Nicole Garcia’s family rollercoaster

When real-life imitates art in new Disney+ series Everything Is Fine

by Richard Mowe

Nicole Garcia and Virginie Efira as mother and daughter in Disney+ series Everything Is Fine
Nicole Garcia and Virginie Efira as mother and daughter in Disney+ series Everything Is Fine Photo: @ Disney+/Thibault Grabherr
The role of matriarch is one that rather appeals to Nicole Garcia, one of the grand doyennes of French film and theatre, in both private and professional circumstances.

She has relished her role as head of the family in the Disney+ series Everything Is Fine (Tout va bien) in which her self-help guru character Anne Vasseur is plunged into emotional turmoil when her youngest daughter’s child Rose, seven, falls ill with leukaemia and has to undergo a bone marrow transplant. The trauma brings together Anne and her oldest daughter Claire (played by Virginie Efira) as well as other members of the family, including Sara Giraudeau as Marion, the mother of Rose.

Nicole Garcia on her character: 'I hope they keep offering me roles like this because they can provide a mirror for other women'
Nicole Garcia on her character: 'I hope they keep offering me roles like this because they can provide a mirror for other women' Photo: Philippe Quaisse/UniFrance
At 77, Garcia has had her share of domestic upheavals. She had a “partnership” for seven years with the late and legendary Jean Rochefort, the father of one of her sons Pierre, an actor, although she admits they never lived together under one roof “to preserve the spontaneity of the relationship”. After she split with Rochefort Pierre lived with her and in 2014 she wrote her film Going Away (Un Beau Dimanche) with a role for him and they have worked together subsequently. She had a second son Frédéric Bélier-Garcia, a theatre and opera director, who was born in 1965 and whose actor father tragically died when Frédéric was only two.

On playing Anne she confided during an interview in Paris earlier this year that she felt “incredibly free” in creating the character. “That was because many aspects of her felt familiar. I liked her contradictions: she kept saying things would be OK when it was clear they would not be. Life is not that simple. It is contradictions that can make a great character. I hope they keep offering me roles like this because they can provide a mirror for other women. I want to keep working because it’s the best way of staying alive and interested. I admit work can be tiring, not so much as an actor but when you are making film as a director and you have to be prepared to do 15-hour days non-stop during the shoot. At the moment I am in the throes of writing a new film which I hope to start filming towards the end of year.”

As well as an award-winning film and theatre actress, Garcia is recognised as an accomplished filmmaker and made her mark before the current crop of female talents began to cut serious inroads into the profession. She has directed around a dozen films since her first short film 15 Août (a personal slice of life drama) was selected by the Cannes Film Festival in 1986. Her directorial collaborations have involved Nathalie Baye (Un week-end sur deux, 1990), Jean-Marc Barr (Le fils préféré, 1994), Catherine Deneuve (Place Vendôme, 1998), Daniel Auteuil (The Adversary, 2002), Jean-Pierre Bacri (Charlie Says, 2006), Jean Dujardin (A View Of Love, 2010), with her son Pierre in Going Away in 2013, Marion Cotillard (From The Land Of The Moon, 2016); and Pierre Niney (Lovers, 2020).

Garcia was born in Algeria where she lived until she was 16. After completing her secondary school studies in 1962 she arrived in France to study philosophy and theatre at the University. She had her first film role in Boys And Girls by Etienne Périer. In 1975, at the age of 29, she was cast by Bertrand Tavernier in Let Joy Reign Supreme. Earlier career markers included the main role in La Question, by Laurent Heynemann, which dealt with the Algerian War. And in 1980 she obtained a César for best supporting female in La Cavaleur by Philippe de Broca as a wronged wife opposite Jean Rochefort.

Although she has appeared in other series, including Netflix’s Lupin, Everything Is Fine represents the first substantial character she has undertaken for a series. “What intrigued me was to see how the character evolved when faced with different situations,” she said. “She was not just the matriarch of the family but she was also a mother with a life and a lover, and she had this intelligence and existence outside of the family framework.”

Nicole Garcia: 'I want to keep working because it’s the best way of staying alive and interested'
Nicole Garcia: 'I want to keep working because it’s the best way of staying alive and interested' Photo: Marie Rouge/UniFrance
The director and writer of the series Camille de Castelnau based the idea around an incident within her own family. She had previously worked with Eric Rochant on the long-running political thriller series The Bureau when he asked her come up with a script for show. “I took time out to have a baby and then when I came back Eric said he still wanted to produce something with me. I told him about a family going through a trauma which is what happened to my family some two years ago. He knew about it because I had been working with him while all this was going on. I wrote a pilot and we went to see the executives at Disney+ but I didn’t think they would go for it. But they gave the go-ahead and then, of course I had to get the permission of my family to write as the little girl is my niece.”

Garcia acknowledges De Castelnau’s “talent and imagination gave the series its edge". She adds: "She was, of course, drawing on personal circumstances but being unhappy or having lived through a difficult drama, is not enough to create a good series. She turned it around and treated it without pathos. You can find all the darkness of life there, with the illness of the child. It’s what drives all the characters and is the right counterpoint to family life that would otherwise have been banal. This drama colours the series, admittedly in a dark way, but this darkness is compensated by it being fiercely funny.”

She is pleased that Vasseur family may be reunited for a second series. She added: “We’ve had good reviews and feedback so we’re awaiting a decision. I like doing TV series but I am too much enthralled by cinema to let it go.”

Everything Is Fine is available to view on Disney+

Richard Mowe talked to Nicole Garcia and Camille de Castelnau at the UniFrance Rendezvous with French Cinema in Paris in January.

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