The Popcorn Reel
Tuesday, August 11, 2009


A relative novice in film acting at 26, this French star has a pivotal role in Quentin Tarantino's latest film opening on August 21

Photo and copyright Omar P.L. Moore.  2009.  All Rights Reserved.
Photo: Omar P.L. Moore/
Mélanie Laurent, Gloriously "Inglourious"
By Omar P.L. Moore/   SHARE
Tuesday, August 11, 2009


"Do you mind if I smoke?", Mélanie Laurent asks, cigarette in hand on a hot, sunny Sunday afternoon on the seventh floor suite of a plush hotel here.  Miss Laurent, 26, has been promoting The Weinstein Company's forthcoming movie release "Inglourious Basterds", Quentin Tarantino's new film which trains an hysterical and operatic eye on defeating Hitler and his Nazi regime.  "Basterds" boasts a large ensemble cast, and Miss Laurent, a lively, loquacious and lithe being whose cheeriness may just rival the immense self-confidence she possesses, has a key role as Shosanna Dreyfus, a brave, bold and beautiful heroine facing significant obstacles during the two-and-a-half-hour epic comedy-drama.

"I think Shosanna, she's dead inside . . . she's very, very strong . . . especially during that dark, terrible war, because everything was organized," Miss Laurent commented, referencing Hitler's genocide of millions during World War Two and her onscreen character's survival instincts during Mr. Tarantino's film.  "We know now that a lot of SS and huge Nazi were very calm, and during the interrogation they were very, very calm.  And they just torture you," the actress from France said in clear English.  "I played that character and I was always thinking that -- that she was dead", she said, referring to what Shosanna experiences in the film.  Miss Laurent added that she consciously played the part in a "very, very cold way" as a counter-balance to the extroverted characters played by Brad Pitt and Christoph Waltz once Mr. Tarantino informed her of the pitch of their performances just prior to filming.

Miss Laurent's life is both rosy and busy.  During an earlier interview with a roundtable of journalists said that she came from a background where she received a lot of love from her mother and father (dance and film artists respectively) and that "I have no boyfriend", has a young but bustling career with film roles including "Embrassez Qui Vous Voudrez" (Kiss Who You Want) and "Rice Rhapsody".  She directed the short film "De Moins En Moins" (Fewer And Fewer) which premiered at Cannes last year and looks forward to being behind the camera as much as she is in front of it. 

"You get to be the boss!", she exalted of directing, wearing a big smile.

The actress cites definite differences between the French and American ways of doing things when it comes to filmmaking.  "I never saw someone be very tough in a set in France.  Very rare.  It's very, very cruel way to work in France, you know, if you just want to make some other hours at the end of the day.  It's like, 'aah!'  And I just discovered that new way to work -- with pressure a little bit -- you're not just an actress, you're just a project also and you're part of like a huge machine and you're gonna represent something.  So for example, I'm here and it's like 100 interviews every day.  That's normal.  You have to do it.  It's your job, you know, do that."

The actress as Shosanna Dreyfus in "Inglourious Basterds".  Quentin Tarantino's new film opens in the U.S. and Canada on August 21.  (Photo: Francois Duhamel/The Weinstein Company)

Miss Laurent admitted to being disconnected from the other actors during aspects of the pre-production phase of "Inglourious Basterds".  "For example, for the reading everybody just worked a lot.  So hard.  And I was like completely lost at that reading because I thought it was a reading.  And in France, it's like, 'na, na, na, na, na, na, na -- um, yeah, okay, I'm gonna do -- okay, we will see you later.'  So it was a shock for me working at this."

Oscar-winning actress Marion Cotillard, a fellow French compatriot, advised Miss Laurent to do the following: "'Stay as you are, as a little bit rebel French Parisian girl but don't forget, it's not an industry.  Just play with that.  Just have fun but don't forget it's another job you're gonna do.'" 

Miss Laurent liked the enthusiasm and warmth of the journalists in America who greet her.  "They say, 'hey, how are you?  Great!'"  (The actress says this in a mock American voice and it sounds funny -- and accurate.)  The upbeat American demeanor Miss Laurent spoke of is in stark contrast to that exhibited from journalists in her native country.  "In France it's like, 'hi'."

Among her film loves Miss Laurent admires "The Bridges Of Madison County", Clint Eastwood's film starring Meryl Streep and Mr. Eastwood.  "It's the most simple script ever.  A woman falls in love with a man and she decides not to follow him."  She hails Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu's "Amores Perros" as a "masterpiece" and adores Pedro Almodovar's films.  (Miss Laurent laughs as she recalls a scene from "Volver" where Penelope Cruz hides her onscreen husband's body in a freezer.)  She's a big fan of John Cassevetes' films, mentioning his "Opening Night", which she saw again just two weeks ago.  "You can feel how it can be lonely sometimes," she observed of the film and of a reality for many performers.  "Everybody just sees you as an actress and not as a human being sometimes."  

Miss Laurent also hailed the filmmakers from her country who devised the New Wave Films in the 1960s.  "They made such beautiful visions."

Aside from her enthusiasm and maturity, Miss Laurent's deep-sounding voice aptly represents the resolute, vulnerable Shosanna that she plays in "Inglourious Basterds", filmed on location almost entirely in Paris.  Despite the violent content in Mr. Tarantino's new film, Mélanie Laurent has an aversion to extremely violent and scary films.  "I've had a lot of propositions for that.  And you kill someone with axe and there's blood everywhere and you just kill their children.  And you just, I don't like that.  I'm like, 'oh my god, I'm not going to do that.'  Because you know you're gonna be covered in blood all the day." 

"Inglourious Basterds" opens in the U.S. and Canada on August 21 and is released by The Weinstein Company.  SHARE

Copyright 2009.  Omar P.L. Moore.  The Popcorn Reel.  All Rights Reserved.