Interview: Audrey Tautou on 'Mood Indigo' and Michel Gondry | Under the Radar - Music Magazine
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Audrey Tautou on her new film, Mood Indigo

Bringing A Beloved Novel To Life With Michel Gondry

Jul 18, 2014 Web Exclusive
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It’s been 13 years since Audrey Tautou captured the hearts of cinema fans the world over as Amélie, the adorably meddlesome and pure-hearted waif at the center of Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s global hit of the same name. She’s played a sweeping variety of characters in the years since her breakthrough, from historical figures (Coco Before Chanel) to maniacs (He Loves Me… He Loves Me Not). Save for a lone Hollywood venture opposite Tom Hanks in The Da Vinci Code and Stephen Frears’ British thriller, Dirty Pretty Things, the majority of Tautou’s work has been in her native France.

Tautou’s newest feature is Mood Indigo, directed by the endlessly inventive Michel Gondry. Best known for films such as Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and The Science of Sleep, most readers here will always associate him with his innovative music video work for artists such as Bjork, The White Stripes, Cibo Matto, and Kylie Minogue.

Mood Indigo finds Gondry crafting some of his most creative visuals since his music video days, turning a boy-meets-girl tale into a charming, non-stop visual spectacle. When the girl is stricken with illness—a water lily takes root in her lung—their world crumbles around them, and its colors drain away. Adapted from a 1947 novel by author Boris Vian, it’s a story beloved by generations of French readers.

Audrey Tautou sat down with us in New York to discuss the film.

Austin Trunick [Under the Radar]: This film is adapted from a novel by Boris Vian, who isn’t as well-known here as he is in France. Do you remember the age you were when you first encountered the book?

Audrey Tautou: I think I was 15 years old.

Do you rembember what you first reaction to it was at the time?

Yes, I do remember, because I had really, really enjoyed it. I felt proud to enjoy it because I thought that, in a way, I had become an adult. I understood his fantasy, and all of his metaphors. I think I was also very inspired by his crazy imagination. Maybe it [came at] a moment in adolescence when you’re also bit attracted by darkness.

The book sounds like it’s a rite of passage for a lot of French teenagers.

Definitely! And that’s funny, because this book wasn’t supposed to be for teenaged readers. It’s not a young adult book.

Was it intimidating, then, to be part of something you’d known from when you so young?

No, it was not intimidating. First, I had read this book 20 years before I was involved with the movie, so I had done other reading which had made me forget the story. I grew up, in a way. What was very, very interesting for me—and I was very curious—was how Michel Gondry would manage to adapt this book, because I know that he didn’t do digital special effects. He wanted everything to be made real, and in truth. When you read that, for instance, they’re in a cloud, and the cloud is rising up above the roofs of Paris…

I know the characters in the book were younger…

In a way they were younger because they were single, but we don’t really know. [Their age] is never described very precisely … In the book, the characters are really not described, in fact. I think he maybe wanted everybody to have their own idea, and it might be easier for everyone to identify with them because they didn’t have a preconceived idea of what they were going to look like. For Chloe, I didn’t have any material to help me to know how she was. I didn’t ask myself very many questions, because I know I didn’t have the answers.  

The film turns very melancholy towards its second half, at the point where your character, Chloe, becomes sick. What were the emotions like on set, when you were filming these immensely sad scenes?

Well, it was very interesting and we could feel the atmosphere because the set was changing as we were shooting. The decorations, the apartment, everything was concretely changing. The darkness and the dust—how quickly the apartment becomes like the inside of someone’s guts. It was really believable because we were in that real location, and it was helpful for us.

How did Michel bring you on board for the film? Was it a phone call?

No! It was a surprise because he sent me a little animated movie that he’d done for me, where he was proposing for me to play the part. At this time, I didn’t even know he was preparing for a movie. I had seen him a few weeks before because I went to see his exhibition [in Paris]. When he sent me this short movie, I didn’t even know what he was talking about.

He’s said you were first choice for this part.

Yes… I don’t know why. [laughs]

His shooting style sounds like it’s almost chaos by design. I know he prefers to keep the cameras rolling, and never to yell “cut” –

No, no, no.

As an actor, is that freeing in any way?

Well, the first day it made me lose my marbles, in a way. [Laughs] Because I didn’t know what was going on, and I was scared about what I was doing. When I’m acting I can very self-controlled and I like that, but with Michel and his way of working, it’s very different. I was very surprised, but I decided to adapt myself. Not to resist, and just to follow him. It’s true that it’s very different, and you feel freer to fail. Anyway, you don’t know what he’s shooting or what he’s filming, so you just have to be in the scene.

With this film there were so many scenes where you’re, say, dangling from a crane, or acting underwater. There were lots of shots that looked very strange and demanding.


Did any of those make you nervous at all?

When I was in the clouds, yes, hanging from the cable… yes, I was scared to death. I was suffering from vertigo, and when you’re 100 meters in the sky and you just have a cable to retain you… When we weren’t shooting, I was like, please can we go back on the ground? With the wind, when we were floating, I was thinking the cloud was going to resist… [laughs]

Michel does most of his effects on-camera, but I imagine there were some parts you didn’t get to see until the finished movie.

We saw a lot.

Even all of the stop-motion animation? Was there anything that surprised you when you saw the movie?

Not that much because the animation crew was working on the set when we finished our day. They were working at night in the same studio, so I went to visit them very often. The only thing that really surprised me was how creative the movie was, because there were some scenes where I was not there. It was amazing to watch a movie where there was a new idea every two seconds. It created a really enchanting world, you know? Because everything was very real.

Michel let it slip that you two will be working together again very soon, on his next film, Microbes et gasoil. When does that start shooting?

I think he is starting to shoot at the beginning of August. But I’m there a few days… I’m playing the mother of one of the heroes. I’m very curious to see how Michel’s going to direct everybody. In a way I think it’s a lighter movie. In Mood Indigo I think he went to the climax of his creativity, because the story was made for that. It was waiting for him, I think. I think this one is going to be easier for him.

You’ve played a full range of roles from pure-hearted characters like Amélie and Chloe, to murderers…


What are you looking for in a part, when someone hands you a script?

I look for something different, even if it’s a difference I’m the only one who sees. I really look forward to working with a director who has a vision and is going to make me travel somewhere else. It isn’t only a question about a part, but the personality of a director and his style. I think I’m lucky to have this large range of parts. I can’t play everything, but I think in a way there’s many different characters I could play that not everybody would expect from me. But I really need to feel the adventure I’m doing next is really something new. I’m very strict about that.

One of my desires is to really root myself into a director’s world, and become part of it. To adapt myself to the director’s universe. I think you can’t act in the same way when you work with Quentin Tarantino as when you work with Woody Allen. That’s what really attracts me. It’s very different to work with Claude Miller or Stephen Frears, Jean-Pierre Jeunet or Michel Gondry. More than the part, I like a director who makes cinema with a lot of personality.

Is there a type of character you’ve wanted to play, but haven’t had a chance yet?

I would love to play a character a little bit like Bette Davis in What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? I would love to play a character like that.... I think I could be very scary!


Mood Indigo is now playing in New York. For more information on the film and to find premiere dates in other cities, check out the film’s website. To read our review of the movie, click here


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