to make it real, you can’t say no.
I’m a very lucky person. [laughs] So, each time I choose a project it’s- I have a son, and I bring a lot of energy to it and I involve myself very strongly in each project. So, I don’t care if it’s in Africa, in Asia, in Hollywood, or in Belgium. It’s all about a very good character, where I can bring something from my imagination. I can create something, you know? I don’t want to be bored. And if there is a good script which I really love, and if there is a very good director who is a genius, of course I jump at it.
Cécile de France, thank you very much.
Hereafter is out now on DVD and Blu-ray.