Juliette Binoche: The Secret Meaning of Binoche
“What roles have you turned down in the movies?” I ask.
“It’s not that I turn down roles–for me, it’s like I choose others.”
Binoche is definitely doing doublespeak, but with her beautiful accent, it’s hard to get annoyed. “But you were offered the role Laura Dem played in Jurassic Park, right?”
Binoche nods. “But then I decided to do Blue.” And since Jurassic Park was one of the biggest grossing movies ever, and only 13 people ever saw Blue, you can see right away that she did the smart thing.
“I can see that look you’re giving to yourself,” Binoche says, catching me. “What I’m saying is that if I had been free, I probably would have done it.”
“When they were looking around for someone to play Sabrina, you would have been perfect. You are the closest thing we have to Audrey Hepburn…”
“I made the test for it,” Binoche says in a barely audible whimper. “I wanted it so badly. But I think now that nobody could have made that movie good.”
“You did? You would’ve been so good.”
“Don’t tell me that, and don’t tell them that.”
“You got fired from a film last year,” I say. “It was something Claude Berri was directing. Not that any of us know who Claude Berri is, but what happened?”
“Really? You don’t know his work? He did …”
I wave her off. I loved Jean de Florette too, but what I want to know is why Berri fired her.
“Well,” she says, “Even the first day, there was a feeling of anger on the set. I didn’t understand. It wasn’t the right spirit for the film. The director didn’t want to hear what I had to say. And that, for me, makes a very unhappy experience. When you’ve had experiences like I did with Anthony Minghella [on The English Patient] or with Krzysztof Kieslowski [on Blue] you cannot go back to this world of ‘I’m the boss and you shut your mouth.’ Berri couldn’t bear to hear what I had to say.
“Are you hungry?” she asks me, shifting gears. “Should I make you something to eat?”
“Hors d’oeuvres?” I ask, that being the second of the three words I know in French.
“No,” she says seriously, “I thought we should eat a good meal.” I follow her into the kitchen, where a large wood table dominates the room. She opens the refrigerator and takes out a roasted chicken, which she proceeds to cut up and put in a pot, adding a bowl of carrots and peas. While that simmers, she cuts an avocado in half, pours balsamic vinegar into the wells, and hands one half to me. Then she takes out a plate of tomatoes, mozzarella, basil and olives, and sets that down, too.
“Nobody I’ve interviewed has ever made me lunch before,” I tell her.
“Is that true?” she asks, dead surprised. “Don’t you eat with them?”
“Yes, but it’s always catered or we’re in a restaurant.”
“I hope you don’t mind this …”
The food is fabulous. And Binoche isn’t one of those waifs who just picks at her food. Although she looks like she barely weighs a hundred pounds, she eats ravenously. When the chicken is heated, she puts the pot on the table, ladles out two pieces for each of us, and eats that, too. Then she uses the back of her hand to wipe her mouth.
“When you were a kid, did you look like this? Were you pretty then?”
“I wasn’t conscious of how I looked.”
“That means you were pretty. Because if you were ugly, you would’ve known. When you go to a party, do you gravitate towards the men or towards the women?”
“Towards the light,” Binoche says with a giggle.
“Do you know who runs the big studios in Hollywood? Or care?”
“No. I met a few of them, but I wouldn’t remember the names. Also they’re changing all the time, I heard.”
“What’s the best lie you’ve ever been told in Hollywood?”
“The best line?” Binoche asks.
“No, the best lie. You know, like, ‘We won’t use the nude scene unless you approve it.'”
“Lie, line, they have about the same meaning in Hollywood, no? But the best lie is probably, Juliette, you’re the greatest.'”
“Do you like to gossip with your friends?”
“Is that what we’re doing here?” Binoche asks suspiciously.
“No, this is called talking.”
“I hate gossip,” says Binoche. “Do you gossip?”
“Juliette, in America gossip is a national pastime. Of course I gossip with my friends. It’s not like the French don’t.”
“Maybe they do, but not me. I don’t understand it. People want to know the most intimate things. Why?”
“Perhaps they think your life is more interesting than theirs.”
Binoche thinks I’m kidding.
“When you made The Horseman on the Roof, you fell in love with your costar, Olivier Martinez. Does he live here with you?”
Binoche gives a tiny shake to her head, which seems to be friendly Parisian for “Don’t even think about going there.” She is notoriously private, but it’s rumored that Olivier moved into this house with her last spring. And when the front door opened, I caught a glimpse of the back of a man who certainly could have been Martinez. Martinez is not the father of Binoche’s son–that man is a professional scuba diver named Andre Halle, and I’m sure Binoche is not going to talk about him, either. And she’s definitely not going to speak about Daniel Day-Lewis, who was reportedly her lover during the making of The Unbearable Lightness of Being.
“Let’s talk about Damage,” I say, bringing up the movie that Binoche did with Jeremy Irons, who I can only hope was not her lover. “That was an incredible book about obsession, but I think it got ruined as a film.”
“As a lot of people know, I wasn’t very happy shooting that movie,” she says. “It was a difficult film to make. Jeremy and I had wonderful conversations–I find him very intelligent–but it was difficult to work with him on the set. And I’m not hiding it, because that’s what I feel. At the same time, I don’t want to judge it, because you have to allow people to be different, and it doesn’t mean that he’s like that now.”
“What about the sex in Damage? The movie was supposed to be sexy, but there was that scene where he’s banging your head on the floor. . . and you kept doing it standing up. I’ve tried that in real life, and it doesn’t work too well.”
Binoche laughs. “I think Louis Malle had a different vision for the film than I did. But what can I do now?”
