When Melanie Laurent joined Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds in 2009, she was already a celebrated actress in her native France, where she began her big screen career more than a decade prior. She earned widespread acclaim for her role in that film as vengeful cinema owner Shosanna Dreyfus, and she later went on to star in other Hollywood projects like Beginners and Now You See Me, even as she continued to work in France.
In 2011, Laurent proved acting wasn’t her only talent when she decided to jump behind the camera to co-write and direct her first feature, The Adopted, which she then followed with 2014’s Breathe. Last week, she made her English language directorial debut with Galveston, a crime drama starring Ben Foster as a betrayed hitman and Elle Fanning as the young woman he inadvertently rescues. Laurent took some time out of her busy schedule to speak with RT about her Five Favorite Films, expressing her admiration for Tarantino and P.T. Anderson and explaining why films like theirs are so rare.
I would say Peau d’âne, by Jacques Demy, a French musical with Catherine Deneuve, because I fell in love with Catherine Deneuve. I was so impressed. I think that, because I watched her being a princess in that movie, that I wanted to be an actress. She was so amazing, and I love Jacques Demy movies. It’s like a real beautiful fairy tale and, I just watch that movie again and again.
I would say, Vacances romaines. I don’t know the English title. With Audrey Hepburn. Roman Holiday? I was not at all a baby girl who just wanted to be a princess, at all, but the fact is, in my movie choices, I was really obsessed with those beautiful and strong and funny and fragile women. [laughs] I was not wearing any princess dress or things like this, but in movies, I was very into it.
I would say Pulp Fiction, for sure. When you are a teenager, I would say, “What the hell is going on? If making movies looks like this, OK, I want to be a director.” Everything was kind of perfect; there was the humor. That’s why I was not just honored and happy to work with [Quentin Tarantino], but crazy happy. [laughs] When he told me he was doing the movie, I was dancing in the streets in Paris for hours. I had a sense of joy, for sure. So I would say Pulp Fiction, for everything we just love in that movie, like the dialogue, the shots, the lights, the actors, the craziness, the freedom of making something so freeing.
Then, Boogie Nights by P.T. Anderson. I loved it, kind of like for the same reason, and also because I’m very impressed by the fact you can make an artsy movie, but also a commercial one, and a popular one. It’s so rare. It’s just the most difficult thing to do, and they both did that. It’s a big inspiration for me because art films and small, independent movies are so hard to exist right now, and I think it’s very hard as a director today to feel like, can I do something free? Can I do something beautiful? Can I do something also funny but also act strong, say something about the world, but also not doing something too popular, and with some cliché subject. I feel like it’s very tricky right now to give money for a director who’s gonna have different ideas and want to do something special. So, I would say those movies, because also we need to talk about that problem right now of making small movies that don’t really exist any more, and are suffocated by those big other ones. It’s kind of scary right now.
To pick one last one, I would say… That’s hard, because I have many in my mind right now. I loved Melancholia, but I also loved Room. They’re very different. I would say those two movies, but for many different reasons. So if I have to keep one, well, let’s keep Melancholia. That was a shock because visually it was so interesting, but also I will always remember that first shot, my entire life. That big limousine was stuck and then it’s like, two persons, and you know it’s never going to work and that was that. Amazing cleverness in that shot. And also, talking about the fears and talking about depression and talking about how do you deal with that big world which is too big for you. But also a movie that’s very free. I’m just realizing I’m keeping movies that are very free. Don’t ask me my five favorite songs, please. [laughs]
Ryan Fujitani for Rotten Tomatoes: I’ve enjoyed your work as an actress, and I’ve enjoyed your work as a writer and director as well. I’m wondering which of those you enjoy the most, and which of those would you prefer to have the longest, most fruitful career in.
Melanie Laurent: Well, now I have the perfect balance, because writing a script takes a long time, and I can write scripts while I’m shooting as an actress because actors wait for hours on set. And this is my favorite thing, ideas coming up on set, and [having a place where I can] escape from a set. I just like to be in my mind. And, being a director is my passion, for sure, but when I’m not working as an actress, I’m missing it, and I’m not really happy.
Also, for specific reasons, any time I’m an actress I’m just learning from a director, so much. And observing amazing directors obviously is the best cinema school, so I’m always so happy to do it. I’m not playing the fact, “I’m a director, I know exactly what you’re going through.” I’m just an actress, except that I know how they feel, and I’m just maybe more empathetic to them when it’s complicated because I know what’s going on here. So, I would say if I can keep those two things always, that would be a dream.
Galveston opened in limited release on Friday, October 19.