Kristen Scott Thomas - h Interview

Posted on 06. Nov, 2008 by in Profiles

by Todd Gilchrist

“The point of this character is that she is holding a secret,” says Kristin Scott Thomas of Juliette Fontaine, the woman she plays in Philippe Claudel’s new film I’ve Loved You So Long. “The secret that she’s hanging onto, like an unborn child almost, is her link to this event, to this past and it’s something she doesn’t want anyone else to get their sticky fingers on. So that was the motor, or how to play the character I felt was, to keep hanging onto that secret and allowing, or being aware that the camera was going to come in and pinch stuff from time to time.”
Given her pedigree as a leading lady in films like The English Patient and The Horse Whisperer, Thomas seems an unlikely advocate for giving her director (and by extension, the audience) as little as possible. But in preparing for her new film, in which she plays a woman who reunites with her sister after a terrible tragedy and 15 long years in prison, Thomas realized that her best work could only be done if it were as unobtrusive as possible. “My aim as an actress was to keep as closed down as possible, knowing that I have to produce something for people to watch and to be able to understand but to let it out just in tiny little, it’s almost pointillist. It’s little dots – impressionistic, almost.”
During the mid-1990s, Thomas was one of Hollywood’s leading ladies du jour, appearing opposite actors like Ralph Fiennes, Robert Redford, and Harrison Ford as a credible physical and intellectual counterpoint to their often blinding star wattage. Since then, her own bankability diminished slightly, even though the roles got no less interesting – all of which is why she’s still appreciative, if none too contemplative about the awards buzz she’s already received for her performance in I’ve Loved You So Long.
“I think it’s always lovely when something gets recognition, and I certainly would be over the moon if something like that happened. I can’t think of an appropriate word in English,” she says, referring vaguely to her fluent French, which she puts to devastating use in the film. “It would be wonderful, but you know, who knows?”
Outwardly, Juliette seems like a perfect storm of Oscar-worthy character choices: English-born Thomas performs the role en français, plays a tortured, introspective character, and dresses down her own natural luminosity to create an authentic portrait of Juliette’s long-cultivated lack of self-consciousness. Indeed, Thomas admits she wanted Juliette to be as unadorned as possible: “We wanted it to appear that she had no skin. She was just naked, a bare person, and somebody who really didn’t care about her appearance, with no narcissism at all, no self love – nothing. It’s almost aggressively ugly,” she observes. “There’s something almost aggressive in the way she is so in your face, it’s uncompromising.”
She is, however, dismissive of the idea that delivering lines in another language makes a difference in her performance. “I don’t really understand that,” she muses. “It’s not a question of me acting. It’s a question of what the role is asking me to do and what directors will ask me to do.” That said, she observes that her experiences working in British cinema may have impacted some audiences’ perception of her. “I think that in French, I don’t have all this sort of class baggage that they seem to throw at me when I’m in England. Because I haven’t played any aristocrats in France, then I don’t have to do them again ad infinitum, which I have in England – even though
I enjoy doing it.”
Regardless of the potential critical windfall or awards-season attention such efforts may attract, Thomas insists that the opportunity to challenge herself is what exclusively drives her to tackle a character like Juliette. “When I chose to play this role, I didn’t think about the consequences,” she says. “I just felt for me, it was just the pleasure, if you could call it that, of being able to explore these emotions and these situations, that hopefully, let’s pray, I won’t ever know in my life. That’s why I like this job,” she continues. “You get to explore all these different avenues and you have little tastes of different kinds of existences, and that is what interests me in my job. So I rarely think about the consequences of what people are going to think afterwards.”

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