When Godzilla lumbers onto movie screens this may in the newest telling of the city-ravaging, fire-breathing monster tale (some of it shot last summer on o’ahu), it will be with a distinctly french accent as cinematic icon juliette binoche makes a rare appearance in a mainstream american film.
To talk about her work on Godzilla and her career, HILuxury tracked the stunning actress to Chile’s Atacama Desert on the set of her latest film, The 33, the true story of the rescue of Chilean miners trapped underground for 70 days in 2010. “This country is breathtaking!” Binoche (pronounced BEE-knowsh) enthuses. “You can almost touch the stars; the nights are so open and clear.” Because of her sporadic shooting schedule, she found herself with “lots of time off. I’ve managed to escape to visit the Paranal and the ALMA Observatories with my family!”
Binoche and prehistoric-looking monsters seem unlikely screen mates. After all, the actress once turned down a part in a little Steven Spielberg movie called Jurassic Park. With Godzilla 2014, she explains, director Gareth Edwards “wrote me a letter explaining why he wanted me in his film. He wanted actors he could trust in the middle of technology and special effects.” So Binoche joined a cast that includes Bryan Cranston (Breaking Bad) and Ken Watanabe (The Last Samurai), playing a mother who sacrifices her life for her son and husband.
It has been a long and storied acting path for the part-French, part Flemish, part-Polish actress, who has appeared in some 50 films during her 31-year career. Born in Paris to a sculptor father and actress mother, she was interested in dance, painting and acting and briefly attended the National Conservatory of Dramatic Arts of Paris before focusing on acting. She maintains a strong interest in painting, however, and several years ago painted portraits of directors for the French film criticism magazine Cahiers du Cinema, which was followed by an exhibition.
Acting in a massive Hollywood production is not the norm for Binoche, who rose to A-list status for her work in so-called “art house” films. Her breakthrough as an international film actress came at 24 with her performance opposite Daniel Day Lewis in director Philip Kaufman’s The Unbearable Lightness of Being, the story of three interconnected lovers during the 1968 “Prague Spring.”
Then came roles in Krzysztof Kieslowski’s acclaimed Three Colors trilogy, and Anthony Minghella’s The English Patient. In the latter, her performance as the caring nurse to Ralph Fiennes’ tragically burned World War II soldier earned her a Best Actress Oscar in 1997. She was nominated for a second Academy Award in 2001 for her role in Chocolat as a charming and provocative chocolatier in a small French village. At one point she was the most highly paid actress in France, and the most highly coveted. Former French president Francois Mitterand once publicly declared that he desired Binoche as his mistress (she respectfully declined).
The actress at first pushes aside a question about the difference between working on an indie film and a Hollywood blockbuster, joking, “Well, believe it or not, a camera is still called a camera!” Then she acknowledges that with Godzilla, “I was a little more tense than usual, because I’m more used to smaller films with different expectations. But I enjoyed the experience; my eyes were opened wide!”
And as for the glamour of working on a big budget production? “We shot in a sewer factory [ for The 33] so you’re into reality very quickly. And this was before going underground where we had masks! It was fine!”
No matter what kind of ~ lm Binoche works on, it’s primarily diÂ° cult because she’s separated from her family. Never married, she lives in a 19th-century maison outside of Paris with her two children: Raphael, 20, from her relationship with professional scuba diver AndrÃ© Halle and Hana, 14, whose father is actor Benoit Magimel.
In addition to being apart from her children, “Shooting is never easy, especially when you shoot everyday,” she reflects.
“So there’s always a time, mainly in the middle of it, where you wonder how you’re going to survive it. You’re usually starting with good intentions-diet, working out, accents, sleeping, etc.-and then you to come to a point when you just feel battled by the schedule and overtaken by exhaustion. But I have to say that I’ve been lucky, because even though some of the films I’ve made had very strong subjects, the filming has been mostly vibrant and fulfilling.”
But an actress so acclaimed that she is known in France simply as “La Binoche” appearing in a monster movie? A similar question was posed when she appeared opposite Steve Carell several years ago in a comedy, Dan in Real Life, in a role usually filled by the likes of
Jennifer Aniston or Drew Barrymore. While Binoche knows that her acting forte is “to show and embody compassion more than any other themes,” she wanted the challenge of taking on a comedy as well. “Comedies are hard work and I secretly feel doubtful about my capacity in that area. I can be funny in life, but on a film, I feel that it is hard work. I always feel that I need a guide.”
At the least, she’s certainly not in danger of being typecast. Binoche says she avoids acting ruts by “choosing from my heart and intuition. At the end of the day, you can’t go wrong. Choosing freedom and art are better bets than identifying with what seems to be successful. Money and fame don’t make you happy, they’re not even healing you, they’re just surface cream to calm the needs for a while. But going for your path and lifting yourself into an art form is, I believe, a really soothing path, and when you can do it with other great artists and visionaries, it is really successful.” However, she adds, “You can choose your films, but also they choose you.”
How that happens exactly remains a mystery to the actress. “Sometimes the doors are small, very small, and you have to search for these doors. It depends on what you’re looking for in films, especially if you look at them as possible art forms or not. In my case, I need arts to feel, to share, to be aware, to be surprised or even shocked. The arts are real tools for our lives to be awakened!”