Most theater does not translate well into film. The film genre invites expansion and theater can feel claustrophobic. Unless claustrophobic is what you want as in the case of Roman Polanski's adaptation of David Ives' stage play inspired by Sacher-Masoch's novel, Venus in Fur, a kinky two hander involving a theater director at the end of a brutal day of auditions, and an actress who barges in at the last minute demanding attention. In the recent Broadway production Nina Arianda and Hugh Dancy faced off in these roles, but now on film, Roman Polanski cast his wife, the voluptuous Emmanuelle Seigner in a tour de force performance with Mathieu Amalric, whose Thomas could double for the director Polanski. The casting is adventurous in another way as Seigner brings a mature sexuality to Vanda: she is goddess, earth mother, a sex kitten to rival Bardot, a muse, tease or threat. Turning on a dime, her character sizzles. In an interview last month at the Soho Grand Hotel, Seigner spoke about her performance in this movie, working with her husband, and why this was such a good role for her.
How would you describe Venus in Fur in Roman Polanski's oeuvre?
This film is different from The Pianist, more like his early movies, Knife in the Water, Cul de Sac, and Repulsion. I love The Pianist, The Ghostwriter, Tess, the later more academic work. I like his early work more because it was more insolent, arrogant, and punk. I like this film for that reason.
In his last two films, Polanski seems more fascinated with theater. Is that a trend?
Carnage is a good movie, but I don't think it is like a Polanski movie. Anyone could have done it. Carnage and Venus are similar only in that they come from plays. Venus in Fur is very Polanski: you have the knife of Rosemary's Baby, you have Thomas disguised as a woman as in The Tenant, when Vanda puts makeup on him, it's like Cul de Sac; the dress of Tess and other details that are very Polanski. He fell in love with the play because it was so much him.
What is it like working with your husband?
It is not a question of husband or not; it is a question of working with a good director. Roman is a very good director. When you work with someone who knows what he is doing, it is great. If my husband were a bad director, it would be a nightmare.
But then maybe you wouldn't be married to him?
Maybe I would. You marry someone for reasons more mysterious than that. It's great to work with a good director, on a good role, and there are not so many of them.
Did his intimate knowledge of you help to bring out this performance?
Yes. You know that the person loves you and will film you well. He knows your angles, when you look good and when you don't, so you know the person is going to put you in the best position.
Who is your character, Vanda?
We don't know. Maybe she is from his mind. Like in Rosemary's Baby, at the end you can think, maybe she dreamt all that. Or maybe she is a goddess, or an actress that wanted to teach the director a lesson. Who knows? I like that it is open and mysterious.
Do you think this role utilized all your talents?
I think it is the best I have ever done. I like others, but this is my big role.
Did you know David Ives' play before you got involved with this film?
No. I didn't see the play. Then when it was playing in New York, I didn't want to be influenced, because I knew it was very different from what we did. I would love to see it now.
How was it working with Mathieu Amalric?
Great! We worked together before, in Julian Schnabel's The Diving Bell and the Butterfly. He is a great actor and a nice man, the type of actor who would throw the ball to you in the right position, so it is easy to work with him. It flows. It's fun.
How was it working with Schnabel?
Great. Julian is a good friend. We became close. It is very different from working with Roman, who is very precise, obsessive and slow. Julian is all improvised and suddenly changes his mind, more like a painter. They are both great but different. Julian is so fast: we had a scene on the beach. We had five days to do it, and we did it in one.
Were any scenes shooting Venus in Fur memorable in the same way?
Roman does a lot of takes, and he's precise: you have to have your head like this and your hand like that. He's from the same school as Orson Welles; the frame is important. Like a painter, but a different kind of painter than Julian, who is abstract and messy. Julian is like free jazz, Roman is like classical music. I love both.
Do you have another project?
No. Everything given me to read is boring, or plain. After Venus, I want to do something good. There are very good roles for men and for very young girls, but it's hard to find a good role for women.
How long have you been an actress?
I come from a family of actors. My grandfather was like a Laurence Olivier with the Comedie Francaise. Since I was four I went every week to the Comedie Francaise. My aunt and grandmother were there, but my grandfather was a big star. My sister, Mathilde, is an actress, but more like a French Jennifer Aniston. She's famous just in France. She's very commercial, and does big comedies. So, acting was part of my family, and that's how I was raised.
Would you encourage your children to act?
I'm sure my children will be artists. I hope they will direct because it is much more interesting. Acting is great and I love it, but it is very passive, and it depends on other people's desire, and you depend on others all the time. It is hard for me to be passive. But to be an actor and be happy at it, you have to be totally neurotic, or stupid. It's frustrating.
Do you think you bring that frustration about acting into the role of Vanda?
I think that's why that role was so right for me. She is a character looking for control. She wants power. I'm the same. I hate to be controlled. That's not my personality.
A version of this post also appears on Gossip Central.
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