It is a doll with a lily complexion, which hides the temperament of a rock heroine. Everything is contrast in the features of Charlotte Gainsbourg. The spleen of her honey gaze and the mischievousness of her smile. The sharpness of his chin and the firmness of his jaw. The softness of his voice and his abrupt outspokenness, full of self-irony. Short hair, black jeans and vintage T-shirt, she fascinates with her beauty, her assumed vulnerability, her bursts of laughter, her questions. Charlotte Gainsbourg, who has been living in New York for two years, seems to go straight to the point.
Sitting on a leather sofa in a Parisian photo studio, she recounts the genesis of her next album, talks about the pleasure she experienced playing in the highly anticipated the promise of dawn, adaptation of Romain Gary’s autobiography, directed by Éric Barbier, with Pierre Niney (1). Alternately dreamy and very lucid, she evokes childhood memories, her passions, but also her reunion with the house Gerard Darel – “I had already been their muse” -, with this look that is not without evoking the insolent elegance of her father and the androgynous charm of her mother, the icon Jane Birkin.
Madame Figaro .- How do you see your choice to live in New York two years later?
Charlotte Gainsbourg. – When my sister (the photographer Kate Barry) died, I felt the need to move away and I took everyone with me… New York is the destination that I chose with Yvan (Attal, his husband), because it was the easiest. I live in TriBeCa with my two children. Yvan goes back and forth, and my son (19) is in England. There you go, I don’t have any major analyzes to deliver. It starts to bother me that they only talk to me about my move. I didn’t have the New York fantasy… Little by little, I fell in love with this city. I built a normal life there, more anonymous, because people rarely recognize me in the street. But I don’t feel at all like the spokesperson for the Parisienne in New York. (Laughs.) And there is nothing set in stone… I would be ready to leave everything tomorrow.
You play as Romain Gary’s mother in the promise of dawn. What fascinated you about this character?
This role resonated with me a lot: she was Polish and I am of Russian origin… I learned Polish for this film in which I play in French, but with this accent cut with a knife. An accent that looked so much like that of my paternal grandmother! The strength of this woman sent me back to her. And there were still some similarities in the way they praised their sons. (Laughs.)
What memories do you keep from this shoot?
I loved the extremely physical aspect of this film. I embody this woman from the age of 35 to her dying days. I found myself in the role of a grandmother, with heaviness, breasts. It’s a period film and I liked playing with the costumes, the wigs… There was nothing left of me! I was able to dress up like no one had ever asked me before… Apart from Lars (von Trier), a little. The very steep side he wanted from me was a form of disguise.
You are a woman very anchored in life, in the family, whereas in the cinema we have seen you embody extreme characters, not always easy to interpret …
But there is nothing difficult … The profession of actress is not complicated. If we like to be an actor, we have fun going all over the place. The pleasure comes precisely because it is extreme. Some roles may make you a little uncomfortable, but that’s what I’m looking for! So I’m not going to say to myself, “Oh, I was so brave to make such and such a choice. ” No ! It’s wonderful to work with people who inspire you. And then, in my supposedly perilous films, there is only Lars. With him, there is always a risk-taking, a form of provocation which amuses me enormously. Honestly, I don’t feel very brave. (Laughs.)
However, when your last album came out Stage Whisper, you told us about the courage you needed to overcome your fear of the stage …
Ah yes ! But the scene is different. It’s not natural for me… I force myself, but I still feel terribly tense. I hope to enjoy it one day. But for now, it’s just pressure. I frankly don’t feel like a singer …
What does being a singer mean to you?
To have a real voice, to master it. Or have a very strong personality, something assumed. Me, it is not assumed. There is a real lack of legitimacy: I’m not a singer, so I pretend… I play on fragility, breath, breakage, but I judge myself too quickly, it slows me down.
However, your musical talent is unanimously recognized …
No doubt, but I still have questions. Which does not prevent me from moving forward. Right now, I’m finishing an album, but I’m wondering if I’m satisfied enough to release the object as it is or if I need to rework it again… (Laughs.)
What are your latest passions?
I developed an appetite for the series… I loved it The Crown, on Queen Elizabeth II. And also documentary series based on real stories, like The Staircase, the story of a man accused of killing his wife. Until the end, we do not know if he is guilty or innocent … We follow the whole trial: it’s surprising and exciting, very voyeuristic too. And then there is The Jinx : The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst, carried by a fascinating character… Here again, we do not know if we are facing a monster or a victim.
Would you like to star in a series?
Yes ! I find that today, we are very driven by this structure, this type of framework… And I’m less obsessed with cinema: I do less, I go if it’s exceptional…
What are your readings?
I am reading Conversations With Billy Wilder, by Cameron Crowe. I have a passion for Billy Wilder. Right now, I need to enter realistic universes. I also read Mr. Proust, which I adore, by Céleste Albaret, the housekeeper who worked in her service and who describes her every move – the way to take her croissant, to put down the milk… It’s so visual that it reminded me of my father. Not the years of my childhood, but those when he lived helped by his butler. I have the impression of seeing him again, with the habits of an old boy. It deeply touches me…
Did you also inherit your passion for cooking from your mother?
It’s funny. Before, I was really fighting against the image of the woman in the kitchen. I’m talking about the time when I met Yvan, at 19! I didn’t want to see myself in this role. Only, I realized that I did not even know how to cook an egg… These are the recipes that guided me. My mother and my mother-in-law too! I rediscovered their skills, but I had to read cookbooks like a schoolgirl.
Do you never improvise?
That would be my goal. I admire my mother who improvises without complexes: ten people arrive and everything comes out of the stove at the same time. Yvan’s mother is the same. I am fascinated by their virtuosity. Me, I constantly note. I’m crazy, obsessive: I weigh everything four times… I take a little off, put it back on until it’s perfect… My father had this manic side! I saw him follow recipes: for two days, he had to prepare, marinate … It was both very simple and extremely sophisticated.
And you, your favorite dish?
My signature ? (Burst of laughter…) The problem is that in my family they all like different things. What brings them together are macaroni cheese. I got it from my mother. My kids also love Eggs Benedict. And I’m really into Japanese cuisine …
Charlotte Gainsbourg, la cover story
How did you revive your collaboration with Gerard Darel?
It happened naturally… Danielle Darel had taken over the brand. She called me to ask me if I wanted to collaborate with the house again. We saw each other again, and she loved my new haircut. I accepted. I was carried by the memory of a more than friendly collaboration. I really have great affection for her.
How would you define your style?
I don’t define it. I try to be in harmony with who I am. My hair, for example: I was sick of it. I’ve been thinking about cutting them for a long time. I feel better like this. It’s like trying to be someone else with my long hair. It’s just a haircut, but I feel more… me.
(1) The promise of dawn, directed by Éric Barbier, in theaters on November 1st.
Charlotte Gainsbourg, the fashion icon
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