Today I am talking to actress and director ,
Tell us a little bit about your training and your work.
With this Director I performed in various plays, like an adaptation of the tales of the Arabian Nights. I still work with him and I play mainly classical plays by Molière.
I started as a director by pure chance really. François Lis, an actor I had met on the Tales of the Arabian Nights, was doing an adaptation for theatre in education of a play. He was doing a run and asked me to come round and tell them what I thought about it. I gave them some advice and as they thought I was quite good they decided to keep me as director. So I moved into this position rather smoothly. I had always loved being “the outside eye” as we would call it at Claude Mathieu, that is the one who helps other actors make the best of the scene they have to work on, but I had never thought I had the makings of a director. François proved me wrong. And I have been lucky that actors come to me and ask me to direct them.
When you approach a text how to do you do it, what do you look for in it?
I learn the text by heart trying to make the words on the page become mine, and as I am learning, I get images that come from my universe, which is a little quirky. So my performance is never conventional. I never go in the direction of the text. I try to escape the text to bring some extravagance into it. And that makes the text shines even more.
To create my character, I pick from everything I can, life, what I see on the streets, exhibits I go to. All that feed my character. I dream about it a lot as well. I fall asleep thinking about that character. That is the unconscious work, and this works well for me. And in the morning I always come up with new ideas or physical behavior. For example, I am working on “The Maids” a play by Jean Genet at the moment. One morning at rehearsal, I started to walk in a different manner than my own. It came out of my dreams, and from the walk, my way of talking altered as well. It was not voluntary.
Does this approach differ when you direct?
It is very similar. I work with who the actors are, what they convey, what they offer during rehearsals. I have universe, but I don’t come with a preconceived idea. I start with the humanity in the actor. The text does not interest me at first, it is the human behind it that is important. When that is established, I can become very rigorous and exacting. I work with precision. I get the actor in an iron collar, a physical one, not an emotional one. It is like a music sheet, every move and words have to be right for the whole piece to sound beautiful. It is not in anarchy that the actor can find his freedom. He needs very strict boundaries. Nothing is left to luck. Then within that tight frame the actor can become absolutely free. It sounds like a paradox I know, but it does work.
I need very malleable and trustful actors. The trust has to be mutual.
Do you have to be in love with the text to direct a play?
No. I start with the actors, their humanity and mine. A text can be boring when you read it, and when actors are impersonating it, it can become great.
What do you like most about acting and directing?
When acting, I love dreaming about my character, going on tour with my friends and living unique moments with them.
When directing, I love being in alchemy with the actor. I mainly direct one or two actors. It is already a lot of work.
What do you like least?
I hate a professional team I endure working with, who are lazy and self-centered actors. Then I become very sad.
When directing, I don’t like when the actor refuses what I suggest before even trying it; that he does not trust me. Fortunately it has hardly ever happened. I can only work in trust and mutual benevolence.
When working on a text do you feel the words are carved on stones or do you allow yourself a certain amount of liberty?
I respect greatly a text, especially classical authors. They are just great. The actor has to know the text like a razor. When working on adaptations of plays for the theatre in education we have to cut the text to go to the core. But I don’t betray the author, I have too much respect for them.
What is your favourite play?
If I had to choose a text it would be Phedre by Racine. Because it is my dream to perform it and or direct it. It is one of the most beautiful texts ever in the whole world. It has been on my night-stand for the past fifteen years.
Thank you Stéphanie for this deeply insightful interview.