Coco Avant Chanel - Audrey Tautou Exclusive!
Coco Avant Chanel is in cinemas now - here, in a TV2 Movies
exclusive, acclaimed French actress Audrey Tautou talks about the
role of Gabrielle "Coco" Chanel.
Did you know the story of Chanel and her past?
AUDREY TAUTOU: I knew just a bit about her personality, the main lines, the arrogance, the pride. I knew that she had a strong nature, authoritarian and bossy, and a future working woman. Apart from that, I knew nothing. I had about the same knowledge as most of the people in the world. We know Maison Chanel, Coco Chanel; we have an idea, or maybe a face, but we do not really know her personality, and, finally, why her singularity and her destiny are so amazing.
What attracted you most in her personality? Were there mysterious aspects of it, things people may not be aware of?
AUDREY TAUTOU: What attracted me most is precisely that behind a strong façade, there was a gigantic flaw: pretending to be so strong, you have to be hiding something as big as your strength. So, I think that her desire to lie about her youth-the fact that she was an orphan, and the fact she was a self-made person, how she grew up-she didn't want to take that to make her glory "nice," like "You see where I came from?" No. She was so proud that she didn't want people to feel sorry for her. She just wanted to be equal to the others, and had this desire to keep intimacy for herself, and keep her youth, her past, her sufferings, to herself. I think that's what makes this character so mysterious and so powerful.
The clothes are so emblematic and important in this movie, they are almost characters in themselves.
AUDREY TAUTOU: Yes, because she saw in clothes a way to obtain what she wanted for herself-the evolution of her nature, I mean. She wanted freedom in her clothes, the freedom of movement; yes, to move, to breathe. So, in fact, awareness, a consciousness of being, her nature extended to her clothes. The clothes are not an accessory; it's not a decoration. Before, women were wearing decorations. People had to see that they were rich. To show that they were rich, they had to show that they had clothes and jewels. But she was very unique because she knew that that was not elegance, because elegance comes from inside. She was very clever, very modern, very attentive. So, she invented a new style for herself. She had such a different nature from the other women that she was really a precursor because, in fact, she didn't abide by the conventions of others but others had to abide by hers. She felt that the position and the condition of women couldn't remain the way it was. It was something very personal. She wanted to become somebody, and it's not out of feminist protest that she behaved that way. We realize at the beginning that she doesn't want to be a fashion designer; she wants to be a dancer, a singer, an actress, but she has in herself that thing that she wants to be independent and to make it and move away from her condition.
Did you develop a taste for Chanel as a result of this project?
AUDREY TAUTOU: Well, I've always loved the Chanel style because, of course, it's the style of simplicity and very feminine and very French. It's really French elegance, but, no, I didn't develop a special taste after that. I was interested in the Chanel character, and with Anne Fontaine, we agreed to make a movie for people who are not crazy about fashion; it's too restrictive, it's not interesting. Her life and her character are so unusual in that she is more than what she did. Her personality was even stronger than anything she did. I mean, she made all those powerful things because of her personality, but her life as such is so extraordinary; her destiny is so dazzling that it makes her a very interesting personality.
Tell us more about the two male leads in the film: Benoît Poelvoorde, who plays Balsan; and Alessandro Nivola, who plays Boy Capel?
AUDREY TAUTOU: Benoît Poelvoorde is really an excellent actor. I did not know him personally but I had seen him in films. And Alessandro Nivola, who was acting in French, has this charm and mystery that brings a lot of contrast. These two men are very different, and it was very important for me to play next to them. Their characters were crucial men in the life of Chanel.
Anne Fontaine said it was unthinkable for her to make this film without you playing Coco Chanel, that you were born to play her. Did you have this kind feeling yourself?
AUDREY TAUTOU: I don't know if I was born to play her, but it's a character that has been surrounding me for a few years because I had some beginnings of projects in the past. But I wanted to find someone who would have the same point of view as me, not to make a huge biopic, just to illustrate some major events-to make a movie that uncovers the mystery, and goes inside her personality to understand how she made it. And, secondly, why she made it this way, and why her style, where it comes from, to go really deep inside her.
Did you feel she was a kindred spirit because you said you liked to play very strong women?
AUDREY TAUTOU: I really admire her integrity, her cleverness, how she was very modern for a woman at this time. I don't know if I really look like her but I can feel close to the idea of, 'I don't especially know what I want to do, but I know what I won't do.' I don't have special goals, or I 'm not ready to do everything for a career. I am not ambitious in this way, but when I wanted to be an actress, I knew what I wouldn't do. I am not a person who compromises. I never do that.
And that is why you identified with Chanel?
AUDREY TAUTOU: Yes, and also I like her very much because she managed in her way to free women. She had a very modern view for women. It was very unique; it was for her, but she was very clear-minded, so I admire that. Because I know her better, I am very sensitive about her character. She is really a heroine with such a brilliant spirit that I am very moved by this character; she was so intelligent, with such a sense of humour, a little genius.
How did you prepare for the role?
AUDREY TAUTOU: I read the books about her and I watched footage, but she was much older than the period we are concerned with. I wanted to see how she moved, yes, the little sparkle in her eyes; she was very clever. And I also looked at a lot of photos, because the photos allowed me to use my imagination, to think about what happened just before the photo was taken, so, I tried to just to know her as much as I could. I didn't want to play her as we know her in (film) footage because she was older. I'd say that she had become more professional and life had toughened her. But I wanted to be able to show in her youth some elements that she would keep forever. You see the way she stands, her grace, the way she smokes, some elements that you don't lose, I think, when you get older. I think the only things she lost or that may have diminished are her doubts. You had to feel that in her perception of life, she didn't know where she wanted to go. She knew what she didn't want to do, but before she could achieve and experience this success, it's just an inner chaos and it was important for people to understand that. The only thing that had to exist from the very start, even as a child, and what accompanies her throughout her life is her nature and her intelligence, this look she has on things that is more than a look, an obstinate and precise observation. This talent, this star she had over her head, she had it from the very beginning.
The scene in the end that was filmed in her apartment. It was a very emotional scene. What was your feeling being in that place, where she stood and watched the models?
AUDREY TAUTOU: Well, it was maybe the scariest scene to shoot for me, because we were shooting in the mythical staircase with the mirrors, and it was the final scene of the movie. We had only one day of shooting; we had no chance to do it again if there was a problem, so it was a huge pressure. Also because, of course, there were a lot of models and some people who were from the Chanel firm there, and also some people who had known her, and a lot of extras. So, I was very, very focused, I was thinking that if there was one particle of lack of confidence that came into me, I am dead! So, I was there; her apartment was just upstairs, thinking in my head, 'You are here, at home, and everyone around works for you.' No, but that's exactly what I was telling myself. I was the boss of all the shooting set. I couldn't get on this set feeling shy; I had to feel I was in charge.