Why French Actress Clemence Poesy Is Poised for Stardom (Cannes)

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The "127 Hours" cast member stars in Directors' Fortnight title "The Silence of Joan."

CANNES -- From Gossip Girl on the Upper East Side to Peasant girl from Eastern France, French actress Clemence Poesy has crossed genres, languages and territories in her career.

Now, 19-year-old actress is at the Festival de Cannes with a divine role as Joan of Arc in Philippe Ramos’ Director’s Fortnight title The Silence of Joan.

The film takes place in 1430 and follows the maid of Orleans during the last year of her life as she is captured and imprisoned, miraculously survives a fall from a tower and deals with the many men surrounding her, played by an all-star male Gallic cast including Thierry Fremont, Mathieu Amalric, Liam Cunningham and Jean-Francois Stevenin.

So did Poesy relate to the heroine known for hearing voices from God and leading the French army to victory during the 100 years war?

“I can’t really relate to a young prophetess who was leading armies at a time where women weren’t allowed to have any kind of social importance,” she said. “While we were shooting, I didn’t relate to Joan of Arc personally as much as I related to the Joan we were trying to portray and whose story we were telling. It was a long process that I approached with different references and different crafts.”

For the film’s director, Ramos, Poesy was an obvious choice for the role.

“I was looking for someone with a divine presence and Clemence had the spark,” Ramos said. “Clemence has a sense of mystery about her. She has a very particular beauty that’s childlike and sensual at the same time — she’s full of contrasts.”

Poesy’s film choices also diverge. “I like being between French films and international projects — it feels like an amazing opportunity to always keep learning and discovering and it also gives me a lot of freedom. I’d love for things to keep going this way. Every project is different, every director is different. It changes all the time which is what’s so great about it.”

After Joan, Poesy will leave her native tongue to explore more English language roles including Rupert Goold’s upcoming adaptation of Richard II opposite Ben Winshaw that starts shooting this month.

With the offers piling in, Poesy has managed to find a balance between Hollywood blockbusters and French auteur cinema like The Silence of Joan. “I just go with what feels right at the time and very often it’s in reaction with what I’ve just done,” she said. “I tend to want to act in English after a French film, make a small film after a big one, something fun after something dark. I like experimenting and I try to do things that are different
from one another,” she explained.

As her English-language roles multiply, the French accented actress may just be poised to rival Hollywood’s leading ladies.

“I have a lot of respect and admiration for someone like Cate Blanchett, find Emma Thompson wonderful, Meryl Streep inspiring, Juliette Binoche full of light and Catherine Deneuve incredible,” she said.

Based on the way her career is going, Poesy, whose last name means “poetry” in French, may just join the elegant actresses in the international starlette circle.

Ramos said: “She’s a beautiful young actress, but not archetypal — it’s her personality and talent combined with her unique beauty that sets her apart.”

And, did we mention, she sings too?

“Oh it’s a small thing really,” the actress says of her collaboration on a duet with Miles Kane that will be on his first solo album. "I like the song, I loved recording it and discovering a new way to tell stories.”

Poesy will also be saying goodbye to Hogwarts as her role in the Harry Potter franchise comes to an end this year.

“It’s always moving to see a story come to an end, but I always thought the strength of Harry Potter was in the fact that people knew from the start that it would end after seven books/films, so it’s a little bit like life — we appreciate it because we know it’s not there forever,” she said. “I think it’s a good thing that it’s finishing while it’s still magical.”

While Poesy will be radiating divine light in Joan,the actress opts to stay out of the spotlight in her home country and abroad. “Frankly, I think most of all, no one really cares about my private life. I just try to keep the two separated, always keeping in mind that there are things, precious things, that can just be mine and I don’t have to share with anyone else but the people I love.”