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After working with Michael Bay on 6 Underground, actor-director Mélanie Laurent can’t really explain how the filmmaker achieved his infamous “Bayhem,” but she admires his passion in doing so. In the film, Laurent plays a spy who’s referred to as “Two” by Ryan Reynolds’ “One” and his team of underground operatives. One faked the deaths of his six agents in order to dispose of the world’s evil without any red tape.
The film begins with a 15-minute car chase in Florence, Italy after a mission has gone awry, leaving the viewer to play catch-up. Laurent had a similar experience filming this sequence.
“You suddenly arrive on his set, from your country, and you spend a month in a crazy car during a car chase. Nobody tells you anything; you don’t know what you’re going to do,” Laurent tells The Hollywood Reporter. “Then, [Michael Bay] suddenly arrives in a car and asks you to do crazy things even though you don’t know what you’re doing. That process is so opposite from me.”
Since August marked the 10th anniversary of Laurent’s most recognized role in Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds, she is happy to reflect on the day the director shot her character, Shosanna, as she stood near a window in a red dress on the night of the film’s fateful movie premiere.
“At the end of the day, after shooting that shot, everybody left the set. And then, Quentin put that David Bowie song [“Cat People”] on, and we danced,” Laurent recounts. “Playing some music on set, I definitely stole that from Quentin…every time I shoot.”
In a recent conversation with THR, Laurent discusses her last-minute preparation for 6 Underground, meeting Alfonso Cuarón and auditioning for Sam Mendes’ Skyfall.
Since you’re also a director, do you now have a greater appreciation for how Michael Bay pulls off his brand of action filmmaking?
When you watch Michael Bay do that, it doesn’t seem that hard because that’s his thing. I was more amazed to see that guy knowing exactly what he was doing every day when we couldn’t tell anything. We were so lost in that process, but he was so precise and knew every single shot. That’s why he’s a genius and a master of huge action movies…. Yeah, I was pretty amazed. I realized how crazy and good he is at that.
When you commit to an acting job now, are you able to turn off the director side of your brain and just act? Or, do you always keep an eye on what’s going on behind the camera?
Well, again, it was such a crazy adventure because we couldn’t always tell what he was doing. (Laughs.) As a director, I’m so far away from his world. I think a part of me was wishing that I had a crane, two or three cameras and the ability to have enough money and time to focus on doing crazy shots. We talked a lot about that. He showed me the movie at some point, and he said, “Ask me anything for honesty and notes….” We had a great director-actor relationship, and maybe that’s why we had something special on set. I would ask him about technology and his camera. I held his camera a few times just to see the weight and how he designed it. But, at the end of the day, that all seems supercool, but I don’t know if I’m going to make a movie like this someday. (Laughs.)
Did you notice anything on Bay’s set that you might try on yours?
Not really. We’re just so opposite. I’m obsessed with emotion and being super close with my actors. I love quiet sets. I love taking the time. I’m obsessed with pace. I love spending time with my actors before shooting just to talk about the script and what they want to bring to the movie. I’m also super precise. (Laughs.) And he’s just the opposite. You suddenly arrive on his set, from your country, and you spend a month in a crazy car during a car chase. Nobody tells you anything; you don’t know what you’re going to do. Then, he suddenly arrives in a car and asks you to do crazy things even though you don’t know what you’re doing. That process is so opposite from me.
Maybe, the common point between us would be passion. For me, it’s really hard now to work with directors who are not very passionate. I don’t understand how you can make a movie as a director and not be excited every single day and not be passionate about finding a good frame, how you’re going to bring emotion, which movement your camera is going to make and how you’re going to follow any action. After making a Michael Bay movie, I hope I’m not going to be on a set with someone for five months who’s not passionate. I don’t know if I can handle that anymore.
Since you play a spy in 6 Underground, did you reach out to anyone or read any books by former spies just to get in that headspace a bit?
Honestly, nothing. I was a little bit frustrated because I was the last to be cast. I literally had two weeks before going on set. It was more about getting in good shape, which was totally new for me. I’d never entered a gym before, and suddenly, I was waking up at 6 a.m to work with two trainers. My body was so sore. (Laughs.) I also asked for real gun training. In America, I think they assume actors know how to drive and shoot guns, but I don’t drive or shoot guns. And suddenly, I was supposed to be a badass shooter, and I had two weeks to pretend I was super comfortable with all of that. So, my focus was more on getting in shape. Also, playing super cold and tough is not super hard. It’s harder to play emotion when you have action to deal with on a crazy set. Being super cold might be the easiest part.
