Rose Juliette Binoche, star of such films as Blue and The Unbearable Lightness of Being, is often described by her directors as "luminous," "angelic" and "mysterious". On this program, Anthony Minghella, the director of her new film, The English Patient, called her quote - his "favorite actress in the world". In the film, which won the Golden Globe award for Best Drama, she plays Hana.
I'm pleased to have her on this broadcast. Welcome. It's great to have you here.
Binoche It's nice to be here.
Rose Tell me - I'm in love with this movie, as you probably have heard. Michael was here. Anthony was here. Willem Dafoe was here. Kristin was here, which I know you talked about. Were you in love with the book from the first reading?
Binoche Oh, yes. Very much so. I read it in English. I didn't understand everything because it was quite difficult. Then I read the script and I fell in love with the script. I couldn't even finish the script because - the last pages - I was crying so much, I couldn't read through it. You know, there was too much of a rain in front of me. But then I read the book in French again because I wanted to know everything in it, and I really appreciated it.
Rose What was it that made it so powerful?
Binoche Well, you have time in the book to get inside of the characters, to lose yourself inside of the areas, you don't have time to lose yourself in movies. So a movie would be more linear as a book. But I think Anthony succeeded in the adaptation because he could back and forth so easily and get inside of different characters
Willem Dafoe's character. And so I think there was a great success in his work because it's so difficult to adapt the book. You know, it seems impossible.
Binoche And I know that Michael Ondaatje said to me once, "I'm so jealous of Anthony," because he made one of the best scenes ever, which is the scene in the chapel.
Rose Yes. Oh, I loved the chapel
-Hana - your character's flying up, looking at all the ceilings
Binoche And Michael said, "I would have loved to write this scene," you know? And he was so angry, in a way, that he couldn't write this scene anymore because the book was published.
Rose Yes. The part of Hana - for the audience who hasn't seen this film - tell me about Hana, first as written by Michael and then enlarged on by Anthony, and then interpreted by you.
Binoche Right. I think she's different from the book because she's - I would say she's almost darker in the book as in the film. But the interesting thing for the film was to start from the very low - you know: things happening, she's losing her boyfriend, she's losing her best girlfriend, she's losing almost everything, all the
Rose Everything she loves.
Binoche Exactly. And bit by bit, hope's coming back to her and taking care of this English patient, who's going through a very strange experience of being like a prisoner of his body and suffering so much. And light's coming back to him also. I think that the relationship they have together brings her back some kind of hope. So I think that in the film, you have a beginning, a middle and an end and, she's alone in the truck at the end of the movie, but yet she's full of life and she's ready for her own life, which, in the book, is more complex, in a way, because you don't know if she's mad or something. You know, there's so many things happening under. You're wondering sometimes. And there's this one scene - because some people said, you know, it's maybe too angelic in the movie, but there's the scene, when she takes this kind of cross to frighten the crows. This moment of kind of you don't know whether she's going to be mad or whats happening inside her. And that's so complex. When you imagine a film and when you see it, it's so different. So when you read a book and when you see a movie, it's so different too, you know?
Rose Did you - when you came to the character, and you had read the screenplay - did you sit with Anthony and talk about who she was?
Binoche Who she was: it's very difficult to tell. A person becomes what the situation entails, in a way. But my discovery, working with Anthony, was that he was asking me questions about
Rose Which was unusual for you because you're always asking questions of the director
Binoche I ask questions more than they do, because they're the answerers. And Anthony was searching for my answers and saying, "What do you think? What's your involvement in it?" And suddenly, I felt responsible for the movie. And for the Golden Globes last night - when was that? I'm so jet-lagged, I don't know anymore!
Rose It was over the weekend. I think it may have been Saturday or
Binoche Right, Saturday, and - no, Sunday night.
Rose Sunday night.
Rose Yes, Sunday night.
Binoche So last night - I know the day before - anyway -
Rose Were you there?
