Actress Audrey Tautou won America’s hearts when she starred in the title role of Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s Amelie in 2001, turning her into an in-demand superstar in her native France. Even so, she mostly shied away from Hollywood, her appearance in 2006’s The Da Vinci Code with Tom Hanks being a rare exception, and in fact, she’s only had two of her four movies released in the States since then, making many of her fans wonder what she’s been up to the last six years.
She’s back now, starring in David and Stphane Foenkinos’ new romantic comedy Delicacy, adapted from David’s bestselling French novel “La Dlicatesse,” playing Nathalie, a happy and successful businesswoman whose life changes dramatically when her husband of three years suddenly dies, leaving an emptiness in her life. A chance encounter with a less-than-charming Scandinavian underling named Markus (French comedian Franois Damiens from Heartbreakers) leads to an unlikely romance blossoming between them, a relationship that no one around them can believe is possible as Markus does his best to break Nathalie out of her shell.
ComingSoon.net was delighted to have a chance to speak to the somewhat elusive actress last week while she was in New York City to attend the film’s New York premiere as Closing Night at Lincoln Center’s “Rendezvous with French Cinema.”
ComingSoon.net: This movie is interesting because it’s not often an author of a book directs the movie based on it. Were you already familiar with David Foenkinos’ book or had you worked with his brother Stephane (a well-known casting director in France)?
Audrey Tautou: Yes, I had worked with his brother a long time ago and I’ve known him for ten years so I had a lot of affection for him. I hadn’t read the book, but I had heard of it. It’s only when I read the script, I was really charmed by the story and the tone of their universe and I wanted to be a part of it.
CS: The movie starts as a romance movie then turns into a drama and then it becomes comedic, it’s kind of a mix, so did the book have the same sort of tone to it?
Tautou: Yes, the book had the same fantasy, too, the lightness inside the nightmare I would say. It’s an unusual journey for a movie.
CS: Had you read the book first or the screenplay?
Tautou: The screenplay. In fact, I didn’t read the book before (making the movie).
CS: You mentioned reading the screenplay. Don’t you think reading the book could have added something to the character?
Tautou: I didn’t really want to lose my first impression of her, and fortunately, because one of the directors was also the author, I could always have a discussion with the author himself. He really would indicate to me if I was on the right track in the way that I was playing her and I think by the feedback I got from him, I knew that I was on the right path, but there comes a point where you can perhaps have too much information and I didn’t want that to happen. I wanted to go with my first impression of the character.
CS: When you first started reading about Nathalie, did you immediately think “Oh, I could play her” and immediately relate to the character?
Tautou: When I read the script, yes I saw that I could do something with her, because I thought her reaction was very human and very authentic. There was something really realistic, so I was interested to confront myself to her journey and especially all the moments of the mourning period. That was interesting for me. That was the first time I had to go inside those types of emotions and to actually with this kind of psychological mechanism that she has to use to deal with this kind of situation.
CS: I don’t know how popular this book was before you started making the movie…
Tautou: The book was actually successful, but what is kind of funny is that it became this enormous bestseller while we were shooting the film. In France, it’s a huge bestseller, and it’s been the #1 bestseller for more than a year in France.
CS: Does that put a lot of pressure on you that so many people have read and loved this book and character?
Tautou: No, because while we were shooting, that wasn’t the case. (laughs)
CS: But then when the movie comes out, they have their own thoughts on the character and how you’re going to play her.
Tautou: Well, you know, it’s always like that, when you work on a film that’s an adaptation of a book, because there are always some people that are going to be disappointed because everybody has their own image of what they think the characters are like, and you’re bound to disappoint someone.
CS: But also, you previously played Coco Chanel, an incredibly famous woman, so Nathalie must have been easy compared to that.
Tautou: (giggles adorably) No, I generally try to do my best so I don’t have that pressure like I might do because I always work to do my best in a part, so if it works, that’s good, but I did the best that I could.
CS: How is it working with two directors? Especially since they’re both first-time directors?
Tautou: Actually, it really worked very well because they had an enormous amount of preparation before we started to shoot the film, and they were of a single mind, they had a single voice, and so it would be just one of them that would come and talk with us and give us direction. He was sort of the spokesman for the two of them and because of that, everything went very smoothly. It was a very good atmosphere because they had done all this preparation work before.
CS: So they had a very specific way of working and dividing up the directing?
Tautou: I think that really they both had in mind the same film, and they both knew they were working on the same film, and it was that way from the start. Even though the jobs that they did sort of naturally divide themselves between one and the other, it was still always of the same mind as they were working on the film.
CS: We spoke before about it mixing comedy and drama, so how hard is that as an actress to go back and forth and switch gears, maybe in the same days?
