Interview: Emmanuelle Seigner is honest about herself and husband Roman Polanski’s movies

Emmanuelle Seigner plays an actress lording over a theater director in "Venus in Fur." Credit: Getty Images
Emmanuelle Seigner plays an actress lording over a theater director in “Venus in Fur.”
Credit: Getty Images

Emmanuelle Seigner is nothing if not honest. She’s getting raves for her role in her “Venus in Fur,” directed by her husband, Roman Polanski, in which she plays an actress who undoes a theater director (Mathieu Amalric).

“I think this is my first big great role,” Seigner confesses. “Which is sad. But let’s face it, it’s true.”

When another acclaimed film performance is brought up — as the traumatized but collected wife of Jean-Dominique Bauby in “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly,” also starring Amalric — she’s blunt about that too: “I had a supporting role.”

It’s true that she tears into the role of Vanda, who effortlessly slips in and out of the character for which she’s auditioning: a woman who dominates over her male admirer.

“It’s not realistic,” she says. “Like ‘Rosemary’s Baby,’ you don’t know if it’s all in his imagination. Or maybe [her character is] a goddess. Maybe she’s not real. Or maybe she’s just a girl who wants to take revenge and give him a lesson.”

She liked the un-realness of Vanda. “She has a bag in which she has everything, like Mary Poppins. Then there’s this vest and it fits perfectly, and she knows all the lines despite saying she doesn’t. It all fits perfectly. There’s something not real about her.”

Emmanuelle Seigner works with her husband, Roman Polanski, for their fourth movie in "Venus in Fur." Credit: Guy Ferandis
Emmanuelle Seigner works with her husband, Roman Polanski, for their fourth movie in “Venus in Fur.”
Credit: Guy Ferandis

It was also a chance to work again with one of her favorite filmmakers: her husband. “What I like about this movie is it’s closer to [Polanski’s] older movies, like ‘Knife in the Water,’ ‘Repulsion,’ ‘Cul-de-sac.’”

Turns out she’s candid about Polanski’s movies too. When asked about his previous theatrical adaptation, “Carnage,” she says, “’Carnage’ is not a Polanski movie to me. It’s very bourgeois. I think any director could have done that movie. It’s a good movie, and it’s very well-acted. But to me it’s not the kind of Polanski movie I love.”

When asked if she told him that, she replies, “Yeah!” Does he mind? “No, he doesn’t mind. That’s my opinion!”

For the record she also doesn’t like “Death and the Maiden,” his 1994 thriller with Sigourney Weaver and Ben Kingsley, and she doesn’t have great words for “What?” his not very loved 1972 European sex comedy. “It’s too weird,” she says, but adds, “There’s always something in his movies.”

Also for the record she cites “Rosemary’s Baby” as her favorite, with “The Fearless Vampire Killers,” “Cul-de-sac” and “Venus” not far behind. “His soul’s back in this movie,” she says.

How does Polanski treat his wife on-set? “He treats me like the other actors,” she reveals. She says he doesn’t confide in her on his artistic decisions, even if they’re not working together. “He’s not a very talkative person. He’s charming, but he doesn’t talk so much about himself or what he’s going to do. He just does it. He’s not a word man, he’s an action man.”

Emmanuelle Seigner auditions for a pompous theater director played by Mathieu Amalric, her co-star in "Diving Bell and the Butterfly." Credit: Guy Ferandis
Emmanuelle Seigner auditions for a pompous theater director played by Mathieu Amalric, her co-star in “Diving Bell and the Butterfly.”
Credit: Guy Ferandis

“Venus in Fur” did feel different from their other films together, including “Frantic,” a role she got after working on Jean-Luc Godard’s 1985 film “Detective” (“Oh, it’s such a bad movie,” she says of Godard’s film). For that film she was discovered by Godard at the cafe in the hotel in which it was shot. At the time she was a model and she was just visiting her then-boyfriend, who lived nearby. “I’m happy that’s how I started my career, with Godard. Because it’s very chic.”

She says on “Bitter Moon,” she wasn’t confident or experienced enough to get enough out of the role. “I think I would do that role much better now,” she says. “This one felt better, because the role was interesting. And I have more experience now. And this is in French, which is my language.” (There’s also Polanski’s 1999 supernatural thriller “The Ninth Gate,” of which she says, “It was a fun movie, but the role didn’t give me much to do. I had to look mysterious. Not very interesting.”)

“Venus” seems to have given her more confidence, on-screen at least. (She’s already very experienced on stages. In fact, the film’s Cannes premiere had to be put off till the festival’s last day because she was still doing Harold Pinter’s “The Homecoming” in Vienna.) But her approach hasn’t exactly changed. When asked what it’s like playing a character as mysterious as Vanda, her answer sounds like her description of her husband.

“I don’t think about it too much. I just do it,” she says, laughing. “My approach is not intellectual at all. I just learn my lines then I let myself do it without thinking too much.”

Follow Matt Prigge on Twitter @mattprigge


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