Ahead of the UK release of Madame, the multi-talented Violaine Gillibert sits down with Close-up Culture’s James Prestridge to talk everything from waiting tables in New York to working with the likes of Harvey Keitel and Kristen Stewart.
Q: You play Hélène in Amanda Sthers’ film Madame – out in UK cinemas 20 July. What can you tell us about your character and what can we expect from the film?
A: HÉLÈNE Bernard is a rich, enigmatic Parisian woman. With her husband, they form a powerful couple who have businesses in fashion and the arts. They wear chic, black clothes and are both mysterious and mundane. They have no children and he cheats on her. Helene is perfect in society, seeing everything and showing nothing. It can feel lonely.
The film is delicious – beautiful photography, costumes, set design, Parisian bourgeois locations and sharp funny dialogue. It is a comedy about the absurd and sometimes cruel codes of the elite as well as the confrontation between different social classes. The very unique Rossy de Palma plays the equally unique maid of Harvey Keitel and Toni Collette.
Q: As you mention, this is an impressive cast led by Toni Collette and Harvey Keitel. How was the shoot?
A: IT was wonderful. It is such a pleasure to work with exceptional actors who are generous, sensitive and demanding. There were many direct exchanges about the story between the actors and director Amanda Sthers. She was open, caring, knew exactly what she had in mind and kept just the right distance.
Brendan Patricks (acting as the mayor of London) and I spent four full days seated to the right of Harvey Keitel at a large dinner table with other guests to film the movie’s central scene.
Harvey’s dedication and generosity was just unbelievable. He told us a lot of stories and always wanted to start each take with an improvisation – to set the right mood and energy to our three characters’ interactions.
Every person on the set just adored Rossy whose presence set the most amazing tone. Smart, crazy, funny, beautiful, special, true and as easy to talk with as you would imagine. Rossy de Palma was Amanda Sthers’ inspiration for this script.
Q: What memories can you share with us from your early days breaking into the profession – taking classes, waiting tables and singing in bars?
A: NEW York played a special role in my early acting days. In a way, it is there where I found what had been missing in my formal French acting education.
It may seem like a cliché but I really lived my dream there. I was curious, excited and free. Studying, acting and playing small parts in short student films and off-off Broadway projects half of the time. Working the other half.
I waitressed in restaurants from Brooklyn to the Village, checked in coats at one of the fanciest French restaurants in Manhattan – where I was fired for losing a famous lawyer’s coat and one of its biggest clients – a Burberry coat. The boss yelled and let me go in front of about a hundred diners.
I also made a bit of money singing French songs from the 1960s in bars. I loved it. My American dream mostly took the form of being in small rooms in overcrowded and messy Manhattan co-locations doing hard jobs and enduring lonely moments. But I was thrilled and energized by the enormous amount of creative expression you find everywhere there. The powerful feeling that if you are passionate and work hard, someone will give you a chance.
Q: In 2010, you moved behind the camera and worked as a line manager on Mustang. It is one of my personal favourite films. What was your experience like on this film?
A: I AM happy Mustang has a special place in your heart. The experience, the shooting, was special to me. I made a decision to take a break from pursuing my own creative endeavours and collaborate with others on theirs – to be behind the camera.
In a nutshell, what happened is that my producer brother called me one Thursday in June and asked me if I could take a flight the following Monday to Istanbul to manage the production of a French-Turkish film that he believed in – and that needed to be completed on a tight schedule. The film had to be shot that summer as the girls were on vacation and were of the same age as the characters they play in the film – and would have to go back to school in the fall.
After reading the script that evening I said ok, no question. Three days later I landed in Turkey where I stayed for the next three months, mostly in Inebolu, 700 kilometres from Istanbul. I am so proud to have been a part of making such a beautiful and important film with an almost non-existent budget.
For me, what made this film is the deep cinematography and visceral engagement of the director, coupled with a perfect cast. Those five girls are pure beauties in every way. The connections between them made them even stronger and more beautiful.
Q: Did you have any interactions with the young women cast members who worked on the film? We interviewed Elit Iscan last year – perhaps you have a story you can share.
A: I INTERACTED with the girls every day. We were all living together in a hotel lost in the mountains near the Black Sea. We were the only customers there. Our crew was small and in many ways the girls gave us light and energy throughout the shoot.
They worked hard but never complained. They were always ready and excited to shoot, very close to one another, and friendly and professional with everyone in the team. If I had to summarize them in two words, I would say: glowing, professional.
Elit is rare with many different things going on for her as an actress – which is no surprise to me. She is talented and humble. She was the oldest – unlike her character – and most experienced, but she never showed any difference or distance with the other girls.
Q: Another impressive film you worked behind the scenes on was Personal Shopper. How was that project working with incredible talents such as Olivier Assayas and Kristen Stewart?
A: PERSONAL Shopper is a film that shows perfectly the connection, mutual respect and inspiration between a great director and a great actress.
I have a lot of respect for Olivier, a great filmmaker who uses both space and characters. He is an intellectual spirit of action. For me Kristen’s acting embodies instinct, sensitivity, violence, discretion and beauty. I love the way she can be both infinitely graceful and tough as nails.
For sure it was an interesting experience behind the camera, but I must say that I enjoyed even more being part of Olivier Assayas’ last film ‘Doubles Vies’ as an actress.
Q: You returned to singing a few years ago, forming the group Barry with Marc Collin. How has this collaboration with Marc been?
A: BARRY is a music project I had in mind and heart for quite a while – a cover album of Marie Laforet’s songs, a French actress and singer from the 60’s.
I did not know Marc Collin personally but loved the band Nouvelle Vague. I sent him a message asking for a meeting, explaining precisely why him, why Marie Laforet, and why me.
After a few exchanges, a few inspirations shared and a test, he said ok. The creative process was fascinating. Marc has a studio that resembles Ali Baba’s cave with keyboards from the oldest Crumars to the electronic sounds of tomorrow.
We looked for the sounds, tempos and vibrations – and explored each cover song until it gradually revealed itself to us.
This is really a studio album having done most of the sounds on computer. No live music, but we did a few showcases with three musicians on stage. It was a totally new dimension of the titles – I loved it. I truly love being on stage and playing live, but that will be for future projects.
As for Marc, he just shot his first film and told me about his next one, one character in particular. To be continued.
Q: How do you see your future unfolding? Will you continue to balance acting, producing and singing? Is directing a possibility?
A: PRODUCING was a transition I needed in my life. I loved the experiences and learned a great deal from them, but my preferred way is in expression spheres – acting, singing and writing. So I plan to keep exploring that path. Especially acting in the coming months.
Directing? I would love to but I do not have the abilities required. That way of thinking stories, words, people, locations. I never felt like it was my part.
Q: What can you tell us about your upcoming projects?
A: I WILL play a part in a film called ‘Femme Enfant’ directed by Amro Amzaoui which will be shot in Paris this September. After that, there are two interesting projects in the offing, including the lead in a great upcoming comedy. I cannot really say more right now but hope that you will hear more about it very soon. Thank you.