Emmanuelle Seigner's at her best
Emmanuelle Seigner's fourth collaboration with her husband Roman Polanski might just be their best.
As actress and director, the pair have previously worked together on thrillers Frantic, Bitter Moon and The Ninth Gate.
But as they prepare to celebrate their silver wedding anniversary later this month, they are also basking the glory of Venus in Fur, a French adaptation of American playwright David Ives 2010 production, which itself was inspired by Leopold von Sacher-Masoch's 1870 novel Venus in Furs.
Essentially a two-hander, it revolves around a writer-director (Mathieu Amalric) who after a day of auditions where he has struggled to find his leading lady suddenly comes across a seemingly unlikely candidate (Seigner) who then proceeds to surprise and captivate him. After competing for the Palm D'or at Cannes last year, the film earned Polanski best director at January's Cesar Awards (the French equivalent of the Academy Awards).
Speaking on the phone from Paris, Seigner says she and Polanski (who have two children together - Morgane and Elvis) had been looking for something to work on together for a while. "This was the perfect combination of something that was right for him to do a movie, that had a good role for a woman and that we could do without a huge budget.
"I wanted to do something that was more like his early movies like Knife in the Water and Repulsion and Roman fell in love with this play."
Working closely with Ives, Polanski set about adapting the play into French and relocated the action from New York to Paris, co-opting Seigner in to help with the dialogue. "We were looking for the right words in French, one's that were good for us and right for our characters and making sure we didn't lose the piece's atmosphere in translating it."
Despite having proven her English abilities onscreen, Seigner says she believes she wouldn't have been to able to give the same kind of performance as she did en francaise.
"My soul is in French and I can do something more easy with less words in French. And in this movie there are so many words. To do it in English in the right way would have taken a year."
Finding a leading man who could generate with right chemistry with Seigner was also vital and she was delighted when they eventually chose her The Diving Bell and the Butterfly co-star Mathieu Almaric. "Even though we'd only had three or four scenes together we had a very good relationship. When he was hired it was a big relief for me, I knew I felt good with him and loved working with him. Plus he's such a good actor."
Almaric also bears an uncanny resemblance to Polanski when he was younger. Was that deliberate?
"It was an accident, we'd actually picked someone else first and hired Mathieu because he was so talented not because he looks a bit like Roman. But I think it's a good accident, it makes it more special."
That said, Seigner admits Polanski is very precise when it comes to what he wants, and in the case of Venus in Fur, especially her revealing outfits.
"The costume designer was English so she would come from London with one special guy to do my period dress and we had another woman just doing the 'sexy clothes' and the leather stuff. We even had two versions of one dress - one that fitted me very well to play the character in the play and one that was a bit bigger for my other character, so there was a difference."
Venus revolves around the audition process and how humiliating it can be, however Seigner confesses she struggles to identify with such a situation. "I'm lucky that I've never had such humiliation, probably because I'm not crazy ambitious."
She admits though that carving out a career has been difficult "because there are not that many good roles for women".
"The fact that I'm married to Roman doesn't help me. I think it sort of scares other directors off. It does though give me the opportunity to do great movies with him."
Describing her Venus character Vanda as lot of fun to play ("sometimes I was laughing so much"), Seigner says she tries not to let a character linger with her afterhours. "For me, it is easy to leave it behind. I do it like a sport, I don't use my brain too much."
Although keen "just to do good roles", Seigner confesses she would love to do more movies where she can be vulnerable. "I don't always want to play this sexy, dominant person."
However, that said, she hasn't been able to find a project to match Venus since. "Everything I've been offered didn't feel very interesting after that role because it was so amazing."
When asked what advice she would give a young actress - "do something else," is her immediately laughing reply.
"Look, the important thing is not to take it personally. If you do well that's great, if you don't do well don't be too dependent on it. Try to do other things. Don't be dependent on this business, it can make you hard, pretentious or bitter."
Venus in Fur (M) is in cinames now.