Michel Hazanavicius became one of France's directorial rock stars after the release of OSS 117: Cairo, Nest of Spies and its sequel, OSS 117: Lost in Rio, spoofy tributes to the Bond films of the '60s starring the suave Jean Dujardin as the swaggering, unabashedly racist and misogynistic yet frustratingly charming hero. Three years after the second OSS installment, he has taken another gamble: a silent black-and-white film about a silent-movie star in 1920s Hollywood. Teaming up with his partner Bérénice Bejo — who appeared in the first OSS 117, and with whom he has two kids — and Dujardin once more, Hazanavicius has concocted a film with one foot in the past and the other in the present. The result is a loving tribute to the romance and optimism of the era (not counting that whole Great Depression thing; see Betsy Sherman's review).
I caught up with Hazanavicius during his visit to Boston, and we talked old movies, his hatred of Muzak, and his love of silence.
WHAT IS IT ABOUT THE TRIO OF YOURSELF, JEAN DUJARDIN, AND BÉRÉNICE BEJO THAT WORKS FOR YOU? I don't know, really. They are people I like to work with, of course, and I wrote the script for them. There was no question of casting. It's your life, you're not just making movies, so it's best to work with people you like if you can. I wanted to see them in those kinds of characters and this kind of movie. I think that something works very well in between them, and in the way I work with Jean.
WHAT WAS IT LIKE WORKING WITH A FRENCH-AMERICAN CAST AND CREW? I loved working with these actors. John Goodman, James Cromwell, Penelope Miller, Missi Pyle — all these actors are really great. Even the smaller characters were fantastic. I've made movies in Brazil and one in Morocco, and it's always the same cooperation with the crew. People have their own way of working and you have to adapt to it, and they have to adapt to your way of working as a director in order to make the best movie possible.
BÉRÉNICE BEJO HAS MENTIONED THAT ALTHOUGH SHE TOOK A LOT OF HER INSPIRATION FOR HER CHARACTER FROM MARLENE DIETRICH AND JOAN CRAWFORD, AT A CERTAIN POINT YOU TOLD HER, "OKAY, THE PART NEEDS TO BE ABOUT YOU NOW." WAS THERE A POINT WHEN YOUR OWN INSPIRATIONS TOOK A BACKSEAT AND YOU LET THE ARTIST BECOME SOMETHING OF ITS OWN?That's exactly the way I worked and the way I asked people to work. Yes, you have to do your homework and understand what you're doing and immerse yourself in the period and the format. But once you do it, you have to digest everything. The story is the priority, and everything that can help tell the story is relevant. I gave people a selection of movies to watch, and once they were comfortable with the format and the period, I said, "Go make it your own." Bérénice was always watching those actresses, but I wrote this part for her! All the work she did was very helpful for her, because of the confidence. She really did a great job being an American actress. The American part is very difficult! The way American actors act is very different from the French ones.
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