• Vanity Fair - Valentine, Kristen Stewart’s character in the film, is this strange mix of employee and confidant. Is there someone like that in your life?
Juliette Binoche: You can’t put things in boxes, you know? Because everything is linked. My assistant is one of my best friends. There is, I believe, a genuine friendship there, as well as she works in my home, and takes care of my things. But she knows that if anything happens to her I’ll be there for her, because it’s part of the family in a way. You build a relationship together throughout time, she saw me go through ups and downs, and I’ve seen her going through ups and downs. So it’s built something that is beyond work. Nevertheless, we go through tensions, and have moments when we can’t stand each other. That’s part of it, like in any relationship. And you transform it is really the purpose of it. There was a moment when we stopped working with each other for two, three years, because she wanted to write a script, and also I needed to have some time off. And she came back and it was so joyful to see her again. There’s a trust that is happening that is very moving.
Like Chloe Grace Moretz’s character in the film, Kristen Stewart obviously gets a certain kind of attention in the press. Is that something you discussed with her while shooting?
We talked freely about life, and Kristen would generally talk about experiences she had or wanted to share. I don’t think I ever pushed her to say anything intimate. It came just naturally.
• Twitch Film - Funny, preparing for this interview, I revisited André Téchiné's RENDEZ-VOUS, which you wrote, starring baby Juliette Binoche and baby Lambert Wilson, after twenty years. I realized what you are doing in CLOUDS OF SILS MARIA. The layers you create, with Juliette's history and her personal reflections ... it's a really intriguing hall of mirrors you are creating. I am wondering if there was another layer that you put upon the film as a director that I am missing.
Olivier Assayas: If you've seen Rendez-vous, you know how much I am drawing from that film. I used the same theme... I think I used the overall mood of the film too. It's still a completely different animal. But it's also because the world has changed.
In terms of the themes, there are things in common: obviously the theater and the path towards becoming an actress. But the major difference is that I am doing something that André (Téchiné) is not doing in that film, which was using whoever those actors are. I mean, in this movie, one additional layer to the narrative which ends up giving it this kind of hall of mirror feeling which was not planned.
It just kind of happened to me in a certain way, but it derives from the logic that begins with deciding that I am going to use Juliette Binoche. That I'd give her another name and a slightly different character, one inch away from her where she can have fun playing an actress she could have been. She can make fun of herself in certain ways. But still, the audience knows that it is watching Juliette Binoche playing a famous actress who is very much like Juliette Binoche.
But then what comes out of it is that you are also watching Kristen Stewart playing Valentine and Chloë Moretz playing Joan. They are playing whom they could have been or part of someone they know. It gives very specific texture to this film. In movies, it's all about making you forget that you are watching these actors, having them blending into these characters who are believable. Here, part of the fun is experiencing, acknowledging Kristen is Kristen and Juliette is Juliette.
So Juliette was already set for the part. Were Kristen and Chloë your first choices when you were writing the script?
No I wasn't really thinking about anyone in particular when I was writing it. But the minute I sat down with them, especially with Kristen, I knew she was the one. She was on the top of my list and obvious choice anyway. But things don't really happen that way in movie business, especially it being a small weird European film and so on. So it stopped somewhere in the middle of the development stage.
Then Kristen finally got ahold of the screenplay and contacted us and told us she wanted to do it. But someone already had a part and that someone couldn't do it anymore and Kristen came back. So it ended up how it was supposed to be. For me, Kristen was the ideal embodiment of Valentine, perfect. I wanted someone who has both youth and power in front of Juliette. I wanted someone to challenge her. Not someone who would be in awe of Juliette. I wanted someone with guts.
Chloë happened very differently. I didn't have that much of a clear vision for Joan until I realized that what would be interesting was having someone very young to play the part. And that's what Chlöe had brought me. She was 16 when she played the role. She turned 17 while shooting the film. ultimately, it was that age difference that she had with Kristen that made sense of the whole system.
Chloë came to me in the late stage but when I spoke with her it was completely clear. She has one more thing on top of what other young actresses have: her sense of humor. She is very witty. She is very sharp so she gets it really quickly. So that was very important in the comedy side of it also.
I guess Valentine is a reflection or Maria's projection. I can't help thinking that the disappearance of Valentine is because she is the only one who sees the irony in the situation as an assistant to the great actress taking a back seat to the rising star.
