Cecile de France, the well-respected Belgian actress who recently starred in Clint Eastwood's Hereafter, spoke very calmly about her newest role, as a hairdresser in the Dardenne Brothers' The Kid with a Bike, which premiered this week in Cannes.
"I need three criteria to make a film," she said with a full smile, behind her sunglasses, her hair coiffed in blondish boyish spikes, as we sat poolside on the roofside terrace of the Marriott Hotel, the morning very bright and fresh. "To like the character, to work with great directors, and to love the story. When Dardenne or Eastwood call you, of course you say yes." She laughed. "Right away. I am not Brad Pitt, you know."
She continued speaking in her melodic casual way. "And the Dardenne Brothers told me they chose me because I don't wear the misery of the world on my shoulders." As she spoke, confident and calm, seagulls flew in a direct line behind her, and the sea glimmered blue below.
What is the difference between Clint Eastwood and the Dardenne Brothers?
She laughed. "They're opposites. Clint Eastwood does only one take, and never rehearses. He captures the spontaneity of the first shot. He offers you total freedom. He never goes into the costume room for example. He trusts what we do."
And the Dardenne?
"The Dardenne look at every detail," She lifted up a water glass. "Every glass! They tell you exactly what to act, what emotion to express. Everything is under control. I couldn't improvise one syllable of my own. With Clint Eastwood, I even wrote up one of my own dialogues in a hotel room with a friend -- the one about Mitterand!"
Did she prefer one method to the other?
She smiled. "I am an actress. I do my job. I love my job. No, I do not prefer one to the other. With Eastwood, I could say it is cool to be free, but it is a responsibility. And with the Dardenne, it was right to renounce my freedom."
The major difference lay in how she approached each scene. "With Eastwood, I had to prove to him that I could do it in one take. I had to be emotional, sensitive, in charge, all in one take. An exciting challenge! I had to show Eastwood all my talent."
And with the Dardenne?
"I had to hold back, not act. This too was a challenge."
The Dardenne had a philosophy behind their strategy. In The Boy with a Kid, Cecile plays a woman who, out of the kindness of her heart, decides to befriend an abandoned little boy and help him, through thick and thin.
The Dardenne wanted the gesture of this woman to be pure kindness. Not mitigated by motives. They didn't want Cecile thinking about psychology: why she did it. They wanted the deed to stand for itself.
At one point of the film, the hairdresser chooses between taking care of the boy, or her own boyfriend. She chooses the boyfriend.
"Even me, I don't know why!" Cecile laughed. "All I know is that I first said my lines with hardness, and then the Dardenne told me, 'no, no, say it like you are lost.' I said, okay. So I said it like I was lost. You do this emotion, without thinking."
Cecile was very happy, she said, with how her acting career has developed, since she first started dreaming of acting at age six. "Acting is a state of drunkenness. You feel exuberant, alive, necessary to the other. When you see your friends moved or smiling, by your acting, you feel: I have my place in the universe."
"I never expected," she added. "That I would work with masters such as the Dardenne and Eastwood. I am honored. When you work with geniuses, you learn so much. It is a responsibility too, because you have to be at the level of them."