Binoche Yes, we were all there and well, not Willem and Naveen Andrews and Colin Firth - many actors, but yet we were all together on this table and we felt like, you know, we win all together, because it wasn't a film about one person. It was teamwork and so much energy and time spent together.
Rose Is it the best film experience you've ever had? Perhaps?
Binoche I think so. But I forget the past so easily, in a way.
Rose You do?
Binoche Yes, because it's better to be in the present, I think. More than thinking about the past.
Rose I do, too. When you approach a role, how do you prepare? How do you - I mean, you read this book in English, then you read it in French and then you had lots of questions and he had questions of you - the director.
Binoche The best thing is to be prepared for anything. So to open up and to be as
Rose To be open to experience and reaction.
Binoche Exactly. And to be present is the most difficult thing, actually, you know?
Rose Why is that?
Binoche Because you have to be there and listen to someone, you have to be totally there and open - physically, spiritually, psychologically, in every level. So that was the big work for me, in that sense, that anything could happen. So that's why sometimes you let it go more easily, in a way, when you're more prepared. You don't have the will of giving out something. You don't know what's going to happen. In the morning, I'm kind of - I don't know what's going to happen, so it's frightening and, at the same time, it's exciting and so I was full of - in the morning of every day, shooting. I was kind of joyful, but I was so
I was trembling all the time.
Rose Because you didn't know what was going to happen. You didn't know how you would react to
Binoche I remember Anthony - sometimes he was just saying, "Well, now forget everything. Just
Rose "Just go"
Binoche "Just go. Just forget about everything." And that was scary.
Rose Your parents were both stage actors.
Rose Divorced, but both in the theater. Is that why you became an actor, because you just had so much of that in your genes, that sense of love, of
Binoche It's so difficult to explain why you are an actor, but it's
Rose You went to Paris when you were 15
Binoche Uh-huh, but I was born in Paris.
Rose You were born in Paris. But you lived outside of Paris.
Rose And went to school in Paris at 15.
Rose Yes. Intending to be an actor?
Binoche Well, I didn't know whether I wanted to be a painter or an actress or whatever. I didn't mind, actually. It wasn't the purpose. It was just
Rose You were just open?
being creative and do something out of my hands, out of my mind and thoughts and feelings and that was it, you know. But it's true, as an actor, you involve yourself physically, and it's much more dangerous, in a way, but it's very exciting.
Rose You once said I thought was an amazing sense of insight insightful - you worked as a clerk in a store.
Rose And you said you learned as much from watching people in a store
Binoche It's the same thing when you're acting: you have to listen to people and you have to watch and observe and learn from that, otherwise you can't give something back on the camera because we act for the others, not for ourselves.
Rose Did Godard give you a break? Did he create a character for you?
Binoche I remember I did some tests
Rose That was early on?
Binoche That was my first casting -thing- and I came back, like, five times. It was a nightmare. And it's true, I wasn't chosen, and two weeks afterwards he phoned me up and said, "Well, I thought of a character for you. So I wrote something." And so that's why I ended up being in his movie. That was my first job.
Rose And did it make a difference for you?
Rose You didn't
Binoche You know, it's never finished. It's not because you've done that role, but you're going to
Rose It didn't open doors or anything?
Binoche I have never that it's
Now I can be - everything's fine. It's easy. It's never easy, you know, even when you've done something so special and even good. The next step is very difficult, because you don't know what - how shall I put it? Its just that I wish I could do another English Patient, but it's not that easy, to find that kind of movie.
Rose This is a clip in which Caravaggio, played by Willem Dafoe, is challenging you to ask the English patient - played by Ralph - his identity, claiming that he is a spy. Here it is.
Rose Wow. You've seen it five times. Normally, you don't watch your films more than once
Binoche No, just once and that's it. That's enough, usually. One time is enough, you know.
