Friday, September 6, 2019

Charlotte Gainsbourg talks about PROMISE AT DAWN

I had wanted to speak to Charlotte Gainsbourg because I had fallen in love with the film PROMISE AT DAWN and her performance in particular (my review is here). As soon as the film ended the first time I saw it I reached out to the PR person to see if there was any way I might have a few minutes of Ms Gainsbourg’s time. Somehow it all fell together.

Someday I will tell the whole story about how I ended up interviewing Charlotte Gainsbourg, but just know that it was a wild and crazy adventure.

I need to say up front that Ms Gainsbourg is an absolutely wonderful person, who assured the talk happened despite failing cellphone batteries, cut off signals and speeding around Manhattan in a cab. While I was willing to let it go in the face of a couple of obstacles, she persisted and not only gave me the allotted time but some extra as well. I suspect that the reason she was so willing was because the film we were to discuss, PROMISE AT DAWN was near and dear to her. Based on Romain Gary’s autobiographical novel about his relationship with his mother, it is a tale that struck a chord with the great actress and singer whose own grandmother was like, Nina, the character she plays, a refugee from Eastern Europe who moved to France for a better life. In doing the film she reconnected with someone she deeply loved.

What follows is most of our talk. I’ve trimmed it so that it stays for the most part just with our discussion of PROMISE. You aren’t missing anything in what was removed, some of which were pleasantries and others were more things that wouldn’t work outside of the moment.

I want to thank Isil  Bagdadi for setting this up.

And I want to thank Charlotte Gainsbourg not only for making time in her very busy schedule to give me a chunk of her time, but also insisting that this happened. She was wonderful and charming and I cannot thank her enough for one of my most favorite interviews I’ve ever done.

Steve:  Thank you for doing this.

Charlotte: I just hope my phone won't shut down, I don't have a lot of battery.

Steve:  I completely understand.  First off I want to say I love the film. I know you love it too. I know the film came out two years ago two years ago in France despite just opening here. I was wondering what is it about the film that makes you want to continue to promote it two years  after it was completed?

Charlotte: It's still a very important film to me. I guess because it was very challenging in regards to the Polish and then the Polish accent in French. And then the whole figure and  the book I love so much because it was a wonderful character for me. So yeah. Of course, I'm willing to talk about it,even two years later.

Steve: Your performance is awesome.

Charlotte: Thank you.

Steve:  I hope Oscar  notices it. I was wondering how close is what you did to actually Romain Gary's mother? How much of the role is you, how much of it is her?

Charlotte: Oh the whole thing  is really kind of the book. The adaptation was really well done. The book is so wonderful and the mother is just... I hope I impersonated her well enough because for the French audience, this book means a lot.

I mean  I kind of relate to the mother because I come from there. My grandmother was Jewish from Russia. Though not exactly the same, Polish but still, the same immigration, escaping  in the 1917, and then going through the Second World War as a Jew.

You know, it was exactly the same admiration for sons. So I really related to the character very, very much. But hopefully I'm close to the book character. And we don't know how close it is to Romain Gary's actual mother because he lies a lot about his mother's life, and apparently she had another son who died quite young. But he died in his 20s, and all of that  is very obscure, so I didn't interpret Romain Gary's real mother because we don't know enough about her.

Steve: How did you become part of the film? Were you brought in? I mean, you're saying it's close to your heart. Did you know this film was being made and then just approached the producers, or did they, did they come to you?

Charlotte: Well, I knew that the film was being made, but another actress was going to do it. And then it fell apart, I don't know why. And I was just crossing my fingers that the director would think of me, but I know that I was really the second choice.


So anyway, it was great when it came because it's not a part that people in France would have given me and it was quite a challenge that they might get to, to trust me with this.

Steve: I find that strange.  I know in America,so many people know your work and if it's a challenging role, if it's a meaty role, if it's, an important film, and they see see you're in it will say "OK, this is, this is something I want to see because she's in it." They feel it's gonna be good. There's a quality to it.

Charlotte: That's wonderful but in France, I think that because I'm well known people have the impression that they know me. I mean I'm more seen as a certain kind of person. And it's a French film, I wanted to have the Polish accent when I spoke French in the film. And the director said that I can't, because people won't believe it because I'm known as the way I am.

So I had to push to do a Polish accent. And so, I really had to convince him [the director] that it's important to me, that she had that accent because my, my grandmother could never have had a Croatian accent. It didn't make sense.

So that I had to persuade him. So until the first day of shooting he was still not convinced. And it was only  after that first day, that he trusted me.

Steve: Unfortunately don't know how well you did because I don't speak French and I don't know the. the accents. This is kind of related. How many languages do you speak?

Charlotte: I do speak English and French fluently but then I have...I have some notions that Italian because I did a huge film in Italian and that bit really. I did this film speaking Polish but I worked on that for six months and now it's completely gone. It would take this many thing when you and I did. I think it happens to everyone, you become a professional fluent  in regards to something and then it's just completely dissipate.

Steve: Did you have to change your performance in any way when you're acting with the three different gentlemen who play your son?

Charlotte: It was very weird for me because, we started the film with all the Polish language, I mean being in Poland and all that. That was with the little boy. And then I had this grown man the next day, [laughs] uh, which felt so weird because I had felt very close very close to the little boy, of course, because I had so much to do with him.

So it was very hard to me to, to see the same proximity and to have the same gesture with a grown man. But, I mean, it worked out because it was part of, of course, what a mother goes through. You don't have the same gesture with a little boy that you have with a grown-up man.

And so anyway, I had a very different relationship to every Romain.  And with the teenage boy I had a funny, a funny moment in the film. It was sort of a comical aspect of Romain.

I think I took advantage of the fact that I had three different personalities with me. And it was I think  Pierre Niney who is the, the eldest, didn't imitate the young boy but he just took some of that personality because the young boy was the one who started.

Steve: Did they work on their, their performances together, or?

Charlotte: They didn't, but I, I know that Pierre Niney watched a lot of the footage, a lot of footage with the young boy. So I'm sure that he did the work.

Steve: Was this filmed like all out of order, or did they film this in order?

Charlotte: No, no, completely out of order. We started with the, we started with the beginning. I mean the beginning, not the actual beginning, but the, the flashback in Poland. That was the start, but then went to the old days to...I mean the, the mother being quite old, and then back to a younger mother with the teenage boy.

So it was all mixed up, but  in big chunks, which most of that I didn't have to go through the young Nina to the old and then back to...I mean it was big, big moments that I could really focus on.

Steve: I know it' difficult for some people to jump around though the story

Charlotte: Also because physically I was changing so much --  we couldn't really switch back easily because, because of the makeup and physically the change was too long  to go back and forth.

I think I have time for one or two more questions

Steve:  I don't know if you've ever done it but would you ever consider doing Broadway?

Charlotte: Broadway? In New York you mean?

Steve: Yes.  I don't know if you've done theater.

Charlotte: No. I've done it only once. It was a very short experience doing "Oleanna," you know, the Mamet play.  I did that in Paris and I was still very, very young. And it was my only experience but I, I would love to do theater here.  Because for me, it's very exotic  you know. Broadway is something that's not that familiar, so, yeah, it would be quite a dream.

Steve: I would love to see you on stage. It just would be, it would just be wonderful. Um...

Charlotte: I'd like to try. I don't have that to the background, you know, , a lot of theater. I'm not...Yeah, I haven't, I haven't done that in fact.

Steve: Um, the, I don't know where to go. Thank you for doing this.

Charlotte: No, thank you. Thank you for your time most.

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