Marrakech Fest: Juliette Binoche Talks 'Jurassic Park,' 'Godzilla'

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The French star discusses whether she turned down a role in Steven Spielberg's dinosaur franchise, which movies changed her and the challenges and joys of filmmaking.

MARRAKECH -- Juliette Binoche did not really turn down a role in Jurassic Park. Long rumored to have said no to Steven Spielberg at the beginning of her career, the French actress insisted Monday that it was because she had already committed to the first installment of the famed Colors trilogy, Blue.

"I had already said yes to Blue, with [director Krzysztof] Kieslowski, and after that, Spielberg asked if would be in his film," she explained at Morocco's Marrakech Film Festival. "So it's not that I refused to do Jurassic Park, but I was already on Blue."

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Reflecting on her long filmography after a career tribute at the festival here, she said she had no regrets about selecting the film that she is most proud of in her oeuvre over a big Hollywood blockbuster. "Blue, acting-wise, I don't think I could do better," she said, with this year's Camille Claudel 1915 a close second. "But each time I chose what I believed in and what I felt like doing, and there was no compromise in that way, so they were my choices -- bad or wrong, good, bad or whatever, it is what it is."

Receiving this award had a special significance for the Oscar-winner as her family has historic ties to Morocco, with her father spending his formative years here speaking Arabic before French.

"My family is related to Morocco, because they lived here for more than 15 years, and my grandfather was buried here," Binoche said, speaking with reporters near the fruit groves of the Mamounia Hotel. "The earthquakes have made the past impossible to be found, but his spirit must be somewhere in the orange trees."

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While she didn't play opposite dinosaurs in Jurassic Park, Binoche didn't pass up another chance to work with a giant, terrorizing animal, taking a small role in next year's Godzilla. "It was fun, but I took it as a fun situation," she explained. "Gareth Edwards, the director, wrote me a letter that was so touching I couldn't refuse."

Godzilla came just after her wrenching role in Bruno Dumont's haunting Camille Claudel 1915, which has been garnering rave reviews for Binoche's performance since its debut at Berlin. She took up the role that earned Isabelle Adjani an Oscar nomination in 1990, exploring the later years of the artist after she was committed to a mental institution by her family.

The role of Claudel is one of the most touching for Binoche. Filmed in an institution among current patients, the film contained one of the roles that most changed her perception of people and the world, the actress said. "The first half of the shooting, I was haunted by her. I was waking up in the middle of the night frightened, and sometimes I would cry, cry, cry, and I didn't understand why I was crying. I felt my body was a little strange," Binoche said of the start of filming. "But at the end of it, going through what I had to go through, I felt so light. The only difficulty was to leave the people."

Binoche connected with the patients, and some understood they were filming a movie, while others were skittish and difficult to reach. "I cannot be frightened of them now," Binoche said of not knowing how to react during initial meetings and some early scenes. "I had to be one of them, and that really changed my perspective as well."

Her early role in 1991's The Lovers on the Bridge was also life-altering, she told reporters. "I stayed in the street with tramps and with people going through difficult times without homes. And that really made me feel an awareness of being caught up in this world of the street," Binoche recalled. "After that, I was never frightened again of people in the street."

Binoche also plays a war photographer in former photographer Erik Poppe's semi-autobiographical A Thousand Times Good Night, which she shot just after Camille Claudel 1915 and which is screening out of competition here. Both were emotionally wrenching, but the directors had very different styles -- Dumont's observational style was very different from Poppe's more structured scenes, the actress said.

Working with different directors' styles is challenging, but "you have to adapt, darling," she said laughing. "You can't change anyone, you just have to live with what you have. Otherwise it's war, and you don't want to be in a war zone." She added that the preparation and working with an acting coach is the most important -- and enjoyable -- part of the film process for her.

"On sets you don't have the time to work, you have to go for it," Binoche said. "Of course, you can do some takes, but fewer and fewer because it's expensive and because you're running behind schedule. We used to have eight weeks of shooting, now we have five weeks. There's no time, so prep is very important. And I love that moment, it's my favorite moment. You can really go into it and try things and analyze it. There's a real search inside yourself."

Asked about the hardest part of acting, Binoche said: "The hardest is when the director, when we don't understand each other." She was careful not to name any names. "Some directors who have a big ego think that they are going to direct and they're going to have some ideas and it's going to be great," she said. "Know where the camera should be first of all, and then after that -- we'll see."