If you first discovered Ludivine Sagnier, as many movie lovers did in the early 00s through the films of François Ozon, the sensation was something like wide-eyed whiplash. One moment she was the exuberant tomboyish daughter of Catherine Deneuve in the musical 8 Women and the next she was anything but as a lusty bikini-clad (or unclad) vixen causing trouble for Charlotte Rampling in the thriller Swimming Pool. Both films were international hits and her turn as "Tinker Bell" in the UK/USA/Australia production of Peter Pan further upped her profile. Sagnier has been a movie star in France ever since.
Currently both The Devil's Double in which she plays leading lady to a Dominic Cooper double-act and the thriller Love Crime in which she plays headgames with Kristin Scott Thomas are now in theaters and Beloved with Catherine Deneuve will undoubtedly follow; consider her international profile revived.
I sat down to talk with one of my favorite French actresses earlier this year during New York City's annual Rendezvous with French Cinema event. After introductions and a bit of small talk about French cinema and The Film Experience's actressy nature, we got down to business.
NATHANIEL: You started so young Cyrano de Bergerac (1990). You were all of 9 or 10!
LUDIVINE: People always ask me how I got started. My story is so common that it's a bit tiring. I went to an audition with my sister who wanted to be an actress and they asked me if I wanted to do an audition and they picked me and didn't take her. It happens so many times in the industry. I've talked to a lot of actresses...
NATHANIEL: So when you were first coming up as an actor in France were you conscious of this great legacy. Like you're next in line after Huppert and Deneuve and well, so many actresses... France makes great ones.
LUDIVINE: NO! I Didn't see myself that concretely... I didn't like myself that much in the beginning. But it's funny because I just shot a movie where I was playing Catherine Deneuve in the 1960s and she is playing me older. It's Beloved from Christophe Honoré who I did Love Songs with. Maybe this time I had the feeling that we are part of the same family, that we have a common story. First she was my mom in 8 Women. Then I was Chiara's sister in Love Songs and Chiara is her daughter. And now Chiara is my daughter in Beloved. Everything is so mixed up!!!
And now I dare think we share the same history. When I started... NO.
NATHANIEL: It must be so flattering to play a younger version of her. She's one of the greatest movie stars of all time.
LUDIVINE: It was amazing. To me Catherine Deneuve. Especially in the '60s... [She loses her thread for a moment here with appropriate awe...] All these images! François Truffaut and Jacques Demy. All this New Wave I was fed with as a young actress. It's such a privilege to project myself into this period of time because of course I didn't get the chance to meet them. It was a huge present. It was great, really.
NATHANIEL: Now in Love Crime you're playing opposite another terrific actress Kristin Scott Thomas and it's very much a two-hander. I was surprised to hear that you had no rehearsal time, really. It was just meet and shoot?
LUDIVINE: Yes, it was very spontaneous. Maybe she didn't have the time or Alain didn't think it was necessary -- I wish we had but it wasn't really possible.
NATHANIEL: Love Crime, being a noir of sorts, is very stylized. There wasn't a lot about it that was naturalistic per se. And actually a lot of your movies have been that way: Love Songs, 8 Women, Peter Pan, Water Drops on Burning Rocks... Is this your preference, these heightened acting challenges like musicals or thrillers?
LUDIVINE: Not necessarily. But, you know, what I like is to be able to bounce from genre to genre. [She pauses to consider why she's done so many....]
People just project my image onto those kind of stories. When I started to shoot Love Crime I had just finished a movie [Lily Sometimes] that -- unfortunately it's not going to be out in the US -- but it's a very down to earth movie. Diane Kruger. We play sisters in the country side: barefoot, very natural, no makeup. Maybe that's not my image -- somehow against my will I have this sophisticated image that doesn't really fit with what I really am. But that's life.
NATHANIEL: Would you ever do a heavily green screened or f/x driven movie again after Peter Pan.
LUDIVINE: Yes. [She, well, it's confidential. Something is brewing which she won't talk about.]
NATHANIEL: I actually loved your Tinkerbell. So bratty and the physicality you brought to it was topnotch. Just... well it was so accurate and you don't see that often with Peter Pan.
LUDIVINE: Thank you. Maybe it struck you because the director had inspirations that were not totally Walt Disney cliches. There's this French artists who had pictured Tinkerbell as this petite brunette -- a bit ghetto style -- she was one of our inspirations.
NATHANIEL: You mentioned images that came to mind with Deneuve and what directors project on to you ... how about the public? I don't know how often you're recognized here or at home but do people assume things about you from the movies?
LUDIVINE: After Swimming Pool. [Pause] People were thinking I was the hottest chick on earth and I was going to get undressed every five minutes. I was like, "hmmmm, you might be mistaken." But otherwise... You know, in France, people don't really get harassed when they're famous.
NATHANIEL: Most but not all of your films have been in France. Are you looking for more international opportunities?
LUDIVINE: I am trying to diversify, it's true. For example I've asked to be part of an Asian festival jury because I want to be closer to that cinema. I think there's a real emerging cinema in South Korea. I'm a big fan of those movies.
"La Nouvelle Vague" in France. It happened because people didn't have money. They were in a hurry to get their films done and they worked in a state of emergency. And that's the reason why those movies are so fresh and spontaneous and somehow they had a way of resetting reality. Usually the energy comes from rising economies. I'm very curious about that.
I have a manager in the US, and you know, I'm still curious but not the typical "American dream" because what I want first is to have a cohesive career. That's important to me.
NATHANIEL: Well honestly, French cinema is better for that anyway. When people get older the roles are still great. That's not as often the case here.
LUDIVINE: I'm interested in building something strong and solid. You know in America there's this cult of suddenly getting infatuated with someone. Squeeze him or her to the last drop and then -- pffft -- Away to the bin!!! [Laughter]
I'm more ambitious somehow. I want to stay longer. Life is a marathon and not a sprint.