I am hesitating at the thought of bringing up Binoche’s film Blue because I always have such an emotional reaction even to thinking about it. It’s about a woman overcoming a painful catastrophe and then finding out an absolutely disillusioning secret and dealing with that and becoming an amazing, loving person. I cried my eyes out when I saw it and now I can feel my throat tightening.
“In Blue, you play a woman who loses her husband and her child in a car accident, and then, afterwards, finds out that her husband was not the man she thought he was …”
Right at this point, I’m not kidding, I burst into tears! I am completely flustered. Binoche stops, the food in her mouth unchewed, while she takes all this in.
“Are you OK?” she finally asks.
“Yes, fine,” I say. It’s pretty apparent that I’m not. “It’s just that movie really struck a chord in me. I’m so sorry.” Tears are spilling onto the table. My nose is running.
Binoche just smiles and rubs my hand. “It’s OK,” she says. “Even better than OK. For a movie to make someone feel so much is a wonderful thing for an actor to hear.”
God, no wonder she got cast as Hana.
“Kieslowski was a great man,” Binoche continues, speaking of the director who died last year. “He had the capacity to make pictures that talked about more than just the story. Blue was one of the happiest experiences I ever had, because he knew how to communicate. You never had to guess. Almost everything in that film was done in one take. I’d ask a question, he’d say yes or no, and that was it–I understood completely. When he died my heart broke. That man could really make you cry.”
Binoche stops, afraid she’s making everything worse. But I’ve finally pulled myself together.
“With your Oscar,” I say, “you’re going to be offered a lot more American films, don’t you think?”
“I’m not sure. You never know how that will happen. I will look at each thing separately. I know definitely when I can do something and when I can’t.”
“What can’t you do?”
“Wuthering Heights I think I can’t do,” Binoche says with a laugh.
She is referring to a film that she did, indeed, do. The 1992 remake of Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights, which starred Ralph Fiennes as Heathcliff–a role that reportedly brought him to Steven Spielberg’s attention and got him cast in Schindler’s List–was a dismal commercial failure.
“I think if Jane Campion had directed it,” says Binoche, “it would’ve been quite different.” Yeah, and the only role Fiennes would have gotten after that would have been the one in Strange Days.
“As a spokesperson for Lancome’s perfume, Poeme, you’ve said you believe Rimbaud is a great poet. What exactly is great about him?”
“The thing about Rimbaud,” she says, as if he really does have anything to do with Lancome or any perfume, “is that he is clear about things. By that I mean that he is someone you can see through…”
Hmmmmm. Binoche has a flawless command of English, so I have to consider this carefully.
“He knows more than the others, he knows without knowing. I think he is that kind of writer.”
For the first time, I think something may have been lost in the translation.
“You debated whether to be a painter or an actor. Do you still paint? What kinds of things?”
“Wait, I’ll show you some.” Binoche goes upstairs and returns with a handful of black-and-white pen-and-ink drawings. They are pictures from the set of The English Patient. There’s one of Ralph Fiennes lying on the bed in the hospital covered in gauze. A few are of the scene when they take the patient out into the rain. All of them are remarkable.
“It’s funny–you had to spend the whole of The English Patient looking at that icky, gooey, misshapen talking head …”
“Oh no, not at all. I had a great time with Ralph. I tried to make him laugh all the time, which he couldn’t, because of all the makeup. I got so used to seeing him like that, with all the bandages and things, that it felt right to me.”
“So,” I say, looking over the drawings, “you’re gorgeous, you can eat whatever you want and not gain an ounce, and you’re talented in all kinds of things.”
Binoche stares at the pictures, too, as if trying to see where I am getting all this information.
“I recently did this story with David Duchovny,” I say, “and I was telling him that I play poker and that one of my little tricks is to make myself blush, because it makes the other players think I’m lying. And he said, ‘You know, I never realized that people could blush on command until I saw Juliette Binoche in The Unbearable Lightness of Being. There’s a scene in that film where she sleeps with someone and she’s shy and embarrassed, and you can actually see the blush creeping into her cheeks. And I love that scene so much that I now call blushing Binoching.”
Binoche laughs. “That’s so funny. When I first met Kieslowski, he mentioned that scene to me. And I went back to watch it. Because mostly I see the film once, and it’s enough for me. I turn the page and make another movie. But I saw Unbearable Lightness again because he wanted me to blush in Blue.”
“He wanted you to Binoche …”
“Yes, exactly. We made one minute of the scene, and I was trying to blush and I couldn’t! He was getting mad, telling me how to blush. But you know what was so good about Unbearable Lightness? It was the makeup artist. She knew not to put makeup on me. And that’s why you can really see what’s happening with my face. In the old days, they had those big lights, and the women wore lots of makeup, and they looked like flowers. Now it’s different because the quality of the film is so precise that you see everything. So when I did that blushing, you could see it. I blush easily, as I laugh easily, I cry easily, it all happens very quickly. But I could never blush for Kieslowski. They must have had too much makeup on me. But let me ask you something–Who is this David Duchovny? Is he that Swedish actor? Oh, no–he’s a journalist, right? Or is he the man who …”
I stop her before she starts guessing butcher, baker, candlestick maker. “He’s the star of The X-Files.” She looks even more bewildered.
“It’s a television show…”
She nods. “Oh, now I understand,” although I doubt that she does. “Are you still hungry?” she asks. “Do you want dessert?”
“No,” I say. “Merci (my third, and last, French word). I guess I’ll be going now. Unless you want me to do the dishes …”
“Really?” asks Binoche, her eyes widening. “They make you do that?” I leave her shaking her head, wondering whether “they” do or not.
Martha Frankel interviewed Jeremy Northam for the July ’97 issue of Movieline.