You know, basically, she disappears so everyone can have their own take and interpretation on the disappearance. Everyone thinks it's a big thing, but ultimately its a small thing. It would be like, I add one shot of her buying a ticket and getting on the train for something. It's that tiny thing that opens up to a lot of interpretations and make it much more interesting.
I had couple of options, you know. But none of it is as interesting as yours. No, I'm not joking. When you are a writer you don't control everything that's going on. When you are a reviewer you discover everything. [We laugh.]
No, because you are discovering it and all of a sudden things make sense to you in ways it can't make sense to me. Because I was involved in assembling the elements and at some point things happen on their own and your imagination connects with the images and you recreate the film. Any audience recreates his or her own film, so when you have a gap in the narrative it's your whole imagination that is channeled into that gap. It's a way to appropriate the film.
• The Film Stage - Just a side note. Anyway, I think Clouds is among your most complex feats as a screenwriter. One thing that intrigued me most was Binoche and Stewart doing their dialogues for the play, and how, although it’s rather obvious that these characters’ relationship bears similarities to what’s been written there, such correlations (somehow) don’t feel on-the-nose. There’s a dance of sorts between the two stories, and I’d love to hear about striking this balance — getting something that’s very clear and still not thuddingly clear.
[Pause] You know, the truth is that it is stuff I did not really want to have any control on — in the sense that it is two parallel movements. And I knew there were going to be interactions, but, honestly, I had very little notion of exactly what they would be, how far it would go, and so on and so forth. If you look at the way the story moves, I really focused on, like, the important moments within the play. When they get together, when things start to go wrong, when they break-up — stuff like that. So, it’s fairly simple. The four scenes are like four turning points in the relationship between these two women.
And, simultaneously, you have, of course, the evolution of the relationship between the character of Valentine and Maria as it is somehow impacted or transformed by the nature of the relationship between the characters in the play. It’s similar, in a certain way, to what I was trying to do in Irma Vep when, all of a sudden, you have this “ghost” of Irma Vep, which somehow takes possession of every single character, in a certain way. Here, it’s like the ghosts of those characters who end up inhabiting the actresses.
So, it’s very subtle, because it’s nuances. But, somehow, is there really attraction between them, or is it more like they are getting close to the characters because they are acting them, and, somehow, they are somehow contaminated? It’s like the character of Maria, through the film, is becoming more and more masculine — becoming more and more Helena — but, ultimately, is this really what she is? Will she stay like that? Possibly not. It’s just a path that takes her to a point where she can embody that character, and then she will move on and she will be playing, you know, that mutant in that weird science fiction film. [Laughs]
Regarding needing to know: as a storyteller, how do you work your way up to the final interaction between Binoche and Stewart, which is this very mysterious, L’Avventura-esque point?
It’s tiny, tiny, tiny nuances, ultimately. It’s like small stones on the path. Ultimately, I think it ends up happening in the editing room, because it’s the takes I choose, because I have a lot of variations in the scenes. I mean, I have very different versions of all those scenes, so it’s really about constructing when you are editing, step by step — having things build up using the material you have. There, the sensual element of the story is something that has to be understated, but still present. Here, it’s pretty much a matter of fine-tuning. It shouldn’t go too far, but it should be present, so it’s really a very delicate balance. I had stuff that would have pushed it a bit further, and I had stuff that could have erased it, also, a bit more. I was happy with the balance that we found — but, again, in the editing room.
On the subject of fine-tuning, albeit in relation to pre-production: did you find that any of your initial conceptions of this project changed greatly when Valentine went to Kristen Stewart instead of your original choice, Mia Wasikowska?
Yes. Well, yes. You know, it’s… well, actually, I would put it a little differently. Whatever I wrote, I had in mind something fairly different from Mia Wasikowska; I think that the character was closer to Kristen in the first place. When, you know, for some reason, it was not happening with Kristen and I went to Mia Wasikowska — who I think is an incredible actress; I think she’s just brilliant, so smart — I said, “Okay, she’s great. I will adapt. We will find a common ground, and I’m sure that the dynamics will work.” I’m not sure exactly how they will work, but they will work. But we’re moving in a slightly different direction.
So when — for so many different reasons — we had to switch back to Kristen, somehow the whole process felt easier — because she was a much more obvious fit. But the thing is, I would have been extremely happy to make the film with Mia Wasikowska, except that it would have been a completely different movie. And that’s really interesting, in a certain way, because that’s where it ends up being like theater, like stage. When you have a play, you can have a million different versions of that play, based on who you cast. Here I felt there were different versions of this story. There were different possible versions of this story, but I knew that, in any case, I would have to adapt to whoever was playing Valentine.
