Berenice Bejo on Old Hollywood, overnight stardom and “The Artist” – AWARDS ALLEY
By Sean O’Connell
Hollywoodnews.com: Sitting backstage in the green room for last month’s Hollywood Film Awards gala, a steady stream of actors, producers, screenwriters and directors waited patiently to tell Berenice Bejo how much they loved her new film, “The Artist.”
The charming, gracious beauty smiled and thanked Emma Stone, Viola Davis, Shailene Woodley and others as they heaped praise on Bejo and her delightful silent film. The kudos are expected to continue all Oscar season long. In “The Artist,” she plays a charismatic up-and-coming actress on a meteoric rise through the Hollywood stratosphere. Not coincidentally, Michel Hazanavicius’ Oscar contender is turning this talented beauty into an overnight sensation.
I was lucky enough to interview Bejo about “The Artist,” her director (who also happens to be her husband), the film’s Oscar chances and her most memorable celebrity encounter. Here’s Berenice Bejo:
HollywoodNews.com: How long ago did Michel first mention that he wanted to do a silent film?
Berenice Bejo: He talked about it back on “OSS 117,” a movie we did together almost six years ago. But he has had this in mind for at least 10 years. When we talked about it the first time, I thought, “OK, great. Let’s do it!” And then I moved on to something else. [Laughs] It was not something that I actually believed would be possible. But then, in 2009, when he started really thinking about it, I realized he was going to do it.
HollywoodNews.com: Does he have a ton of Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin films in his DVD collection?
Oh yes. His favorite director is Chaplin. But it’s not because he loves silent movies that he wanted to do one, actually. He just wanted to go back to the basics and have fun by playing with black-and-white cinematography. He’s a student of art. He wanted to be the one to tell the story without the help of actors, of dialogue. He wanted to play with images.
HollywoodNews.com: That’s interesting. Because of that, was the script very descriptive in terms of your movements, reaction shots and other elements that fed the performance?
You know, I have a feeling that if [her character] Peppy were in a talking movie, she would move in the exact same way, and talk the same. My approach to her was exactly the same. There are times in regular movies where you’ll have a scene without dialogue and the actors just move or look at each other. So in several scenes, I didn’t have to do anything out of the ordinary. Yet in other scenes, like maybe the interview scene, I had to trust my body language more than my voice because my voice was very loud and high. It was unbearable! I would excuse myself to the crew after every take! I don’t know why, but it would get so loud. I’d say, “I’m so sorry. I’m so bad!” And Michel would pull me aside and say, “No, it’s perfect. Come, look at the monitor. Do more. More! Play with your fur. Move your eyes very fast. Just have fun! The more you do, the more the people will understand that she is a little bit too much. She’s a little bit arrogant.” So yes, I did have to trust my body language more than my voice.
HollywoodNews.com: That reminds me of the scene on the studio stairs, where he’s on his way down while she’s obviously ascending.
That’s funny because when Michel was writing the script, he’d come home at different moments with ideas. And that was one of his strongest ideas from the very beginning. He’d say to me, “When George Valentin falls down, I want them to meet in a spot where she’s looking down on him, staring from the top.” The image has to tell the audience what is going on between them. But it was so hard for me. I had to be talking all of the time in that scene. Michel told me that if Peppy was going to become a movie star in the talkies, she’ll talk while George remains silent. … I had to talk again and again, and laugh and laugh. That scene was very hard.
HollywoodNews.com: I enjoyed watching so many celebrities from other films come up to you at the Hollywood Film Awards gala and tell you how much they love “The Artist.” That must be exciting.
[Laughs] I’ll tell you, yesterday I was in the lobby of the Four Seasons, and I was waiting for Michel. I look and see that Pedro Almodovar is there, as well. I speak Spanish. I’m Argentinean. But I thought, “I’m not going to go over and see him. That would be impossible. He’s Almodovar.” Suddenly, I turn my head and there’s Pedro Almodovar, walking over to me! He took my hand and, in English, said, “Berenice, it’s a pleasure to meet you.” And I said, “Berenice? You know my name?” And he said, “Of course I know your name! You’re becoming famous.” So I told him I speak Spanish, and I immediately started speaking Spanish with Pedro Almodovar. [Laughs] I told him how much I love him, and he was talking about me and the movie and how great it is. I felt so uncomfortable and so happy, but he just made my day.
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