Rose Why is that? I mean, you - some actors like to watch it and watch it and are looking for ways that
Binoche Because I'm interested in the process of working, not very much in the result, in a way. But this film - half of it at least - I'm not in the movie, so I was discovering something I didn't know about. So that was a mystery for me that I wanted to see. And also, there were so many premieres everywhere and so, sometimes I felt like watching it. It's different when you watch a movie with your friends or your parents or your girlfriend or your boyfriend. Then it's - you feel like sharing that. Especially when you love the movie. But usually, the - what for? Why do you need to see that much. You've done it. You know the movie.
Rose What do you like best about acting?
Binoche It's to forget yourself.
Rose Becoming someone else.
Binoche Yes. Well, when you play a situation when you listen to someone, you forget about yourself. You're just inside of what's going on. That I love.
Binoche And also be part of a team It's very - it's individuals work, but at the same time, it's teamwork and if an ego is too strong, in a way, it breaks the energy. So I like when everything is working together and trying to do the best thing for the same purpose.
Rose And that's rare.
Binoche That happens sometimes. Blue was a good experience, as far as teamwork. It was good.
Rose Was he a good director?
Binoche Oh, yes. No doubt about it.
Rose Had an influence on you?
Binoche Every day - when I was shooting with him, of course.
Rose He died when? Six months ago? Was it about six months ago?
Binoche I think it's a little more than that.
Rose What was he like as a director?
Binoche First of all, he was a good person, which I think goes together sometimes. A good person being a good director because they try to help you. Some directors, they don't care about actors. They don't try to help you. They're more interested in what they think and how you should play that because they thought about it. It's like you have to be in the puzzle, and too much what they thought about. And making movies for me, it's different because its teamwork again. You're trying your best to get as close as possible with the other. And I think Kieslowski didn't care about himself, as I didn't care about myself. It was about the story of the film and doing the best we could.
Rose How much of what - of your talent and skill and craft as an actor is just who you are naturally? What does the person that you were born, the characteristics that you have, as much as it is study and practice and rehearsal and hard work - how much of it is just you were born with certain something luminescence - certain something
Binoche So you want me to define
Rose Yes. I mean, it just seems that you have something that's beyond craft, too, I mean, that you brought to the
Binoche Well, your experience and - it's so, when I involve myself in a movie, Sometimes I know without knowing. I know because it's my intuition, so I work mostly with my intuition and it comes out of probably childhood. But I don't have a specific way of working. It depends on the movie and it changes all the time. Kieslowski would do only one take, rehearse, like, four or five times and then do just one take. And I was used to doing another film with a young director called Leos Carax, which was Les Amants du Pont Neuf. We did about 40 takes each time, sometimes more than 40 takes. And so it was the reverse for me and I felt very uncomfortable to start with. I asked Kieslowski: "It's impossible. You have to allow me to do another take, at least two takes so I can make a mistake." And I was so furious sometimes because when the camera didn't work, we would do another take because of the camera or because of sound, because of whatever, light, whatever. And I say, "Well, lets say that I'm a machine and it doesn't work and that technically I had a problem. Is that okay with you?" And so the first month of shooting, he let me have my second take most of the time, but it was a fight each time, which is very tiring for me and so the second month I was so exhausted by it, I said, "Well, okay. It's your film. One take! it's your problem, it's not mine!"
Rose And so what did he say: 'Fine"?
Binoche Oh, he said, "Fine", because he said "It's nonsense to do another take when you can do it only one take which is just fine". Also he was used - you know, in Poland he was used to
Rose Shooting fast.
do just one take because there was no money.
Rose No film.
Binoche No film ...
no nothing. You just have
as condensed as possible.
Rose The director was Leos Carax? Am I saying that right?
Rose Of the Pont Neuf.
Rose Yes? Am I saying that
Binoche Les Amants du Pont Neuf
Rose Yes. It took him three years to make that film because of financing and everything else. You two - you did nothing else during that three years?
Binoche That's true.
Rose Out of a commitment to him and to the film.
Rose That says something about dedication and loyalty and
Binoche Well, I think when you engage yourself, you have to do it.
Rose And the intensity of all that impacted on the relationship?