Does that happen often, where you have to switch actors and it begins to feel like you can have a different film on your hands?
Usually, the range is narrower. Usually, you have some kind of idea. There are limits to what you can try, so it’s usually more focused. Here, I would say it’s a part that was much more open than usual for me.
One of the most common reactions I’ve seen to this movie, whether or not somebody likes it, is surprise by how strong Stewart’s performance is. Perhaps because there are preconceptions of her. You choose to work with an actor, so I assume you have good feelings about them.
But are you surprised by people’s surprise? Do you find that strange?
I understand it, in a sense, and, in a certain way, I’m happy. I decided to make this film with Kristen based on my intuition — based on the fact that I think she has this incredible, incredibly striking, unique screen presence. She has such a powerful presence onscreen. That’s something everybody’s aware of — or you have to be blind not to see it. But then I had no idea if I would be able to bring her on the terrain on this film. I had no idea how she would function with Juliette, how far she could go in terms of reinventing the scenes, improvising, not rehearsing, blah blah blah.
So I had a feeling that I was just betting; I was betting the film on something that I had no security of. I did not know. I only had my instinct. It’s not like I had any proof that she had already done it; she had not done it. I was taking her in a completely different area. But after, like, one day, I knew she was just perfect for the part, and it was really great. And, the thing is, as often with great actors, I was amazed by her. Like, on a day-to-day basis, I thought, “Oh, my God. How fast she adapts.” Because Juliette was doing stuff I knew that she… I had seen… I know her. I know her enough that I knew she could go in that direction.
Honestly, I do think she’s much better in this film than in a lot of movies she’s done, but that was my concern. Because I think that Juliette, as great as she is, you know, sometimes she can be not so focused. So I knew I had to help her focus. But, for Kristen, I was amazed by how easy she felt with stuff that was completely unfamiliar ground for her. But then, the tiny thing — the nuances, the way she moves her body, the way she looks — that’s stuff that I discovered when I was editing. I was just amazed by the precision. You can’t really see that when you’re shooting. You record it, and you say, “Oh, yeah, this looks great. Let’s move on.” We move on to another shot, and then when you’re in the editing room and you watch stuff again and again, you realize the precision, the intelligence, the subtlety of what she’s doing. I was just constantly impressed.
• Indiewire - Binoche and Stewart have a very complicated relationship — they’re friends, but there’s an ego and competitiveness on top of a employee/employer relationship. Tell me about working with those two.
To be honest, the part scared Juliette. When I gave her the screenplay, she was surprised in good and bad ways. In good ways because the film had a broader scope than anything we had really discussed, but then the bad side was she would have to deal with aging, and she knew it was going to be painful. I think the way she approached it was by letting it go. I think she certainly thought about this, prepared herself for it, but the minute she was on the set, all that anxiety vanished. She did not give it a second thought.
I've known Juliette for forever, and I've never seen her that happy, that generous and never questioning anything we were doing. She was ready to go all the way, and I think it contributed a lot to the energy of the shoot.
How did Stewart's approach differ?
I think it was the dynamics between her and Kristen that really shaped the film. While I'm sure she loved the part and the subject, I think Juliette was a very strong element in what attracted her to the film. She admired the way Juliette had never really been absorbed by the industry. She has managed to keep an independence, and that helped answer a lot of the questions that Kristen had about all the work and the evolution of the work. She loved the spontaneity of Juliette, the way that she creates her own space within the film. And Kristen was there to learn in a certain way. Juliette did not expect that, and she was flattered that Kristen would be so respectful of her work and she did not want to disappoint her. She kept on trying new things and pushing herself further, and Kristen followed. Kristen was excited by the interaction, which really created an interesting dynamic within the movie.
Yeah, it’s interesting because their dynamic is intimate but tense and fragile from minute one. It’s almost like they’re on eggshells with each other because they kind of wound one another often.
Oh yes! It has to be cruel when you confront youth and middle age. You can pretend it's not, or you can pretend that it's the way of dealing with that, but it is cruel and it has to be understood and accepted on both sides.
I loved the Chloe Moretz character, which I believe Stewart was supposed to play first. Was it fun to comment on blockbuster culture the way you did with her movie-within-the-movie character?
