What was it like when you met with François Ozon?
Very straightforward. I did some screen tests for him, then read the script. I was moved by the story. It was clear and powerful. But I needed François to reassure me. I wanted to know how I would be filmed, what the film would look like, what its aesthetic would be. I felt comfortable with François right away. I like the mischievous glint in his eyes, and the way he works. He treats you like an equal. I never felt crushed by his authority, nor did I feel like I was being placed on a pedestal. After choosing me, François asked me to do screen tests with some other actors to help him finish casting the film. He wanted to see Géraldine and me together, to make sure the mother-daughter relationship worked physically. Same thing with Fantin, who plays my little brother.That was good, it helped me get into Isabelle’s skin.
How did you approach the character of Isabelle?
I can’t say I identified with her, but she touched me, I wanted to spend time with her. And naturally, as I played her, I brought part of myself to her.
Did you express an opinion about how she should look?
Not really, but François and I did discuss it a lot. Before the shoot he asked me to let my hair grow a bit longer, and he wanted me to gain a few pounds so I’d have some baby fat and look more like a teenager. Isabelle is not at all obsessed with her looks. She’s not a flirt, and she’s not interested in fashion. Costume supervisor Pascaline Chavanne and I tried a lot of clothes to find the right look for each season. In summer Isabelle is a blossoming young woman. She becomes more glamorous and sexy when she’s working as a prostitute, then turns quite tomboyish at the end, shedding those feminine artifices. She’s not particularly a young woman of today, she is simply a young woman. She has a timeless quality. François did not want the film to be some kind of sociological study on the current trend of students working as prostitutes to earn a living.
And Isabelle doesn’t do it for the money.
No, Isabelle turns tricks the same way she might have tried drugs or any other extreme experience: to confront the world around her, figure out who she is. Isabelle is no dummy when it comes to herself and others – in fact she’s smarter than most of the kids her age and quite a few of the adults around her. She takes responsibility for her actions. She makes no excuses.
To the point of considering it natural to use the money she earned to pay for her shrink.
That’s right, she’s never a hypocrite. We sense she is vulnerable but also strong, a unique young woman, a bit of a loner, not much into bonding with people or communicating. She doesn’t feel like talking about her experiences with prostitution, she doesn’t want to confide about it. Her silence moves me, I can relate. She keeps her distance from people. She’s there, and yet she’s not there.
How would you describe her relationship with Georges?
He’s an important part of her year of living dangerously, a year that will transform her. For one thing, Georges is the first person she feels actually sees her. And there is a tenderness between them. With Georges, she discovers another way to be, a form of intimacy, an approach to pleasure and eroticism. She can let herself go with him. She feels protected by their age difference, and the fact that their relationship is based on a business transaction.They can never actually be together. And Georges is important in her life because he causes her a terrible shock. She will feel, because of him, a strong feeling of guilt that will put an end to her experiments with prostitution.
Perhaps if it hadn’t been for him, she would have continued as a prostitute and encountered a client more violent than the others.
Right. In a certain sense, Georges is her guardian angel. But at the end of the film, Georges’ wife helps Isabelle even more, by unburdening Isabelle of her guilt over Georges’ death. And also her guilt at having been a prostitute – when she tells her that she, too, once fantasized aboutmakinglovetomenformoney,butneverdaredtryit.Abondis created between the two women, a kind of bond Isabelle has never felt with her mother. Georges’ wife gives Isabelle permission to be who she truly is. She transmits that to her.
One might imagine she exists only in Isabelle’s mind.
I think she really exists.
Isabelle has a hard time communicating with her mother and her biological father is absent.
That was never a problem for me. I never thought about the absent father, except when the psychiatrist brought it up! François is really good at providing psychological clues without ever reducing his characters’ motivations to the level of cliché.
In the car with her mother’s friendVéronique, Isabelle says,“I’m not the dangerous one.” So who is?
First of all her mother, whom she suspects is having an affair with Véronique’s boyfriend. But in a larger sense, the danger is the desire Isabelle arouses in others, the way her youth and beauty force everyone to confront their own desires and frustrations.
Isabelle seems very troubled by her mother’s affair with Peter.
Isabelle catches her mother and Peter in a private moment at the theater, but she sees them from a distance, can she really be sure her mother is cheating? Maybe that’s just what she wants to believe, what she wants to see. I’m not sure it really bothers her.When she decides to confront her mother about it, I don’t think it’s because she’s shocked by it, or is judging her mother. Mainly she’s trying to create an exchange between them. She’s trying to stay her mother’s little girl.
Do you think Isabelle is serious about her romance with her classmate?
No. She’s trying to be, but I don’t think she’s convinced.Which is not to say she’s playing him for a fool. Aside from the boy she had a fling with on vacation, he’s the first boy her own age she gets involved with romantically. She likes him, she cares about him, he makes her laugh. She can relax with him, breathe easy. And he reassures her parents!
What was the atmosphere like on set?
Very joyful and pleasant. I really felt like part of a team. Everyone was working together for the good of the film. François is very pragmatic, I like that. He moves from one scene to the next, totally focusing on the work, wasting no time with pointless compliments. It was an exhausting role – I was in pretty much every scene – but I felt supported, carried, protected.
How did you approach the nude scenes?
I was a bit scared at first but ultimately, I approached those scenes like all the others! I was so immersed in the shoot and my role that I ended up forgetting myself.That’s a very nice feeling.Two months on a shoot... I’d never been so intensely involved in a project for such a long time.We shot almost all the scenes in chronological order.The further into it we got, the more I felt I knew Isabelle. Like an engine I warmed up, then shifted into high gear.
What was it like working with Géraldine Pailhas?
We gradually got to know each other and established a real bond. I think that bond helped create the emotion we feel between the mother and daughter in the film.
And Charlotte Rampling?
It was intimidating to find myself working with an actress I admire so much. She has such charisma, such beauty. She also really watched over me.
Do you want to continue working in film?
I got started in this business – as I did with modeling – a bit by chance. Cédric Klapisch was looking for a model for a role in MY PIECE OF THE PIE. My role in Alexandre Arcady’s CE QUE LE JOUR DOIT À LA NUIT was also a bit of a fluke. I started to get the acting bug when I did THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN BRAIN, a short film by Joan Chemla. And now, thanks to YOUNG & BEAUTIFUL, I’m really getting into it.