Binoche Yes and no. It's funny because at the same time, my tears are coming back to me because it was a painful experience, in a way. But at the same time
Binoche Because we didn't have money. But I learned a lot. I learned so much about it.
Rose Well, it just - that's the best experience, though, in a sense, if you - it's painful, but it's two people struggling to do something together. You know, you pay a price. There's a toll.
Binoche Well, it was positive at the end because, first of all, we really did it, against big waves and against a lot of bad thoughts and things coming out outside, but
Rose Was it crushing for you that it didn't do as well as it might have?
Binoche Well, you shouldn't get too much - as an actor, I think, too much involved into the success of a film. Sometimes it works and each time I've been trying my best, so, you know, it has nothing to do with the result of whether it's going to work or not because it's sort of - it's another world for me. When I'm in the front of camera, I'm not thinking about whether it's going to work or not. You're doing your best. You only
Rose You're living the part.
Binoche Yes, you're trying to do the best film. So if you think of the result while you are making it, I think it's - Imagine a painter trying to put the right color to please the person who's going to buy it.
Rose You have to please yourself.
Binoche You have to commit yourself and to be as close as possible as the others
Rose Let me just set up a scene in Blue, because we talked about that, and before we leave it - this is a scene where your character meets her dead husband's mistress. What else do we need to know about it?
Binoche Well, that my husband and daughter died in a car accident, at the beginning of the movie, and that she's going to quit everything. But at the same time, she's going to search for other things. And she's discovering - it's a quite complicated story, isn't it - But she's discovering that he had a mistress, so she wants to find her. And she meets her. She's looking for her and she meets her and there's this scene and she sees that shes pregnant. And at the end, she's going to give their house to that woman.
Rose Ok, Roll tape!
Rose That was Blue, a film that a lot of people admired, and your performance. Unbearable Lightness of Being: a good experience for you?
Binoche It was a marvellous experience.
Binoche Because of Saul Zaentz, because of Daniel Day-Lewis, because of Phil Kaufman, because of
Rose Saul Zaentz is the producer, who also produced The English Patient?
Binoche Yes. He's my father of movies!
Rose Your father of movies??
Rose He's produced all the movies.
Binoche "Come on! Come and work with us!"
Rose Oh, is that what he says? So he's responsible for you coming to
Binoche I think Anthony and him, you know, they thought the same thing because Anthony told me that at the first page he was reading the book, he thought of me in the movie, so I suppose that they agreed.
Rose Yes. And you got the call?
Rose From Anthony or from Saul?
Rose And you said, "Yes. Yes."
Binoche Oh, yes. Because I trust him.
Rose Because you trust him?
Rose If he thought it was right, it would be right.
Binoche Oh, yes!
Rose And what about Unbearable Lightness of Being? Same thing? Saul thought about you?
Binoche No, not as easy as this one!
Rose That was - was that Philip Kaufman or Saul again?
Binoche That was kind of both of them. But they asked me for Sabina, which is the other part. But I thought I was much too young for the part. But I came with my paintings and stuff, you know, because Sabina is a painter in the movie, and they asked me to read Teresa's scene because Lena Olin was pregnant at that time, so they didn't know whether she was going to deliver the child. But I think it was a trick, in a way, because they hired someone for Teresa, but I think they thought maybe I could do it. So sometimes this work is tough. You're in a movie and suddenly you get fired, in a way, rejected. But I read the scene and then they wanted me in the movie, so I had to get on this - The Unbearable - three days after, they said yes, so it was very quick.
Rose If you look at the parts you've played, including Damage, including The Unbearable, including Blue, including The English Patient,
Binoche Wuthering Heights
Wuthering Heights, with Ralph, as well. Is there any common denominator, in terms of the kinds of characters you play?
Rose Yes. That you're playing them.
Rose I mean, if I looked at all of them in a row, would I see - do you see anything
Binoche I think there's a connection between The Unbearable, Mara and The English Patient.
Rose Which is?
Binoche Which is more open.
Rose More open?
Rose Darker or lighter?
