Husam Asi learns how Audrey Tautou and Anne Fontaine brought Coco Chanel to the screen
Audrey Tautou darts into the room, wearing a big smile on her face and exuding youth, playfulness and charm. Donning a black top, jeans and short black hair, she still looks as innocent and naÃ¯ve as Amelie Poulain of Montmarte. Indeed, Audrey Tautou is petite, cute and sweet.
Audrey rose to international fame on the back of the phenomenal success of Amelie Paulain of Montmarte, for which she garnered a Cesar Nomination. But she won the Cesar as the Most Promising Actress two years earlier, for her key role in Venus Beauty Institute.
After Amelie, Audrey’s career exploded. She appeared in countless films in France and beyond. She worked with Stephen Frears on Dirty Pretty Things, and with Amelie director, Jean-pierre Jeunet on A Very Long Engagement, for which she garnered yet another Cesar Nomination.
Audrey eschewed Hollywood and concentrated on working in France, but she couldn’t resist joining Tom Hanks in bringing the best seller The Da Vinci Code to the big screen.
She came today to talk about her new film Coco Before Chanel, a biopic of fashion designer Coco Chanel. Later we were joined by the director, Anne Fontaine.
“How are you?” she asked in a lovely French accent, as she sat down. Then with twinkle in her big eyes, she animatedly said, “I am so tired, do you mind if I speak in French?” and pointed at the translator sitting next to her. Well, you can’t say no to Audrey, can you? Besides her French sounds more musical than her English.
Audrey is clearly in love with Coco Chanel. She read every book about her, watched every video clip she laid her hands on and read all her press interviews. But she didn’t want to just mimic her. “I was treading a fine line between reality and fiction, for it was impossible to imagine Chanel precisely due to the contradictory accounts about her. Eventually, I decided to give my own interpretation of this character, keeping in mind that the spectator had to recognise in it the mythical image of Chanel,” Audrey said.
Audrey liked Anne Fontaine’s approach because she avoided the clichÃ©s of a famous, strong woman and concentrated on the human behind the public image: its fragility, weakness, uncertainty and doubt. Audrey herself was uncertain and in doubt during the shoot, but regained her confidence when Chanel got clearer to her.
“I wanted an actress to embody Chanel and her style. The actress had to combine a slender silhouette and strong temper, this iron clad in a velvet glove. Audrey has the slimmest waist in the world! She has also this ‘little black bull’ side to her, grace finesse, and an irrefutable charisma. I was struck by Audrey, her will, her audacity and the density of her gaze,” Anne enthused.
“Have you sensed a difference working with a female rather than a male director?” I asked.
“No,” Audrey waved her hand and pointed her finger, “But for this film, we needed a woman to direct it.”
“Because a male director can understand the character but can never feel it, like a woman.”
It was an apt statement to end the conversation with the charming Audrey Tautou. As we started to get up, she jumped from her seat. “Wait, wait…” she cried as she pulled a camera from her pocket and run to the edge of the room. “I want to take a photo of you.”
Like a thrilled little girl, she fumbled with her camera and pressed a button. A big flash washed our faces.