Cannes: Q&A with 'Marguerite & Julien' Star Anais Demoustier
The 27-year-old French actress talks about her prolific career and playing competition in Cannes
It’s been a busy year for 27-year-old French actress Anais Demoustier. After coming to Cannes in 2014 with the critically praised Bird People, she’s back again, though this time in competition with the lead role in Valerie Donzelli’s romantic drama, Marguerite & Julien. In between, Demoustier has starred in three more features, including Francois Ozon’s The New Girlfriend, while playing smaller parts in three others. And she just finished shooting Christophe Honore’s update of the classic children’s story Les Malheurs de Sophie. En route to the Croisette for a red carpet bow, she took the time to talk about her packed schedule and tendency to play nice girls caught in unusual relationships.
In The New Girlfriend, your character falls for her dead best friend’s cross-dressing husband. In the threesome film All About Them, you play a girl who falls for a couple. And in Marguerite & Julien, your character is madly in love with her own brother. Do you purposely choose such atypical romances?
I think it has more to do with the directors I’ve chosen to work with —directors who are always searching for something new and not afraid to express themselves freely. It may also have to do with the fact that our society is more open to questions of sexuality and gender than in the past. But it wasn’t a deliberate strategy on my part, though there is certainly one thing that all the characters have in common: They’re all women who are deeply in love. And I’ve always found that such characters create amazing opportunities for an actress — they’re extremely generous and desirable, and completely inhabited by their sentiments. A woman in love is rich with possibilities.
There’s also something liberating about each of these roles. They’re women in love, but they want to live their love stories on their own terms — whether it’s with a sibling or a cross-dresser.
They’re all women who have incredible strength, even if their strength is often hidden. For instance, in The New Girlfriend my character appears extremely introverted at first, but we eventually realize that she’s incredibly strong — especially in the way she faces up to the death of her lifelong friend. Because of my age and my physique, I may come across as a candid, even naive person, but there is plenty concealed behind that facade. It’s one of the things I like most about acting: mastering what I decide to reveal and what I ultimately keep secret.
Marguerite & Julien is based on the true story of a brother and sister who were in love in late 16th century France. What attracted you to the project, and to playing the role of Marguerite?
Of all the roles I’ve played, Marguerite is by far the greatest. She incarnates all the characters from my other movies rolled into one — a young woman absolutely determined to get what she wants, and ready to do anything for love. She’s so driven that she’s almost a savage. And she’s completely primal in her feelings, even if her parents keep her shut away in their chateau and force her into a marriage.
The filmmaker Valerie Donzelli is an actress herself. What was it like working with her?
The movie was made in the best conditions possible for an actor. Valerie gave me plenty of room to express my opinion while we were shooting, and along with my co-star Jeremie Elkaim, the three of us constantly discussed the scenes and characters, working closely together at all times. She’s an extremely original director and her approach to the craft is unique.
What’s it like to star in a film that’s premiering in competition in Cannes?
It’s really the icing on the cake after all the work we did to make the movie. For me, the greatest thing about Cannes is the Lumiere Theater — it’s so gigantic! Twenty-five hundred people sit there watching your film. I remember the first time I was there, for the premiere of Michael Haneke’s Time of the Wolf, which was also one of my first roles in a film. I was 13 years old and in complete awe of the place. The memory is all the more powerful because I was so young at the time. I can’t wait to get back inside there again.
Other French actresses like Melanie Laurent and Lea Seydoux have started building careers in the U.K and the U.S. Would you be interested in acting in a film outside of France?
Absolutely. I’m 27 and I’ve been acting professionally in France for 14 years already, so I’m ready to start looking for opportunities elsewhere. That’s what I love about the cinema and about a festival like Cannes: You can voyage anywhere with the films and the directors. There are no borders in movies.
Are there any American directors you’d be particularly interested in working with?
I’d really love to work with Sofia Coppola. Also with Gus Van Sant and Noah Baumbach. I prefer their kind of intimate movies over the big Hollywood blockbusters — though it would be quite the adventure to do one of those as well.
You’re from the northern French city of Lille, and there’s a stereotype that everyone from there is really nice — sort of like what New Yorkers say about people from Toronto. Is it true?
It’s funny because I was back there when we shot All About Them, and I couldn’t help realizing the difference between the people in Lille and the people in Paris, where I now live. I know it’s a cliche, but they really are much nicer in Lille! It reminds me of the line in a song I heard when I was growing up: “People from the north have the sun in their hearts that they don’t have outdoors.”