If there are no cameras about, actors often dress casually for interviews. But when Louise Bourgoin and Pierre Rochefort, the stars of French film Going Away, are together, something surprising happens.
Seated beside his co-star on a sofa in a Paris hotel, Rochefort looks every bit like his character Baptiste in the film - a softly spoken, solitary drifter and occasional substitute teacher.
Bourgoin, on the other hand, looks almost nothing like her character Sandra, a stroppy restaurant manager who sports tattoos and rarely cracks a smile.
Seated on the sofa is an immaculately dressed woman. The transformation is almost a shock, even though Bourgoin has also worked as a model and entered film after a stint as a television weather presenter. If anything, it shows that she completely immersed herself in the role.
"I wasn't given the whole script," says Bourgoin, about how she auditioned. "I was just given some scenes for the screen test. Nicole [Garcia, the writer and director] wanted to see me [acting] naturally, without playing a specific character."
Rochefort, who is the son of Garcia and veteran French actor and comedian Jean Rochefort, says he was "passively taking part" in organising auditions for the female lead, so had some insight into how his mother and her team worked. "They were all waiting for the actresses to leave in order to be able to exchange views on the screen tests and nothing happened. But when Louise left they were very astonished and relieved that they found the right one."
This is news to Bourgoin. "Wow, that's a nice story" she says, and laughs. "I'm really proud."
In the film Baptiste reluctantly has to look after a pupil, Mathias, who he finds still at school after everyone has left for a holiday weekend. There's been a mix-up over which of his divorced parents is to pick him up. Baptiste then travels with Mathias to a beach resort in the south of France where Sandra works. She's not pleased to see her son, or the stranger in tow.
But Sandra owes money to some thugs, and flees with Baptiste and her son. Baptiste then reluctantly takes them to his family home, which reveals his hidden past.
For a good part of the film, Bourgoin's working-class character is unlikeable. Ask her about it and there are references to the importance of "mise en scene" and Sandra and Baptiste's "osmotic" relationship.
In trying to get to the heart of Sandra, she looked at her own background. "I come from two different backgrounds. My father's family was a very well-off bourgeois family, and my mother's family was rather poor and much more modest. This film portrays a reality that is mine.
"It was the intention. . . to stress the fact that this girl comes from nowhere. She just mingles. We hardly see her in the opening scene. She's like a little fish in a stream. She doesn't wear any makeup or have a special relationship with her son. She's been dealt many difficult blows and situations. This is possibly why the empathy is not there in the beginning."
"They are both hiding a mystery and mystery is a very powerful device for the audience," says Rochefort, for whom Going Away is his biggest role.
"So long as there's a mystery surrounding a character, you stick to it. In this film you are discovering bit by bit who they are."
Rochefort says he did share some of Baptiste's shyness. "What I loved about Baptiste, and what seduced me, is the fact that he has this sort of deafness and silence. He doesn't speak or say too much."
They both injected some of real life into their performances. The fact they didn't know each other before the film made it easier to convey the same between Sandra and Baptiste. "The film was shot [in sequence] so we had the same journey as our characters in a way," says Bourgoin.
An important scene shows Baptiste meeting his estranged family. Rochefort says up to that point, the scenes were just with a small number of actors. But the new scene required him working with many. The fear he shows on screen was genuine, he says. "I was scared. I shared his feelings."
Rochefort says the other added pressure was having his mother in the director's chair. "I was feeling quite tense in the beginning. The first three days were tough, and little [by] little it got easier. I managed to lift off the pressure and experience the pleasure of shooting the film.
"Nicole was a strong ally, and we developed a good relationship. It helped to relieve the tension."
Garcia, who was giving interviews earlier the same week, had another view on casting her own son.
"I normally spend a lot of time thinking about the actors and the casting because I need the characters to be there, and then I'm looking for the right actor to play that character," she says. "I'm not like other directors who travel all the time with the same group of actors and they work on film after film."
"It was difficult for him," says Garcia, who has also had a long career as an actress in French cinema and television. "It was a chance - but maybe a trap. I had hoped that it was a good thing for him and he is really good in the movie. I wanted a mix of melancholy and strength but sadness in his eyes. I am sad because it is my son. But it was very easy for me to forget on the set that it was Pierre. [For me] it was Baptiste."
Going Away screens at The Embassy in Wellington on Monday, 6.30pm, March 30, 6.30pm and April 5, 4.30pm as part of the Alliance Francaise French Film Festival. Pierre Rochefort will be at the screening on Monday, and will host a question and answer session.
- The Dominion Post
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