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Backstage with Isild Le Besco
By Jonathan Marlow
November 22, 2006 - 9:18 AM PST

"I guess that is how people see me."

"Emmanuelle Bercot has crafted one of the most self-assured debut features that I've seen in years," declared Jonathan Marlow in May. "The cast is remarkable. Emmanuelle Seigner is quite exceptional as the troubled singer and Isild Le Besco's performance as an adoring fan is believably overwrought." In September, he got a chance to grab a quick chat with Le Besco about Backstage and more at the Toronto International Film Festival.

Critical praise of your exceptional performance in À tout de suite started to surface in the New York Times and elsewhere last year. Now, with your work in Backstage, you seem on the verge of reaching a large American audience. I wished to briefly discuss your working relationship with Benoît Jacquot. You've starred in three of his films thus far...

It's very interesting for a filmmaker to follow an actress and to come back to the same actress again and again. Many filmmakers are doing that. I'm also appearing, as well, in several films with Emmanuelle Bercot [most recently, Camping sauvage and the aforementioned À tout de suite]. I also directed two films with the same actress [Kolia Litscher]. I think it's nice to see the passage of time on the same face.

Does it create special challenges as you become familiar in the way of working with a particular director?

Yes, because we can go somewhere we didn't go before. We already know each other so I don't have to take the time to understand the filmmaker.

On your latest film, L'Intouchable, for which you won an award at Venice, is there a certain comfort now, working with Mr. Jacquot, that you did not have on your first film [with Jacquot, Sade]?

Of course. It was a challenge to get the money to go to India to make this film. There was a lot of difficulty. It was a challenge to make the film with only a few people and to make it good.

You are also directing and you will certainly continue to do that. You've made a short film and now, as I understand it, you're making a feature?

I made a short film for the cinema and another one that I'm working on [Charlie] which is almost finished. I feel more like an actress but I like to direct films sometimes.

I presume that you fully familiarized yourself with the music in Backstage before shooting began?

Emmanuelle wanted me to know these songs by memory. You must give this kind of time to these characters. It was like a space that you're making for the character and she already knew, because she's known me since I was thirteen, that it was very easy for me to go wherever she wants. For the more dangerous things, I don't have a problem. I can do whatever she wants and she already know that. She doesn't like the way that is easy. It is not because you say that you can only go so far or that you can only do that. That is just the easy way to be and, for this film, she wants me to work very hard.

Did you spend a lot of time in rehearsal for Backstage before shooting began with Emmanuelle Bercot? Did you rehearse a bit with Emmanuelle Seigner?

Yes, I did. She asked me to do it and I agreed but it was two-and-a-half months of shooting for a film like this. It's a lot of time.

On L'Intouchable, the shooting took considerably less time?

It was four weeks in India and two weeks in France.

And the same kind of shooting schedule for À tout de suite?

It was not the exactly same. He chose me because he wanted me for this character. Emmanuelle Bercot wanted me, but she wanted to create someone entirely different.

Emmanuelle Bercot would like to direct you again...

Yes, of course. But it's very important that we do some things together and some things she does without me. It is important for me that I'm not working all the time with the same person.

And that you're not working all the time. It seems that you're making three to four films a year...

Yes. Sometimes I do less because I'm working on my film and it takes me a lot of time. This year, I'm going to be acting on the stage [currently in Pierre de Marivaux's La double inconstance at the Theatre Chaillot] as much as in film.

Although you started in films very young, did you do any theater work before you your first feature?

I never acted on the stage. This will be the first time.

For your latest, L'Intouchable, how do you prepare for a character that is obviously quite different again from your recent roles? She's an actress, like yourself, but the story has you traveling to India to find your long lost father. Had you been to India before?

I went one year before to scout locations. I was very impressed.

I am told that you have a traveling companion that is taking photographs of you in various locations.

I have photographer friend [Haik Kocharian] and we have a show in New York in November. But he didn't follow me to India. We took pictures in Paris and New York and it will be our first show.

The New York show conveniently overlaps with the theatrical release of Backstage.

But he didn't know!

A coincidence.


Charlie, the film that you're directing, did you fit the shooting in whenever you had the time and you could put it together?

Yes, but at the moment when you shoot it, we just take the time to do it. All of the people working on it had to be free at this time. But I shot it very quickly. Two weeks.

And you wrote the script when?

I wrote it very quickly as well. I wrote the script about three or four weeks before we started shooting.

Is there a particular validation that you get from your work when you win an award, like the Marcello Mastroianni Award that you won at Venice? Does it support your work or is it a distraction? Does it matter to you one way or another?

Of course it's nice. I'm very happy because Benoît Jacquot is very happy. It's also a prize for the filmmaker.

Because they're directing your performance.

Yes, and because they decided to do this film.

Are you particularly attracted to certain roles? The roles that I've seen you in are generally very troubled people...

People always ask me to make characters who go so far from normal. I guess that is how people see me.

But do you have a particular preference for the sort of roles you would like to play? These roles seem challenging. You want to be challenged?

Yes and no. I have enough challenge in my life! For the moment, it is like this and maybe it will change. I don't know.

When do you expect to finish Charlie?

I think it will be finished in two or three months. In one month it will be finished but all of the laboratory work will take another month.

And you're shooting it on 16mm, 35mm or video?

Video. I love video very much because I like shooting very, very quickly and video is the best for that. I like that we can shoot for one hour without stopping to load the film. I like to handle the camera as well.

Do you do much of the camerawork handheld yourself?

There are two of us [Isild and her brother Jowan Le Besco, who also shot her short Demi-tarif].

When you first started, with your earliest films - from Emmanuelle Bercot's short Les Vacances through Girls Can't Swim and beyond - was it clear to you that acting was something that you wanted to do for the rest of your life?

I always wanted to be an actress. Other things, too, but always an actress. And when I finally did it, it was kind of obvious for me.

Fairly obvious.

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"I guess that is how people see me."

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Jonathan Marlow
In addition to his persistence in acquiring obscure films for GreenCine, Marlow is a writer, filmmaker, curator and occasional critic. Not necessarily in that order. He is also a dedicated skeptic.

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