The public Eye

C'est La Vie! star Haïdara on the art of comedy, her rising career and fighting racial stereotypes

by Amber Wilkinson

Eye Haïdara and Jean-Pierre Bacri ans Max and Adèle  in C’est La Vie! "When you have such great partners as Jean-Pierre Bacri and Gilles Lellouche, you just follow them and dance with them."
Eye Haïdara and Jean-Pierre Bacri ans Max and Adèle in C’est La Vie! "When you have such great partners as Jean-Pierre Bacri and Gilles Lellouche, you just follow them and dance with them." Photo: Courtesy of Cinefile
French actress Eye Haïdara is a rising star in her homeland and British audiences can get to see some of what the fuss is all about this week, when she co-stars in the latest frothy and uproarious comedy by Olivier Nakache and Éric Toledano, C'est La Vie! (Le Sens De La Fête). She'll also be seen in Season 2 of Amazon's spy dramedy Patriot, when it returns to the streaming service later this year.

I caught up with her on a flying visit to Edinburgh Film Festival earlier this summer, where the film was receiving its UK premiere ahead of its release in cinemas tomorrow (August 31). Haïdara, who was nominated as 'most promising newcomer' at this year's César Awards for the role, plays Adèle, the long-suffering assistant to wedding planner Max (Jean-Pierre Bacri) as they try to mount a wedding at a country estate, which sees her clash with self-centred wedding singer James (Gilles Lellouche).

The 35-year-old says she "fell deeply in love" with the screenplay as soon as she read it, adding: "But they’re pretty big directors around the world. I thought, maybe they’re just interested in me right now but they’re going to find someone else."

When she had a callback, she says she was too afraid to ask if she'd got the role and had to phone her agent to confirm it.

"It was really exciting because it was the first time that I had made a comedy and I learnt a lot about the rhythm of the comedy," she says. "They always work with music and music reference so the directing is always a kind of dance, so it’s really exciting as an actor. When you have such great partners as Jean-Pierre Bacri and Gilles Lellouche, you just follow them and dance with them."

Although the jokes come thick and fast in the film, it's also underpinned by some more serious social commentary, about off-the-books emigres and the challenges faced by small businessmen like Max.

Eye Haïdara: 'We need women’s eyes to be everywhere, as equal as men'
Eye Haïdara: 'We need women’s eyes to be everywhere, as equal as men' Photo: Thibault Grabherr/Cinefile
Haïdara says: "I think that’s the subject that elevates the comedy because laughing just to laugh without anything behind it is a little bit poor. The audience can imagine themselves in that group because it reflects society and the problems we have every day. Even when we talk about Max, the boss, and the problems he has, it is that of a small enterprise and people can identify much more easily with a small boss than a big boss of a multinational."

The actress is happy to talk about the need for more female representation across the film industry and beyond and recently denounced racism and stereotyping of black actresses by joining together with 15 others to write a book, Noire N’est Pas Mon Métier (Being Black Is Not My Job) - which they took up the red carpet at Cannes.

Although she's careful to be respectful of older stars, such as Catherine Deneuve, who signed a controversial letter regarding the #MeToo movement, she disagrees with them.

Haïdara says: "With all due respect to those actresses, I feel like they didn’t really get the question. I understand totally what they said but I don’t think it’s a response to the same question."

She adds: "We need to have more women directors and in production too and in distribution. We need them. We need women’s eyes to be everywhere, as equal as men. Things have moved a little bit but it’s really, really slow. If women are everywhere in every level, that might change things in the bottom ranks."

When it comes to racial stereotyping in the industry, Haïdara says that before her recent success, she was always getting propositions "for black actresses only".

Eye Haïdara: 'The book was well-received in France and in Cannes there was a really great moment'
Eye Haïdara: 'The book was well-received in France and in Cannes there was a really great moment'
She adds: "In the past, I would never go to a casting if it just said ‘young women’ because I would never be taken it would be assumed they weren’t casting black women, I would go when they were casting ‘young black women’ but now there are some casting directors and directors, who just say, ‘I want a young person’. So very slowly, it’s improving. I don’t want to force it but it is a good thing.

"Now they choose who I am rather than the colour and I guess I pushed them to that too because where I am, I have the influence enough to do it, but we have to work for the others. We have to educate people and tell them. There’s a lot of fear, too. Acting and making a movie is a choice that’s supposed to be filled with the desire to work with someone and not pushed by colour. If it’s a movie that demands to have a black woman or a white woman because it’s the story then this we understand but otherwise it’s supposed to be a choice based on desire - you’re not supposed to look at the colours and all that. Sometimes, some directors who are not famous, they get blocked by producers, who say, ‘No, it won’t work if you take a black actress. Why do that?’ So, we have to break those thoughts."

She took to the Cannes red carpet the day after the #MeToo protest, alongside fellow contributors Nadège Beausson-Diagne, Mata Gabin, Maïmouna Gueye, Rachel Khan, Aïssa Maïga, Sara Martins, Marie-Philomène Nga, Sabine Pakora, Firmine Richard, Sonia Rolland, Magaajyia Silberfeld, Shirley Souagnon, Assa Sylla and Karidja Touré.

"Now I realise it was necessary," she says. "When we worked on the book, I was kind of afraid because I didn’t know if people were going to take it in a good way, because the text is a mix of memories, sometimes it’s funny, some times it’s poetry, it depends on the actress who is writing. But we weren’t expecting a lot."

She says the women were shocked to discover that both the oldest and the youngest actresses involved had experienced the same problems.

"It shouldn’t be the same for the younger ones," she says. "So we thought that if we write it then people can be aware and now we realised that a lot of people were waiting for that. We talk about cinema because we’re actresses but what we say can be expanded to a lot of other industries to. The book was well-received in France and in Cannes there was a really great moment."

C'est La Vie is released by Cinefile in cinemas across the UK from August 31

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