It's one of the comedy elements of the film. And Chloe's extremely smart and witty and she got it. She really had so much fun going from one persona and playing with that kind of media culture. But what was interesting for me was the fact that she's modern. She has a classical training, and she ultimately she comes from the same place as someone like Juliette comes from, but she's aware of the modern world. She's aware that you have the Internet, you have social media, you have some of this kind of pervasiveness of western culture. When you’re an actress, you have to play with it and be able to use it as your own space. You have to somehow control it before it controls you, and so while Juliette’s character knows about all that stuff but won’t touch it or participate in it, Chloe’s character is completely fluent in that language and takes from it what she wants —meaning a kind of scandalous celebrity thing— but then on the other side, she knows exactly how to protect herself from it. She’s in control of it. Her character is really from another time. And so the film’s not so much about aging for Juliette’s character, but it's about being confronted with how the world is changing and then being less relevant to the world then one would like.
Yeah, there’s definitely an awareness to Moretz’s character, which I think adds another great layer. She wants to be a serious enough actor to be part of this play, but she’s an active participant in her celebrity.
Yes. Initially when I wrote the screenplay, it was only the character of Juliette who was ambivalent. Meaning in the sense that Maria Enders was both Juliette and not Juliette. But in the end, the same thing happened to the other characters. Kristen became Valentine and not Valentine. It's a movie where it's not a problem to see the actor through the part. Usually you try to erase the actor and hope that your audience only sees the character and the emotions injected in the role. But here you can have it both ways. You can watch the character of Valentine, but at the same time you never lose perspective that it's Kristen Stewart playing her. She's playing with her own authority, commenting on herself. So it's part of the film and same thing about Chloe. She's obviously not Jo-Ann Ellis but she could have been Jo-Ann Ellis. She knows actresses who are shallow and complicated like that. So again, the three of them have both those layers.
It's a shame, but at least you have this picture. I look forward to whatever you're doing next. Oh, and by the way, congratulations on Kristen Stewart winning the César award.
I was happy her work was recognized. She's brilliant.
• Bomb Magazine - She speaks very highly of it.
She's very smart. She's very young, and it’s fascinating to be able to film an actress at the moment when she's becoming aware of what she can do. You felt that she was learning stuff, absorbing stuff, and all of a sudden she realized that she had a much bigger range than whatever she had imagined. It’s really exciting just to document it.
The chemistry between Juliette and Kristen is great.
That's stuff you bet your movie on, but you have no proof it’s going to happen. Until you are there, and they are in front of you in character, you don't know if it’s going to happen.
But, they trust you.
They do trust me, but the thing is that they also like each other. They could have been, I don't know, jealous of each other. They could have been uneasy. It was totally the opposite. Juliette had fun working with Kristen, because she's unlike any actress that she's ever worked with, and, I think, Kristen was excited, because she felt that she was learning stuff from Juliette. So, they had a very good dynamic.
• Metro US - Although Kristen Stewart is not playing Kristen Stewart. She’s more like her P.A.
But you constantly have in mind that Kristen Stewart’s playing someone who’s different from her. And in a couple scenes there’s the irony of Kristen commenting on herself, which is part of the fun.
She has a great screen presence that isn’t always used.
Kristen is amazing. You’d have to be blind not to see it. Even in the tiniest film she jumps out. I remember seeing her in “Into the Wild,” and she just jumped out of the screen. It was just, “Who’s that girl? She’s great.” I had no idea she would grow and go onto bigger things. I had no idea I would work with her.
• Slant Magazine - Casting Juliette as Juliette, in terms of how the audience perceives her, is kind of a thread in the casting of most of your movies. Asia Argento or Kim Gordon, for instance, in Boarding Gate, or Maggie Cheung in Irma Vep. They have their public, celebrity image, which you use to an effect in all of those films.
Yes, it's always been in the background. Here more than the others it's in the forefront. It's basically the subject of the film. But I didn't realize it until late in the process: the fact that I was using Juliette as Juliette. And then that somehow contaminated the whole film. All of a sudden you were looking at Kristen as Kristen and Chloe playing someone who she's not, but could easily have been. You know, it's a movie where you always keep in touch with whatever you know about those individuals, those actors.
You said that originally you were thinking of casting Kristen in Chloe's role.
We kind of moved back and forth between the two parts. But I think the best approach was using her as Valentine.
You didn't cast her in a part where you could say, "Oh, there are aspects of Kristen there," but in a part that forces her to basically comment directly on herself. She has that line about Chloe's character: "Well, at least she's not some antiseptic celebrity..."
Right, yes, exactly.
It's that public perception of her as being sort of aloof because she doesn't fit a certain definition of starlet.
Right, and those are the sort of actresses that I'm attracted to working with and find interesting.