Audrey Tautou Talks Mood Indigo and the Genius of Michel Gondry

Movies Features Audrey Tautou

Photo by Michael Dunaway

In a way, it’s a little bizarre that Audrey Tautou, the luminous star of Amelie, among many other films, has never worked before with Michel Gondry, the acclaimed director of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, among many other films. She would seem to fit right into her countryman’s myriad worlds. (The two obviously agree, as she’s also starring in his next film.) In Gondry’s new surrealistic film, Mood Indigo, he needed a heroine with whom we’d immediately fall in love (just like the hero), and to whom we’d look for an anchor when things got weird (just like the hero). Tautou delivers both in spades, but when she sat down with us recently after the premiere of the film, all she wanted to talk about was what a genius Gondry was. And because she’s Audrey Tautou, we let her. Enjoy the conversation below, and see page two to see the full, uncropped Tautou portrait. We’re not cruel, after all.

Paste Magazine: Thank you for giving us some time today. We saw the film (Mood Indigo) yesterday on the big screen. It was quite an experience! The friend who saw it with me said it reminded her a little bit of Pee Wee’s Playhouse.

Audrey Tautou: Pee Wee’s Playhouse? What is that? (Translator describes what Pee Wee’s Playhouse is and mentions his white shoes.) Oh yes! Tell your friend she’s not the only one who feels that way! (Everyone laughs)

Paste: So then I said, “This movie is like Pee Wee’s Playhouse meets Eraserhead, meets Amelie.”
Tautou: Yep.

Paste: So it seems like you had some good influences there. I’m curious, for this film more than most, it must have been difficult when you were reading the script to really understand what the film was supposed to be like.
Tautou: Yes, when you read the script you might think, “How will it be possible to make this?” The reason is because we didn’t want to use digital effects. So, when you read the scene where Jesus is riding around in a rocket-ship with the priest in front of it when they are going to get married, you’re like: “Okay, but how are they going to do that?” You know, it’s like when you’re reading a book, and the images in your head are so crazy; it becomes natural to wonder how things can be done. Today, you can use digital effects to do everything, but Michel didn’t want that; he wanted to keep it close to the book. He wanted to make sure the film had sensitivity. I totally agree with him. Considering Michel’s technical decision-making, including his decision to stay away from digital effects, I wondered how he would be able to do it.

Paste: I think that the choice to stay away from digital effects makes the film more immediate … more visceral … more organic. I find that sometimes, movies that have a lot of visual digital effects put me to sleep a little bit, because it’s all too slick.
Tautou: Mmmhmm.

Paste: Natural effects keep you on your toes.
Tautou: Yes. Natural effects make things so real. As actors, you can feel that on the set. Everything was concrete—every prop, every decoration. It is a fantastical world, but it exists! So, it does not require an effort from us with our imaginations. As actors, we don’t have to pretend; it feels like real life. That was something very important and very helpful. It is true that when you watch this movie, Michel does not prepare the audience to get into that world. It’s very unconventional. I think that with the cinema that we see today, there is something that is very… anachronic?

Paste: Anachronistic, sure.
Tautou: Mood Indigo is anachronistic, because you can’t date it.

Paste: Sure. It exists outside of time almost. In a world like that, that is so surreal, how does that affect your approach as an actress? Do you feel that you need to try harder to be a more grounding influence on the film, or do you feel that you should be more surreal as a character? Does that make sense?
Tautou: Yes, perfectly. I think it was important to stay natural and to keep our feet on this ground. But, in another way, even though we used daily language, there was a little bit of sparkle and fantasy in the language and in our words. It was easy for me to distance myself from my interpretation of what was happening. I don’t think Michel Gondry wanted us to compose something weak or unnatural.

Paste: A lot of the strength of the movie comes from the fact that it’s a very conventional love story displayed in an incredibly unconventional way. That juxtaposition is very interesting. Speaking of juxtaposition, my favorite scene in the movie was where he kept falling off the chair. I thought that, even with all of the crazy effects that were going on, the old things sometimes still work best. It was like an old Buster Keaton scene or Charlie Chaplin … he just kept falling off the chair. You may have even heard me laughing uproariously in the back! (laughs)
Tautou: Yes. The thing is, it is a very fantastical world, but we are not aliens. We are very much human. All of the emotions are very human. I think that’s why the book was so famous. Everybody read it in France. It’s so very human. As you said, the setting and the world is very surreal, as well as the effects. But there is still an element that is totally human. Love is pure. We didn’t feel like we had to play it weird or strange. Just natural.