Binoche You know, in Mara, there's sad moments and, I mean, it's not only sad, because it doesn't mean anything, but it's just fresh or vulnerable moments that you go through. And still, in The English Patient, you've got a - there's some kind of lightness coming out of it. And sometimes the more you're fragile, the more you're strong. And that would be the thing: strength and doubts at the same time. I think we need earthquakes in life, otherwise we're always the same.
Rose To shake us up.
Binoche To move on, to open up, to grow, to be more human. Because we're too educated sometimes.
Rose Yes. We get too caught up in our fixed ways.
Binoche And believing in ourselves so much, especially in our business, you know?
Rose Yes. When was the last earthquake in your life?
Binoche I was involved in a movie and I didn't get along with the director and I was
I was fired.
Rose Claude Berri.
Binoche Yes. Last year. And it was a real earthquake for me. But I think I'm going to thank him one day. Even, - I got so- I didn't understand when that happened, and I think he was a coward because he didn't tell me in front. He asked somebody else to tell me. So that was a real shake for me.
Rose Oh, God! That's
Binoche That's the way it is, you know. But I think
Rose He didn't have the guts to come and tell you that he didn't want you?
Binoche Well, I think that some people can't handle the situation and that was it. I was hurt when that happened, but at the same time, I understand because some people can and some people can't. And maybe, we'll talk to one another one day about it, but it was a real shock because I was coming out of The English Patient and was open, like this
wanting to do the best as I could and, actually, I couldn't. I couldn't on this movie. So sometimes
Rose Why not? Do you know why you couldn't? Because of him or because of something else?
Binoche I won't accuse anybody, but I think that there's some spirits that can't meet and you'd better get away when when you can't have a relationship.
Rose Oil and water. The expression "oil and water, they don't mix".
Binoche Well, the source - you know, you have to begin with the same source and the same purpose. If you don't have the same purpose, then it's - you get in trouble.
Rose Yes, It was painful at the time because you felt rejected, you felt
Binoche Because I was so involved in the movie. I wanted to tell this story. Lucie Aubrac, who is a real character - the resistance during the war in France - and I love her and we we're still friends and have a wonderful relationship. And I wanted to make this movie for her. It wasn't for another purpose and I think Claude wanted to make another movie, in a way, and
Rose But you were strong. My sense of you is that on the set and in your relationship with directors
Binoche I'm myself. I don't think I'm strong or weak. I'm just myself and it means to react as you are and not trying to hide or to be somebody. You know, it's up front. And that's why Anthony and I, we got along so well, because it was so obvious. It's not cheating around and trying to have the cover. You say that?
Rose Yes. Yes.
Binoche You know, you
Rose The cover?
try to pull it. It wasn't about that. It was about being oneself and be free on the screen.
Rose And that's where the performance is so much better?
Binoche Oh, yes, because then people can read through you, like a book.You become a book. People can imagine or do some work with you, not only watch and everything's done - you know, fires, "Boom, boom, boom, boom, boom!" and it's done. It's over. It's about what's inside of someone and what's going on.
Rose Are you happiest when you're in front of a camera? Because you're someone else
Binoche It's not because of the camera, it's because of the people around the camera. That's why, when you're choosing a film and you're choosing to work with a director, and the actors, of course, and, of course, the whole crew, it's so important.
Rose I didn't mean so much because you're in front of a camera' therefore you're being recorded, but more in a sense you're doing what you love to do and, in a sense who you want to
Binoche Find the note! Dustin Hoffman was saying that on that night - the Golden Globes night. And to find the note is the most important thing and that's
Rose Find the note??
Binoche Find the note! You know, like, Igor Stravinsky was trying to find a note. It's not about premiers. It's not about the outside thing - you know, all the consequence of it. It's the real work. That's why I still want to be an actress. Success is not enough.
Rose Yes. Youre quite wonderful and I thank you for coming.
Binoche Thank you very much.
Rose It's a real pleasure to have you here.
Rose Good luck.
Rose Find the point!
Rose Note! Find the note! Yes, find the note