You’ve worked with a number of acclaimed directors such as Quentin Tarantino, Denis Villeneuve and Mike Mills. Did you also observe them and ask a lot of questions on their sets?
Yeah! I definitely ask questions. I’ve really worked with a lot of amazing directors, and probably because they’re passionate, they want to share. I think that makes the relationship really special because I never ask them about my character. I’m never like, “What should I wear or how do you see them?” I’m always like, “How are you going to film this?” The last director I talked to was Alfonso Cuarón. I didn’t work with him, obviously, but I introduced his movie Roma in Paris. We spent the whole evening together, and it’s so funny because when we got in the car, I was like, “Tell me everything about the sound! That was so cool.” (Laughs.) And he was like, “I’m so glad you asked about the sound,” and then we talked for two hours straight about sound. Talking with someone that talented was so amazing, and I’m a huge fan of his movies. I was obsessed with Children of Men. So, we’d compare things.
Years ago, I was part of the casting for Skyfall with Sam Mendes. When I arrived for the casting, I was supposed to act like I was there for the part. Instead, I was like, “Hi, can I ask you something about American Beauty?” (Laughs.) And Sam was like, “Yeah!” I was like, “OK, about that shot — how did you have that idea of putting that camera in that room instead of doing this and this?” Obviously, he didn’t choose me. Maybe, it was because I was there more to talk as a director. Two years after, he sent me an email saying, “Do you want to come to London so we can talk about movies?” And I spent one of my best days ever with him in London. We walked, we had a coffee, we had a lunch, we had a tea, and we spent the whole day sharing ideas and talking about cinema. It was such a treat. I love those moments, and I’m very lucky to be able to talk about that with them.
Since its 10th anniversary just passed, what memory comes to mind when you reflect on the making of Inglourious Basterds?
We were shooting that shot of Shosanna waiting for the people at the premiere in that red dress by the window with the Nazi flag. At the end of the day, after shooting that shot, everybody left the set. And then, Quentin put that David Bowie song [“Cat People”] on, and we danced. (Laughs.) We ended that day on that crazy beautiful set. Again, you have to love making movies and be passionate about it to just want to put some music on and extend a little bit of that magic. Playing some music on set, I definitely stole that from Quentin. Since that moment, every time I shoot a movie, I play music on set and dance with my actors, sometimes. We’re so lucky to make movies and tell stories with actors who trust you and a whole crew that’s there to make that happen for you. Knowing how amazing it is to make movies, I should stop and do something else if I ever lose that feeling of excitement on set.
I noticed you’ve only directed yourself once, and that was in The Adopted. Do you prefer to be focused behind the camera when it’s your film?
Yeah. I couldn’t stand being at the makeup trailer when my DP was on my set. (Laughs.) I was going crazy. With The Adopted, the producers asked me to be in it at the last minute. I wanted to be a non-actor at that moment, but it was easier on producing things if I was just in it. I didn’t like it. However, I was also acting with that little boy [Théodore Maquet-Foucher], and it was easier to be on set and direct him exactly where I wanted in a playful way. I used the fact that I was on set to direct my actors in a certain way, but I was not focusing on my acting. Sometimes, my script supervisor would say, “Can you just focus on what you’re doing? You’re acting, but you’re also watching your actors while you’re acting and we can feel it.” So, I’m not missing it at all.
It was just reported that you and Elle Fanning are reuniting for The Nightingale, which will also include Elle’s sister, Dakota. After Galveston, were you and Elle trying to do something together again, or did it just work out that way since the story is about two sisters?
We really wanted to do something again. I was starting to write something for her, and then, I met [producer] Elizabeth Cantillon and we talked about The Nightingale. I think the [Fanning] sisters pushed a little bit for me to direct it, but they didn’t tell me anything during the process. So, I met Elizabeth, and then I met Tom [Rothman], the head of Sony. And then, I met all the girls from TriStar. After all those steps, I pitched everything, and I worked on the script with Dana [Stevens]. We didn’t really talk with Elle through that process, and now, we’re exchanging emails every day because we cannot wait to be on that set. I feel so lucky to be the director who’s going to direct those two amazing and powerful actors. I’m so excited. The script is very intense and emotional with some big scenes. I can’t wait.
6 Underground is now streaming on Netflix.
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