Paste: I just met Michel Gondry for the first time last night, and he is wonderful. I can only imagine that someone whose mind is so far-ranging and encompassing, someone who thinks in such different ways than most filmmakers … I can imagine that on set, it would be a very different experience. Is he different to work with than other directors you’ve worked with? What is his process of working with the actors?
Tautou: His process is different because there is no serenity between takes. He is always filming. There is no clapping, but there is also no silence. There is an energy. But it’s difficult for me to make an objective comparison because of the unique subject of the movie and the world. It was so special, you know? That was something that was very new to me. What you see in the movie is what we had at the set. I’ve never seen that before, so it’s very different for me. I’m really curious to see how Michel will direct his next movie. I have a small part in it, so I’m eager to see how it turns out. It will be more grounded, and yet unconventional because there is a lot of poetry. There is a climax of ideas and fantasy, and it’s not as surreal as this.

Paste: I expect that one of the other great things about being a part of a Gondry movie is the fact that a different kind of audience gets drawn in. When I walked into the room last night, I don’t think I was quite prepared for the row in front of me. Julie Taymor was sitting next to David Byrne! (laughs) Gondry is really able to straddle the line with one foot in the art world and one foot in the indie film world. Is that what drew your interest in working with him, or was it his past films? Did you know him already?
Tautou: Well, part of it was his first films. But, I think that from my point of view, Michel doesn’t have any prejudices. I think he’s very curious about many different things, and he’s really not that complex. He’s a very simple person, and yet he’s full of ideas. He’s an ordinary person, but he does not have an ordinary brain, that’s for sure!

Paste: That’s a great way to put it!
Tautou: But in his approach to people and in what he likes, there is no prejudice. I think that makes him so different and attractive in a work aspect. That’s something I’ve really discovered in knowing him more. He can work with Björk, but he can also work with me, you know? I could even say that he’s one of those trendy directors because so many people like his work, but he’s also not a superficial person at all. He could never be in that category. I think that’s why he’s such an amazing artist. He’s not an impostor. It’s very surprising because some people need a costume to be important, but Michel is not like that. He is very popular and very cultured, and I think that’s why his work is so interesting. For instance, when you watch Mood Indigo, you have this love story that is very simple and romantic, but in another way, if you’re watching the movie for the first time you can have all these different layers of interpretation. There are so many visual metaphors. It tells you a lot about his view of the workplace, and money, and writing, and how passions can kill.

Paste: And philosophy.
Tautou: Yes! You have to put some distance between yourself and the story so that you can see how you want it to end. He’s very good at that. We are all the writers of our own lives. However, at some point fatality can stop you, and you can’t do anything about it. At the first reading, we thought: “Oh that’s funny. Oh, that’s amazing. There are a lot of ideas and poetry, and it’s very creative.” But, if you think about it a bit more, and you take some time to get deep with it, there are a lot of messages in the film, and I think that’s very interesting.

Paste: It’s interesting, because almost everything that you said in answer to that question could also apply to David Byrne and Julie Taymor, too, right? David Byrne is one of the guys who took art-house music and made it into pop songs about love. Julie Taymor is an incredibly avant-garde theater artist who comes in and does a Disney cartoon Broadway show. It’s really an interesting parallel between all three people.

Tautou: Yeah! I think when you are open to everything, and you don’t judge—much like David Byrne and Julie Taymor—you don’t have to prove anything. Of course, you want people to love your work; that’s why Michel was worried about this movie. It was a lot of pressure for him. When you are truly not superficial, the only thing that matters to you is the heart … the hearts of people … the heart of work. It’s not about the trends or the fashion. You are not influenced by what is supposed to be considered good today.

Paste: It’s just about your vision.
Tautou: Yes! You take the whole world, and you let it inspire you.

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