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Interview with Alexandra Lamy

Alexandra Lamy et Mélusine Mayance dans Ricky

Were you surprised that François Ozon thought of you for the role of Katie?

When my agent called to tell me I had an audition with François Ozon, I was indeed surprised. I have a theater background, I studied at the Conservatory, but most people associate me with my role in the television comedy sketch show UN GARS, UNE FILLE (A GUY, A GIRL), which is very different from François’ work. That was actually just as well, because I went to the audition totally relaxed, convinced I’d never get the part. No nerves, no anxiety, I just wanted to have fun.

How did that first audition go?

I did my two scenes, and I sensed that François was touched. He had me redo a couple of things and then said simply, «We’ll let you know». I didn’t hear from them for several months, so I assumed he’d found someone else. But then my agent called to say François wanted me to come back and do some more tests. At this point it was down to two actresses, so now I was nervous as hell!

I played the scenes again and did some tests with the little girl who was cast as Katie’s daughter. When I saw Mélusine, who looks like me, I felt reassured and thought I might have a chance at getting the part! Oddly enough, the Katie character resembles me more than any of the comedy roles I’ve been proposed so far in film.

Like many of François Ozon’s films, RICKY is above all the portrait of a woman.

Yes, and like with Charlotte Rampling in UNDER THE SAND, François fought to get the actress he wanted, his choice wasn’t immediately obvious. Françoishas his own universe, with real female characters with strong personalities. Katie’s not the type to think things over before she acts. She doesn’t question herself. She’s instinctive, like an animal. If she wants a man, it’s right now. If she doesn’t want him anymore, it’s the same thing. She’s also excessively maternal. It’s hard to have a child who’s different. With Ricky, the difference is extreme! How do you deal with it? At first, Katie is worried, she wonders how he’ll get along, will he walk, will he talk? But then she takes the situation in hand and comes out stronger by confronting reality. Katie takes Ricky’s wings in her stride. He’s her child, she loves him unconditionally, as mothers do.

We sense Katie and her daughter Lisa really enjoy caring for this exceptional baby...

They have fun watching Ricky grow and evolve, and the shared experience brings them closer together. This part of the film has a comedic touch that really means a lot to me. The script is darker than the finished film, and François and I discussed this at length. At first he didn’t want me smiling in these scenes, but he had the good sense to let me try some lighter, more joyful approaches, and he ended up using them.

Katie is hard, even castrating, when she accuses Paco of harming Ricky...

Katie is hard in the way I imagine someone with a hard life could become. Someone who works the assembly line in a factory and lives in depressing surroundings. We sense she’s carrying heavy baggage. Lisa’s father undoubtedly left her. In the scene where she’s waiting for Paco to come home, ready to accuse him of having hit Ricky, François asked me to remain seated. We might have expected her to stand up to confront him about it, but she remains seated, so we sense she’s made her decision before even speaking to him. She blames him for what happened to Ricky and she’s not going to discuss it.

When Ricky’s wings grow, proving Paco’s innocence, she could call him back, but instead she chooses to savor this amazing event in her otherwise dreary existence on her own. She even says to her daughter, «I haven’t thought of Paco since Ricky got wings». Katie is down to earth and has a kind of working-class sensibility that I really like. When she discovers her son’s wings, her reaction is, «They’re bound to fall off»! Of course she also has moments of anxiety, but she doesn’t dwell on that, she’s a woman of action.

Why the choice of wings to symbolize difference, in your opinion?

To me, the wings symbolize the angelic side of childhood. As well as the desire for freedom and the importance of letting our children leave the nest, even if it’s difficult. I love the scene at the lake, when Katie sees Ricky and says to him, «My God, how you’ve grown.» Ricky’s no longer a baby, he’s now a little boy, and Katie is relieved to see him doing so well. She in turn feels free and fulfilled, ready to rebuild her family. And get pregnant again.

Katie comes from a particular social background, her son Ricky is very unusual, yet she has such a universal quality. How do you explain your ability to create such a strong identification factor?

Maybe because I never think about my appearance when I’m acting. I don’t pose, I don’t worry about only showing my best profile or standing in a certain way. I don’t see myself, I don’t examine myself, I forget myself entirely to enter the mind and body of my character, and I guess that shows on screen. I like actresses like Meryl Streep, who don’t care if they’re beautiful or not. They make us want to enter the character with them, because they resemble us.

How did you approach the character?

I did what Katie would do: I didn’t think about it too much, I just let the character come to me. I didn’t do much research or try to understand her motivations. I just learned all my lines, well in advance, without thinking too much about how to play them. I wanted to arrive on the set a «virgin». Katie reacts instinctively and I wanted to be like her. Even when I’d rehearse with François, I’d often do what we call an allemande: I’d walk through the scene without really acting the lines. That way, when you hear «action», you’re fresh, you haven’t played the scene out, and the director himself benefits from the element of surprise.

Did François show you any particular films to inspire you?

Yes, WANDA by Barbara Loden. Katie’s story is completely different from Wanda’s, but they share the same spontaneity. Wanda doesn’t think things over much, she lets life happen to her and follows her own logic. She sleeps with men according to her instinct, stays with them even if they beat her... and abandons her children without guilt.

What was it like shooting a film with children and special effects?

I loved Arthur, the boy who plays Ricky, but people don’t always have a lot of patience with babies, especially on film shoots. He’s wonderful in the film, but sometimes it took a few takes, with us making faces to get him to laugh, or hopping around to attract his attention and get him to stop staring at his mother, the boom mike or even the camera! It takes a lot of effort and it’s pretty exhausting. Mélusine is adorable and very talented, but with her too, it was important to create a bond, play with her.

As for Ricky’s wings, they weren’t always visible during the shoot. Sometimes there were dummy ones, but more often you had to imagine them on the baby. I had to bear in mind that if I held my head at a certain angle or picked up the baby in a certain way, my face would be blocked by the wings.

You and Sergi Lopez form a highly believable couple.

Sergi is a great acting partner, we share the same instinctive approach. François gave us the freedom to change a few words here and there, so we really listened to each other, we acted in sync, looking right into each other’s eyes. Sergi is also a great father, he was very attentive with the kids. He’s like a big teddy bear, very sensitive, his emotions are right on the surface. He really cried in the break-up scene, and at the same time he can be frighteningly ambiguous, as when Paco comes back.

Tell us about how François Ozon directs actors.

A lot of filmmakers are primarily preoccupied with the image. François puts the actors first. If he’s blocked a scene in a certain way but we can’t pull it off because it doesn’t feel right, he understands that. He’s flexible when it comes to dialogue and movement. And he frames the shots himself, which I love. I could feel him watching me, listening to me, drawing me out. I felt supported. François won’t let you go until you’ve given what you’ve got to give.

Oddly enough, in comedies where I’ve played roles that are closer to the role I’m known for, directors have been afraid to trust me, afraid I’d just repeat my character from A GUY, A GIRL. François gave me that trust. He chose me because he felt I was best suited for the role, not just for show or to prove he could break my image.