Dialogue: Catherine Deneuve

On the eve of her AFI tribute, the iconic actress talks about her work in the acclaimed animated feature "Persepolis"

Tossed around with increasing abandon, the word "icon" has been all but drained of meaning. But paired with the name Catherine Deneuve its true significance is restored. As the face of high-luster advertising campaigns for fashion houses like Chanel and Louis Vuitton, the blond beauty has become synonymous with glamour and elegance. And as a model for the postage-stamp image of national symbol Marianne, she was the symbol for no less than the French Republic. But more indelible than any of those still images is a body of often daring film work that began 50 years ago and has never settled into the middle of the road.

In Deneuve's latest cinematic venture, her iconic visage doesn't grace the screen. "Persepolis," France's official submission for the foreign-language Academy Award and winner of the jury prize at the Festival de Cannes, marks her first voice work in an animated feature. The Sony Pictures Classics release is also the directorial debut of Marjane Satrapi and Vincent Paronnaud. Based on Satrapi's acclaimed graphic novels about growing up in Tehran during the Islamic Revolution, the film uses stylized, mostly black-and-white 2-D imagery to weave a subtle coming-of-age tale with universal resonance. AFI Fest will screen the feature to cap its Nov. 10 tribute to Deneuve. The actress recently spoke with Sheri Linden for The Hollywood Reporter about the unique challenges of working on "Persepolis."

The Hollywood Reporter:
You had wanted to perform in an animated film for a while. Why?
Catherine Deneuve: I love animation films, and I think it's very interesting for an actor to be just in the voice. It's a very different way of playing.

THR: Is there something liberating about it?
Deneuve: In a way, yes. It's also exaggerated, so it's fun.

THR: You came to this project as a fan of Marjane Satrapi's graphic novels.
Deneuve: Yes, I knew her work, and I had (edited) a special issue of Vogue a few years ago in France, and I asked her to do a little series for the special issue.

THR: Even given your previous experience working with her, you were taking a chance with "Persepolis," putting your faith in two first-time feature directors.
Deneuve: Well, yes, but she's very clever. I know her work. The risk was for the producers, because to make an animation film, all done by hand like that, with someone who is doing it for the first time, was taking a big chance for them. ... It was 100 people working for two and a half years. When we started to do the voice work, they had (just) started to do the drawings.

THR: You've certainly attained a level of artistic stature and success where you could fall into easier, more obvious choices. Why haven't you?
Deneuve: I don't think easy is interesting for actors. And the danger is to fall asleep on your laurels, as we say. ... For me to do an animation film like that, (something) so special and original -- and the fact that it's also a political film -- is more interesting. That's my way of seeing things. ... If you're interested in cinema and interested in animation film, if you're interested in documentaries, as I am, it's a way of keeping your eyes open and your feelings entertained.

THR: Your character in "Persepolis" is the mother of a very precocious and independent girl, played in the original French-language version by your daughter, Chiara Mastroianni. Did you draw upon that real-life relationship in playing the role?
Deneuve: (laughs) I identified her very well with my daughter, absolutely.

Would you want to do another animated feature?
Deneuve: For the moment, no. But maybe once to do an American animation film -- why not?

THR: In your early films, you worked with groundbreaking filmmakers, including Luis Bunuel, Jacques Demy, Francois Truffaut and Roman Polanski. Do you think those experiences set the bar high for you in terms of what you look for in a project?
Deneuve: I think it helps to stay on a certain (level). ... When you have the chance to work with great directors at a young age, when you start, it really gives you another view on films and filmmaking. I think if you do things (in an) easier way that's just average, it's very difficult to find fulfillment and excitement, to take chances. But I was lucky enough to work with really great directors at an early age.

THR: And you continue to find that fulfillment through your work in movies?
Deneuve: Yes. For me, it's really something that's still wonderful to do.