Holy Motors is many things, but mostly it is a dream.
Leos Carax's new film is a series of scenarios with Denis Lavant playing a different character every time he steps out of a limousine -- entering into varied fantasies and, perhaps, some realities. Eva Mendes plays a fashion model that Lavant kidnaps in one section of the film. Following Holy Motors screening at the AFI Festival in Hollywood (you can read my review, a big recommendation, here), I had the pleasure of chatting with her about the film.
Q: First off, let me just say that I loved Holy Motors so I appreciate you taking the time to talk to me about your involvement in this film. How did you become involved in the film and what was it like to work with (director) Leos Carax?
Eva Mendes: I've been a Leos Carax fan for a while. Lovers on a Bridge is such a beautiful, romantic film. I've always wanted to work with him but he's kind of averaging doing a film every decade. I thought maybe it was just wishful thinking on my part. But then I got to meet him at the Morocco Film Festival last year, or actually, the year before. He brought up that he had a possible role for me: a character who didn't have any dialogue and all her scenes take place at Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris. This was music to my ears. First of all, I'm like the anti-actress in a way, in the sense that I love getting rid of dialogue. I love having as little dialogue as possible. So that was very exciting for me when he told me that basically my character was a mute, or I should say, a very silent character. And most of her scenes take place in Père Lachaise Cemetery, which is one of my favorite places in the world. So, I was in heaven and thought, "Oh gosh, I hope this actually happens."
Q: Your section of the film is almost like the inception of the movie since the Denis Lavant troglodyte character was lifted from Carax's short Merde in the triptych Tokyo! Did you see that film and, if so, how did it affect your performance or expectations?
EM: I saw Tokyo! and I loved it. I just thought: what is this character? Is he a monster? I was very into the idea of this monster kidnapping this object of desire and taking her through the cemetery and into the sewers of Paris. It was great that I could take that character from Merde and place it into context. Leos, of course, does everything in his own way, wrote the script (Holy Motors) in a very unusual way: it was formatted as descriptions of scenes with a lot of photography around the descriptions. It was beautiful, and I had a pretty clear idea [of the film], having already been a fan of Leos' work and his films.
Q: How much was your scene with Denis Lavant choreographed and was it difficult to remain in the stoic model stillness while he was going wild?
EM: [laughs] There was so much already being done for me: the atmosphere in the cemetery, Denis in his costume ... it was so fun for me to get lost in something. I've been in this business for a while now and these opportunities don't come up often. So when you get to become something different, not someone different, but some thing, it's exciting to just got lost in that. It was almost like a meditation because I had to be so still and so quiet.
Q: You mentioned splitting your scenes between the cemetery and the sewer, and in film we often see the monster taking the beauty, in Beauty and the Beast and King Kong etc. What are the implications of, this time, taking the beauty underground?
EM: There is so much beauty in the film that you can create your own theme after watching it. I don't want to impose with my own interpretation. It really is like a dream. It's so surreal... [Talking about the film] is a bit like trying to interpret a dream. It can be interpreted a million different ways. When you start interpreting something it loses its potency; I think that rings true for this film specifically because it vacillates between dream and nightmare.
Q: Recently you directed your first short film, California Romanza, and there is a scene in Holy Motors with Michel Piccoli where he and Denis Lavant talk about how film is changing: cameras getting smaller, digital filmmaking, etc. As an actress and filmmaker do you have a preference?
EM: I'm very supportive of modern technology because it allows more people to tell their stories and film doesn't become so elite. It's a beautiful thing because it allows more people to communicate and tell their stories. [laughs] And that can't be bad.
Q: Could you tell us a little about your next two films: The Place Beyond the Pines, which just debuted at The Toronto International Film Festival and will be out next year, and Clear History a film for HBO that was co-scripted by Larry David?
EM: The Place Beyond the Pines: I am so proud of this film; it's a beautiful film by one of my favorite directors, Derek Cianfrance... After I saw Blue Valentine I immediately met with him. It was such a beautiful and brave film and I was fortunate enough to be right for his next film. It's a beautiful drama and the complete antithesis of that [laughs] is Clear History with Larry David. It is a beautiful story [laughs] but it is obviously a comedy. It's all improv. A few years ago I was in The Other Guys with Will Ferrell, directed by Adam McKay and there was a lot of improvising on that set. I actually went and took some classes at UCB (Upright Citizens Brigade) and I think they finally paid off because I had a blast working with Larry David in that style. Everything is improv in Clear History. Basically they give you an outline of a scene, the idea of a scene, and then everything else you've got to fill in the blanks and go with the flow, and it is so much fun. I can't tell you how much fun that is.