Tautou: The thing that really required the most preparation for me was to know in each scene exactly where we were because there were many Nathalies, so really, for me, I had to know in each scene where we were in this emotional journey that she was taking so I would know how to respond. Actually, I wanted this journey and this trajectory that she takes, this transformation that she goes through from being in mourning to coming out and being reborn in a sense, to really be something very fluid and it was a challenge because the film was not shot chronologically, so it was always important for me to know exactly where we were in her story.
CS: Let’s talk about Franois’ character Markus, because he helps her get out of this, and he’s a really funny actor. I saw him in “Heartbreaker,” which I loved, so did you understand the connection and why she becomes interested in him, because they are such an odd couple.
Tautou: Actually, I knew Francois and he’s somebody who is very very popular and he’s very funny and I really wanted the opportunity to work with him, and that was one of the things that attracted me to the idea of making this film.
CS: So he was on board before you?
Tautou: We were cast at the same time, but they told me they had been thinking of casting him and for me, that was an extra added plus to working on the film, and I knew that he would be able to convey this kind of gentleness, this kind of poetry and whimsical sense, that he’d be able to do that, so that was one of the reasons I was glad to work with him.
CS: I wanted to ask about the title since you may have some more insight having worked with the author so closely. When you hear a title like “Delicacy,” you think there’s more food involved then there actually is, so I was curious about that.
Tautou: Yeah, the translation of the word “Dlicatesse” from French, there is no exact equivalent translation for it in English, so it doesn’t have that immediate connotation of food we might give it here. It’s actually kind of a combination of niceness and sweetness and concern for someone else and sensitivity to other people, so it’s really a combination of that the word is understood to mean in French.
CS: Did you get the impression David might want to write more about Nathalie and do more stories about her, especially since the book proved to be so popular?
Tautou: No, I don’t think so, but I know he was very happy to have the opportunity to continue his involvement with Nathalie by transforming the book into a film.
CS: That’s interesting because a lot of authors don’t want to be involved with the process of turning their books into a movie and to keep some separation, so it’s rare for an author to stay that involved to that degree.
Tautou: Interestingly enough, the initiative to make this film didn’t come from David, it came from his brother Stephane, who was the one who pushed him to make the adaptation for the film.
CS: When I was doing research for this, it surprised me that it’s only been 12 years since “Amelie,” because it seems like longer, at least to me. From our perspective here in the States, it seems like you’ve been a lot more selective as this is the first movie we’ve seen with you in a couple years. Is that the case?
Tautou: I don’t really know if it’s something deliberate. It may just be like that moment in life, not necessarily that I’m becoming more selective but that I need to have an opportunity to live my life a little bit, too. I don’t have a strategic plan for how I want my career to go. It’s just something that happens.
CS: You’ve been playing more adult roles as well between this and “Priceless.” Was there a point when you realized you had to get away from playing such young women?
Tautou: Well, especially since I’m getting older myself… (laughs)
CS: Maybe, but I think you can still pull off playing younger.
Tautou: I really want to be able to grow older with the parts I play. I don’t want to be stuck always playing the very young characters, and I don’t have the same naivete that I had then either.
CS: The Coco Chanel movie was a good transition movie, since you played her both very young as well as older. Six years ago, you appeared in “The Da Vinci Code,” your big Hollywood movie. Was there some reason why you haven’t explored having more of a career in America? Did you not enjoy that experience?
Tautou: Actually, “The Da Vinci Code” was a very good experience for me, but I think I’m not really cut out for that kind of drive and push that you have to have to really make a Hollywood career. I know that I don’t mind making that kind of film in Hollywood from time to time, but I’m quite fulfilled by the type of roles that I’m offered in French films and also roles that I might not be offered in Hollywood, so I think perhaps the best thing for me would be kind of like a tourist in films and make one from time to time just like that but not permanently as a Hollywood career.
CS: I understand you’re going to work with Michel Gondry and also you’re doing another movie with Cedric Klapisch, which is going to be another sequel to “L’Auberge Espagnole,” so will you be shooting those fairly soon?
Tautou: Yes, yes. The project with Michel Gondry is probably going to start shooting like mid or late April and then the film with Cedric Klapisch maybe in late summer, August or early September.
CS: You’ve worked with much of the cast of Cedric’s movie “Chinese Box,” so have you kept in touch with most of the cast like Romain Duris and Cecile de France?
Tautou: I’m really happy to be working with Cedric again, and yeah, our paths crossed from time to time. What’s really nice is to be able to grow older with the same characters that we’re playing on screen.
CS: I’m surprised Cedric is doing another sequel, because I feel like the last time I spoke to him, he wasn’t that interested in doing sequels.
Tautou: I don’t know what motivated him.
Sadly, we had to wrap things up there before we could learn more about the Gondry film, but thanks to the awesome interpreter Ellen for her help with this interview.
Delicacy opens in New York City on Wednesday, March 14 at Lincoln Center’s Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center and the Landmark Sunshine.