Audrey Tautou at the L.A. premiere of "Coco Before Chanel."
A little weary after 23 interviews, French actress Audrey Tautou says in a heavy accent, "My answers were just so stupid," and explains to us she'll be speaking in her native tongue, hence the translator on hand. A beaded, mustard-colored blouse hangs from Tautou's tiny figure, her locks are cropped and curled, and with her dark eyes, she bears striking resemblance to the real-life luminary she plays in Coco Before Chanel, opening this week. The film focuses on the brief period of Gabrielle "Coco" Chanel's early years – before her timeless style became the symbol for the modern woman in 1970s France.
After our chat, she politely asks to snap a photo of us journalists with her Leica camera—something she began doing with her interviewers after her fame from Amelie. Since then, she's been in high demand and approached for several Chanel roles. Read on why she chose to work with director Anne Fontaine to portray the legendary icon.
Q: What was it about Anne's vision of Coco that attracted you?
Tautou: The film actually focuses on a short period of her life – not a sprawling, epic biography – and it's a study of that character in that point of time. And the fact that she's a woman, Anne Fontaine has a very keen perception of the psychology of Coco. A man can understand her, but a woman can feel her. This is not a movie about clothing. This is a movie about somebody who is advancing, and fashion is part of that journey, but it’s not the end in and of itself.
Q: This portrays Chanel’s early life in the 1900s, about which little is known. What were you able to find out about her?
Tautou: What she said about this period in her life was often full of lies, and she wanted to hide a lot of the facts. One of the instrumental pieces was the biography written by Edmonde Charles-Roux, who had done an exhaustive, five-year investigation to get to the bottom of who Coco Chanel was in this period. I could tell from the differences in other books who believed in the lies that Coco spread about herself and who didn’t. Edmonde dispelled many of the lies.
Q: Do you have a different approach to playing a real person rather than playing fictional character?
Tautou: Yes -- playing someone who's a celebrity adds extra pressure, because the public already have preconceptions, or they think they know that person. But based on the research that I did, watching videos, seeing a lot of photographs, and also reading the novels, it informed the way I wanted to interpret this person. It gave me a lot of freedom to inject my own self -- my own colors -- into this character.
Q: Are you a clotheshorse?
Tautou: I personally don't like to follow fads in fashion where your personality isn't really expressed—where you accept whatever the new fad is just because that's the thing of the moment. That's not what I gravitate to. I like clothing as a personal expression, but not to follow something.
Q: What other part of Coco's life interested you?
Tautou: I was very moved by the very final chapter of Coco Chanel. For so many decades she was ahead of the times, and there is a part towards the end where society not only caught up with her, but then surpassed her, and she changed. She lived in incredible solitude at the end, after having a life full of people and lovers, though she still worked. I think it's true that she always wanted to keep control of her life. She was living in the Ritz, and she said to the receptionist of the hotel whom she knew, “I’m going to die in seven minutes.” She died eight minutes after.
Q: Would you have wanted to continue filming another period of Coco's life?
Tautou: She had such a rich life that you could make 10 movies about her, because she had an amazing love life, very romantic, full of hope and tragedies, and men who were very important to her. She creates so many amazing things, not only style, but the perfume Chanel No 5. Everything was revolutionary. Today it seems so normal, but at that time it was just completely new. Chanel’s such an interesting and unique personality that I think that’s the reason why, for me, this character deserved to be treated deeply.
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