Former French First Lady Carla Bruni Hits L.A. With New Album

Stefania D'Alessandro/Getty Images

The supermodel and singer-songwriter, whose collection of cover songs in English was conceived and produced by legend David Foster, spoke to THR about music, family and #MeToo ahead of her Feb. 21 Orpheum concert.

The final stop on Carla Bruni’s whirlwind North American tour to support her album French Touch, a collection of cover songs in English, will be at L.A.’s Orpheum Theatre on Feb. 21. The show is a homecoming of sorts for the former first lady of France, since her album was produced here at Capitol Records by 16-time Grammy winner David Foster, who lit on the idea after seeing Bruni in concert in L.A. in 2013. He wanted to work with her but lamented that her lyrics were in French, which would limit the audience.

“I told him I could never manage to write in English and had tried,” says the prolific singer-songwriter, whose five albums have sold more than 3 million copies worldwide. “He said, ‘OK, let’s make a covers album.’” The 11 songs they picked at a rendezvous in Paris include ABBA crowd-pleaser “The Winner Takes It All” and The Rolling Stones’ “Miss You,” but fans scream just as loud for “Quelqu’un m’a dit” (“Someone Told Me”), the title track from her 2002 debut, which was featured on the soundtrack of 2009’s (500) Days of Summer. (Bruni’s other big brush with Hollywood: a brief turn as a museum guide in Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris.) 

Bruni, 50, keeps up with new music via Spotify, Deezer and iTunes (in heavy rotation is Rwandan-Belgian rapper Stromae — “a mix of hip-hop and Jacques Brel”). But she doesn’t follow politics closely anymore — she and former French President Nicolas Sarkozy celebrate their 10th anniversary this year — and has mostly steered clear of the conversation about sexual harassment in the worlds she knows best: entertainment and fashion. The mother of two (Giulia, six, with Sarkozy and a son, 16, from a previous relationship) spoke to THR about her music, her family and her impressions of #MeToo. (This interview has been edited and condensed.)

What was it like working with David Foster? What did he bring to the table compared with other producers you’ve worked with on your previous records?

For me and my musicians, it was one of nicest studio experiences we have ever had. He brings a lot of energy, a lot of melody, a very strong ear. He also brings his talent as a musician. Usually a producer lets you do the vocals as you want. He is not like that. He has a very precise idea of what he wants, where I am always full of doubt, especially about me. So his strength, direction and determination gets rid of that doubt and makes you feel safe, which is important as an artist, because it’s communicated — that confidence from him that has to do with experience. He has been a musician since childhood and a professional pianist, since he was maybe 17!

How would you describe your singing?

What I am trying to do with my voice is that I’m trying to be singing as if I was sitting next to you. I am try to find intimacy, do you say that? As if I am singing in your ear. I can sing quite loud, I am not such a small voice. But I like to use the velvet of it.

Where are you happiest: in the studio, on stage in front of a live audience or writing when it’s just you and your guitar?

They are very different types of pleasure. Writing is my favorite so if I had to choose forever, it would be writing. Then being on stage, though I don’t like to be away from my kids and my man. I get homesick and it actually increases with age. Touring is made for, like, a 19-year-old, not a 50-year-old. Recording is fantastic because it’s making a dream a reality, with real musicians, and then to be able to listen to it — that always feels like a miracle.

Switching gears, you gave an interview in the fall where you said the sexual harassment and misconduct doesn’t happen in fashion — or at least that you never experienced or witnessed it?

Never, never. I’m lucky. I guess I am just lucky that it never happened.

One hundred women wrote an open letter in Le Monde in January, most notably signed by Catherine Deneuve, arguing that the #MeToo movement, along with its French counterpart, #BalanceTonPorc, or “Out Your Pig,” is becoming a witch hunt and veering toward American puritanism, and away from the French approach to sexual freedom and seduction. What is your take?

I didn’t read the letter that Catherine Deneuve signed. It’s a question of generation. The new generation is different. I think it’s good that it comes out. I mean, imagine all the anonymous women that are struggling at work with a horrible, aggressive boss. It is good that the victims have a way to defend themselves. The only thing that makes me scared is that an accusation has to be verified, in case people are innocent. Otherwise anyone can give a name. You don’t want to make mistakes — you can destroy someone’s life. But then it has to be followed by justice, don’t you think?