In 2005, Clémence Poésy was chosen to play Fleur Delacour in the Harry Potter saga. Her fame became international, resulting in her starring in many productions and working with directors such as Martin McDonagh (“In Bruges”), Danny Boyle (“127 Hours”), Stanley Tucci (“Final Portrait”), or Dominik Moll (“The Tunnel” TV series). Her first short film, “À bout portés” (2016), was screened and awarded at numerous film festivals. In 2018, she directed her second short film, “Le roi des démons du vent.” She is currently filming her third short film, “À balles réelles” and was recently seen in the “Genius” TV series.
Tara Karajica caught up with her at the 2018 Les Arcs Film Festival, where she was a member of the Feature Film Competition Jury.
Why did you start acting and how did it happen?
Clémence Poésy: Why did I start acting? I am not entirely sure… My dad does theater, so it’s always been something that was part of my daily life. I’ve been lucky to have been raised by people who love stories and storytelling as well as Cinema and theater. I was a spectator from a really young age and I was quite passionate about films and plays. I also thought I wanted to do costume design. At sixteen, probably out of a feeling that I wanted something else other than just school – even if I did like school – that I wanted my world to be a bit wider and to do something else that was mine, I called an agent and started auditioning for things and got my first parts in TV and TV films that I would do during summer holidays. After I finished high school and graduated, I decided to study acting and theory of theater and Cinema. So I started working before I started studying.
And costume design is completely out of the picture now?
C.P.: No! I’d love to do costume design! I really would! I discovered that it can also be a collaboration. When you’re creating a character with a costume designer, it’s one of the crucial steps of making the story. But then, I just got interested in lots of things! I got on set and discovered that there were all these other jobs and I didn’t know if I had the talent to do costume design. I did a work experience when I was fourteen at a fashion designer’s studio and he very generously thought: “OK, I’ll make her do things” and he gave me a hem for a wedding dress to do and I had never sewn anything in my life and I, of course, messed up completely and felt so mortified and terrible that I just assumed that I wasn’t made for that kind of job. But now, I guess I’ve found a different way to use that tool and I have great admiration for some costume designers I got to work with.
You have played so many different and varied characters. How much is there of you in each of them?
C.P.: I don’t know. There’s probably a little bit of me in everyone because you’re your only tool towards that person and towards that different character. You probably leave a little of you everywhere. I don’t think it’s possible to erase any trace of yourself.
Your credits are so eclectic. How do you choose a role?
C.P.: Usually, I think by reaction to what I’ve done last. I noticed quite late in the game that what I was doing was that if I had just finished something in French, I wanted to do something in English and if I had just done a smaller movie, I was going to do something on a bigger scale, and the opposite. There was a will at some point throughout my twenties to try as much as I could to understand where I belonged or not. So I tried, which is probably why it’s so eclectic. When there was an experience that I felt I hadn’t had yet and was exciting, I’d go for it. But I can go for it for various reasons: it can be because you want to tell a story, because you want to try and understand that person you’re supposed to portray. It can also be because you want to work with certain people that you admire and respect or are curious about. That’s the thing – I have a variety of reasons, otherwise I probably wouldn’t be that eclectic.
You portrayed so many women in so many productions. Which one is your favorite? What was your best experience with them?
C.P.: There are quite a few. They are not favorite characters; they are experiences that were steps where I felt like I was understanding something new or growing up a bit or maybe seeing life or my job in a different way. The first big step, I think, was when I was twenty-one. I played Mary Stuart in a BBC miniseries written by Jimmy McGovern and directed by Gillies McKinnon, Gunpowder, Treason & Plot, and it was the first time I wasn’t playing some kind of version of a teenager. It was the first time I had to think: “Is anyone going to believe I am the Queen of Scotland? How is that going to work? That was my dream as a little girl and it was why I wanted to start acting and I did it with a cast and crew who were all so blimming great!
Later on, I played Joan of Arc in a very tiny and very unique film about this historical figure that talks about her at a time of her life that is unknown and secret. It was a very, very intimate experience and I have loved finding that connection with the director; there was a way we functioned on that shoot that was incredibly fluid and has remained a step in my career that is quite special.
Then, there is a character that I got to play in three seasons of a TV series called The Tunnel. Her name is Elise Wassermann and you get to know a character for three years, spend that much time with her and build her relationship which, for me, is the main thing about this TV series; it is also the story of a friendship. So it was three years of working with an another actor, the wonderful Stephen Dillane, of getting to know him and watching him work and I’ve learnt so much.
I probably became a different actor from all three of these experiences for different reasons.
Growing up you were surrounded by strong female role models, notably your mother and your grandmothers who introduced you to the responsibility that each woman has to defend women’s rights.
C.P.: Yes. You’re right… My mother, my grandmothers, my mother’s friends, my friends are certainly very inspiring figures and women’s rights is something my mom cares very deeply about and has passed on to my sister and I.
I like your quote when you became the ambassador for W4 that says that it’s unthinkable as a woman not to advocate on women’s behalf for the sake of us all.
C.P.: It’s unthinkable as a human being not to just try and get equality! It just boils down to that, really.
A lot of things have been happening for women in film in the past year. What is your opinion on that change? Where do you position yourself in this discussion?
C.P.: I think change is happening slowly but surely. I think that everything that has happened in the past year has definitely raised awareness and given a sturdier, stronger voice to women and a sense of confidence in speaking up, speaking your mind and knowing that it’s OK and not apologizing for doing it. Voices that weren’t heard before, now have to be heard. It’s insane that it had to come to that for this to happen.
In our industry, there’s a question that we still have to solve which is the fact that there is 50% of film students who are women and 50% of film students who are men and somehow after the first film it’s dropped to 1 to 5, so there’s an issue our little world has to look at. We need to be going towards a world where 50% of the stories are told by 50% of the planet and are representative of what the world is like. There’s so much work to be done … somehow we’re still talking about this; somehow we’re still saying: “It’s a female director” and the problem will only be solved the day we don’t have to address that question anymore and when we won’t have to talk about strong female characters and strong female scripts; when that will be a non-issue. I think the strength and scale of what happened recently was what was needed for us to get more pro-active and I am so glad that everything that is happening is happening.
Is there any female filmmaker that inspires and that you would like to work with?
C.P.: There are so many!
You have also directed two short films. How do you feel about short films?
C.P.: It’s a place where you try things. It’s a platform where you get to experiment and I know I wouldn’t have been able to just say: “I’ll just start with a feature film.” I wanted to explore short forms, the freedom they allowed me and the mistakes they allowed me to make. Also, not all stories are two hours long – I think some stories are made to be told in fifteen minutes and I hope it’s possible if you start making features to sometimes just say: “Actually, this should be shorter.” It’s quite a funny thing that novelists can go back to short stories collections once in a while without anyone finding it weird and somehow in Cinema it just feels like it’s a first step and then you just tell big, long stories. There’s a fascinating director called Clément Cogitore who does a feature, then a mid-lentgh film, then a short and then he goes back to the feature and I think that, to me, that makes sense. The story decides what medium is the best.
What are your next projects?
C.P.: I have just finished filming a Swiss and Belgian film called Le milieu de l’horizon by Delphine Lehericey with Leatitia Casta and a film called Resistance by Jonathan Jakubowitz with Jesse Eisenberg, Edgar Ramírez, Félix Moati and Ed Harris.
This interview was conducted at the 2018 Les Arcs Film Festival.