Director in action: Maiwenn (right) with Emmanuelle Bercot and Vincent Cassel during the shoot of Mon Roi Photo: Unifrance
French actress, writer and director Maiwenn has been in the business from an early age appearing as a child in several films including One Deadly Summer with Isabelle Adjani. She was only 16 when she was involved in a relationship with producer and director Luc Besson with whom she had a daughter, Shanna. She spent time living in Hollywood and appearing in Besson’s Léon and The Fifth Element. Her break-up with Besson at 21 marked a return to living and working in France where she has become known simply by her Christian name (surname Lo Besco which her sister Isild, also an actress and director, uses). Maiwenn had a second child, Diego, with property developer Jean-Yves Le Fur before they split up. In 2006 she directed her semi-autobiographical first feature Pardon Me followed in 2011 by Polisse, winner of the jury prize at the Cannes Film Festival and nominated for no less than 13 César awards. It was a gritty drama about a child protection unit in Paris in which she also played a part as a photographer. With her latest feature Mon Roi, starring Vincent Cassel and Emmanuelle Bercot as sparring partners in a tempestuous relationship which causes damage to both parties. At the 18th Rendezvous with French Cinema in Paris she explains her eternal fascination with the foibles of relationships.
Maiwenn: "As a director you have to reassure your actors - you are the leader of the orchestra, a daddy figure …" Photo: Unifrance
RM: Why you choose to do a film about passion and love?
M: Simply because that is what interests me. And it did not come from my own experiences, if that is what you are thinking!
RM: Emotions run high in the film. There is a lot of shouting. Is this something that you think is typically French?
M: I don’t think so. This is how see passion. I don’t think it is typically French. In all, my films are all a bit hysterical so maybe that is the way I like to express myself and perhaps that is the way I am also in life. It has to do with my personality rather than my country. I know a lot of people in France did not like the hysteria side of the film but that is just the way the characters are.
RM: Giorgio is the archetypal bad guy but still the woman is attracted back to him. What is the appeal in general of some men like this to women?
M: First of all, the way you see the film reveals something about you. If you see that the woman is still attracted to Giorgio that is the way you think about it, but I also know people who do think she does not love him anymore. I like to give an open ending to the film because people can see it in the way they want and that reveals something deep about them. I am not saying you are wrong and I am right. I like making films where the audience is able to make it their own and project their own feelings on to the characters and situations. I don’t want to tell them what to think. The film does not belong to me any more.
RM: Did you have a particular empathy working with Emmanuelle Bercot because she is also a director who is an actress?
M: First of all I have to say that if I give you a short answer it does not mean that I do not want to answer, rather that I do not have the ability to always analyse what I am doing. It does not help me if I analyse my work because usually I do things, then I think and then I analyse. So don’t take it personally. As for Emmanuelle it did not make any difference that she had also been a director. She is a very good actor, but she was not telling me how to do this or that. She was always thinking she was doing a movie - she does not have the facility of forgetting the camera and the fiction. Whereas Vincent (Cassel) has been involved in doing so much in acting school that he is used to forgetting the whole crew on the set. He is a genius for that. When I would say Cut! he was always like Oh, okay, and he suddenly would realise we were doing a movie. He was so involved whereas Emmanuelle who is very powerful and I like her in the film, but it was difficult for me to get her to let go.
Unhappily ever after? Vincent Cassel and Emmanuelle Bercot in Mon Roi Photo: Unifrance
RM: Why did you choose Emmanuelle - and I believe you had to convince her to come on board?
M: That is difficult to say - why do you fall in love with someone rather his neighbour or his cousin. But to be honest one of the reasons I wanted her for the part was that she was not famous. I needed someone who was not glamorous or sexy. I needed someone who did not know why this kind of man was in love with her. When she was saying to him I do not know why you chose me I was telling her that while she was thinking she may not have been the right actress for the part was the same reason that her character does not understand why Giorgio is in love with her. I think she was curious about what other actresses I might have hired for the part, but I always knew deep down that she would not say Yes.
RM: And it all turned out for the best because she shared a best actress prize at the Cannes Film Festival?
M: I think it was because she went against the grain and she was not the kind of actress you might expect to win a Cannes prize whereas Vincent is flamboyant, handsome, sexy and all of that but Cannes does not like that.
RM: You once said that being an actor has a child-like quality to it, whereas being a director you feel much more like an adult. Do you still believe that?
M: When I said that it was a long time ago and I do not think the same thing now. When I am just an actress for somebody else I feel my femininity emerges on top - and the director’s gaze is more like a caress and I feel desired and I feel watched. My female hormones are on the rise. But when I direct it is more the male hormones that kick in. That is why I like being on both sides of the camera. We all need to feel virile at some moments, and more feminine at other times. That is why at the end of the shoot I am always completely exhausted because I have not been in touch with my feminine side for months and months. I like getting dressed up and putting on make-up and I like to seduce and to be seduced. But on a shoot as the director I wear no make up, put on jeans and look completely plain because it would be disrespectful to the actors to try to compete in that way. You should not be thinking about your own appearance but all the concentration should be on creating the film. As a director you have to reassure your actors - you are the leader of the orchestra, a daddy figure, and you are there to carry everyone on your shoulders. I like to surround myself with people who are there to do more than just work, but are on a creative journey together.
Maiwenn … reflections during her interview at the Grand Hotel, Paris, during the 18th Rendezvous with French Cinema Photo: Richard Mowe
RM: Do you leave any room for improvisation on the part of the actors?
M: Improvisation is just a word that does not mean all that much in practice. I have been typed as a director who enjoys improvisation but the reality of it is much more complicated. There is no way you just arrive on set and say What are we going to do today? One of the most important elements for me is the sound - I can tell whether a scene is going the right when I hear what is going on through my headphones even if I am right at the other end of the set. The cinema I like doing is naturalistic. When I feel by listening to the actors that they are not listening to each other then I feel discouraged. Most of the time I tell them to read the script once and then forget about it. Many actors when they get the text and read it through start to direct it themselves in their minds. And that is why when they get to the shoot they no longer listen to themselves or their partners. Actors tend to think that if they are not saying anything then they are not interesting but when someone is listening it is very interesting. They do not have the self-confidence to be quiet: they think they have to talk and talk. Silence speaks loud than words which is what you find in literature, and it leaves more to your imagination.
RM: What thoughts would you like the audience to have after the end of the film?
M: The one question people might think of is how far are you prepared to go for love. Where do you set your limits. When you are a child you think that love is about princes, princesses and fairy tales but when you grow up the reality is very different. Falling in love can be like a “sickness.” In my films there are no baddies or goodies - life is not like that.
RM: Are you busy writing again at the moment?
M: Yes I am writing three films at the same time - I have never done that before. The three projects are based on actual facts but I just use the events as starting point to invent stories around them.They will all deal with human relationships because at the end of the day that is what fascinates me and what I am interested in.
Mon roi, shown as part of the French Film Festival UK, will be released later this year in the UK and US.