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Melanie Laurent: Contender Q&A

November 12, 2009 |  3:55 pm

ML

Few actresses this year have enjoyed such an incendiary role on screen -- both literally and figuratively -- as Melanie Laurent in Quentin Tarantino's meta-WWII movie "Inglourious Basterds."

The rage and hatred for the Nazis that murdered her family that courses through her Shosanna Dreyfus burns almost as hot as her passion for cinema, and the two come together in spectacular fashion in the picture's fiery climax, which finds her using film itself as a weapon against her enemies. Such a vehicle comes along all too infrequently for actresses, especially ones as largely unknown in the States as Laurent -- though in her native France, she's an acclaimed film and stage performer, and a Cesar winner for 2006's "Je vais bien, ne t'en fais pas." One gets the impression that after "Basterds," more people will be talking about Melanie Laurent than ever before. The Circuit spoke with her from her home in France about working with Quentin Tarantino and her own directorial aspirations.

What was your reaction when you first heard about "Inglourious Basterds"? 

Melanie Laurent: My first reaction was, I think, "Oh, my God." And then, I felt a great honor, because I had been chosen to play the role over I don't know how many other actors. My biggest reaction came when I read the script and realized that it was such a big part. It wasn't, like, the little French girl in this big movie (laughs).

I understand that Tarantino made you wait a bit before letting you know that you had the role.

ML: There were three auditions: one in front of him, one with Daniel Bruhl (the lovestruck Nazi officer Fredrick Zoller), and one at a restaurant for four and a half hours, actually (laughs). I was really not sure if he was going to choose me [for the role], so I was really shocked when he eventually did.

So tell us about working on the film itself.

ML: I had a lot of different feelings. First, I was really impressed to be making a film with one of the greatest masters [of film] ever. That created a lot of pressure, sometimes, for me to do well. But it also felt like everyone on the set was glad to be there, and so honored to be with him. I realized that everyone was a bit scared like me, but also very happy to be a part of the film. 

He was amazing to work with. He encouraged you to come up with a lot of ideas, which I thought was very freeing. 

From what I understand, he sometimes asks his cast to watch other films for inspiration. I'm wondering if he did that with you.

ML: No, but he did have me come out to Los Angeles for 10 days to stay at his house and learn how to project movies (laughs). And at the end of those 10 days, he had me go to the New Beverly Cinema and project trailers and movies and make reel changes -- everything that a projectionist would do. He wanted me to be able to do it under pressure -- which is really great, because now I can project movies very well (laughs). If I get no more projects as an actor, I can always do that.

You've directed two short films ["De moins en moins," which received a Short Film Palme d'Or nomination at the 2008 Cannes Festival, and an episode of the French television series "X Femmes"] -- did you gain any insight into that particular role from working with Tarantino?

ML: It was a mini-university of cinema all the time. I observed him all the time, and I was really, really impressed with the way that he worked with every aspect of the [film's production team]. A good director has to be a captain -- he has to work with a lot of people every day. He had amazing energy.

You're about to begin filming another American-made project, "Beginners," with Ewan McGregor and Christopher Plummer. Will we be seeing more of you on these shores in the future?

ML: Because I've made a film with such an amazing director as Tarantino, I'm much more conscious of working with good directors from now on, so that's what's important to me. I don't really care about making a big movie -- I just want to make good ones.

--Paul Gaita

Photo: Melanie Laurent. Credit: Francois Duhamel/TWC

More Tarantino/"Inglourious Basterds" news:

"Inglourious Basterds" Oscar campaign gets off to a roaring start

Tarantino, Douglas, Demme to present at Governors Awards

Hollywood Film Fest announces World Awards, tributes to Walz, Frechette

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