Earlier today, we kicked off our series of Inglourious Basterds interviews with “The Little Man” himself B.J. Novak. Now we’re moving on to the heart of the film, the Jewish-French damsel who will be sure to sweep you off your feet and surprise you, Mélanie Laurent. For someone who was not professionally trained as an actress, it’s hard to find an actor who is more unlike their character. For however serious and steadfast she was on screen, she was equally as light-hearted and care-free in person. She was a joy to be around and made everyone around her smile.
Within the next few days we will also have interviews with Michael Fassbender, Eli Roth (watch videos), Christoph Waltz, Diane Kruger, and of course Quentin Tarantino, but until then check out what Tarantino’s new shining star has to say about making in big in Hollywood. Trust me, once you see this film, you won’t forget her.
(Note: Melanie had a very strong French accent and even though her English was very good in person, this interview has been edited slightly to make it easier to read. She also gave away a number of spoilers which are all marked. If you don’t want to read them, simply skip down to the next question.)
There is normally a music number in Tarantino’s films, and this one features you. What was it like setting that whole shot up and being in that? Did you get to play the music while you were in it?
Melanie: Yeah. He would just bring all of the crew on the set that morning. And he just said, “Ok! We’re going to do that!” And it took two days to do the Shosanna scene where she gets prepared for the party, and—“I’m gonna film her like this and like this and—oh! You know what? Can we have the music?!” And we have the music! [He’d] explain to everybody what’s going on. Then, next to that, I was (gasps)—is that for me?! I like that! “And like this! And a close up of that! And this and this!” But it’s a good example just to explain to you how he’s working—like—like a captain! He’s a captain on a boat. So it’s like—“Ok! Today we are going to do that!” And everybody’s like: “Yes sir!”
What kind of demands did Quentin make upon your performance prior to shooting?
Melanie: I don’t know. He didn’t work with me like that.I don’t know with the others. But he said, ok, “Give me one take. And maybe two. And after that I’m going to fix here and here.” Sometimes like that. And so: “Ok!” and sometimes: “Cut!” He would just come to me and whisper one word. And you’re like: “Oh my god! Oh yeah! Ok! We’ll do that!” Change all the scene in one take. It just take one word. It’s so clear, so precise. He’s an amazing director for an actor. He’s really respectful and he loves actors. So he just understands how it can be difficult sometimes. But you know what, it’s kind of easy to play, because you have everything around you.
(***Spoiler- Go to the next question to avoid***) So it’s just—you know—for example the lunch with Landa. I’m here, company of German, German, German, German—they just speak German German German—and I don’t understand a word. And then I just heard a voice. [She gasps]! And after that, I have a hand on my shoulder. And after that, I have the face of Landa. Ok, then shoot! [Laughs] And, “Ok! You’re tense! He’s just here, in front of you! And you’re like, Oh my god! He’s here!” You just have to be concentrated, you don’t really have to even work for details. Because [Quentin] set the details, you have everything on the pages of the script!
What’s striking to me is—you just said it—less is more. But when you watch a film like this, there are so many BIG performances, but yet you’re saying that he achieves this with a sense of simplicity?
Melanie: Well, maybe it’s with me, because—for example, Landa had a lot of more text, and it was more difficult because he has to have different languages and just find the right smile, the right humor, at the right moment, be really funny, or completely scary. I think he wanted Shosanna very strong, very fragile at the same time, but not over the top. So, it’s not so, you know—except for my crazy laugh at the end—
That’s true. How was that?
Melanie: I did not know how to do that for the life of me. For months, I was like, (gasp) “How am I going to do that?” Because in the script it was like, “She’s laughing like the devil, for 5 minutes.” I’m like—“What? What? 5 minutes? I’m gonna be like [imitates trying to laugh that long while looking at her watch] —it’s gonna be a nightmare!” And I remember that day, I was like, “Ok Quentin, I’m so stressed out. I really don’t know what I’m going to do.” Cause I never took theater lessons, for example. I just made movies. So I have very—and I’m French. We are lazy! You don’t work on that laughter in 6 months, you just realize, “Oh my god, it’s tomorrow! My laugh is tomorrow!”
So he says, “Ok, ok. You know what. I’m gonna fire everybody!” So he just asked people to get out. And I was like, oh my god, is this a sex scene? And he was like, “Ok. We are 5 here.” So we were just 5 people, just for the camera and me, and and he said—and he took my hand and he said, “You know what? I just trust you. You’re gonna be great. You’re gonna give me a great evil laugh.” “Ok! [She clears throat] Action!” And I just did something. You know. And he was like, “Ok. You can do it. Now, let’s work!” He just wanted to know if I could just forget everything.
And it remembers me a little bit of like the scene in Kill Bill 2, and she’s in the car, and she’s like front of camera, and she says, “And I’m gonna Kill Bill!” And we’re like, “ok, why are you saying like this?” And it’s because, it’s completely unreal. And at the end you just love that sort of scene. Because it’s just completely creative.
(***Spoiler***) Are you bummed that your character didn’t get to see Hitler shot and killed?
Melanie: No. I’m fine. Especially with that smokey effect of the face. I’m pretty fine with that end. And—no, and I was really, really surprised when I saw the movie, when I discovered he put on some really romantic and mood music for my dying moment.
Did you realize it when you were making it that you were about the be the heart of the film?
Melanie: Well—when you’re just hearing it in front of Brad Pitt and producers and Quentin and everybody and your friends and you’re 26 and it’s your first movie and you don’t speak English and you’re going to spend 4 months here with this creative—and it’s just huge—and the translation in French is very difficult because it’s like period style, and so yeah—it was a lot of pressure. But I didn’t want to think about it like that, because if I did, I would, “ok, I’m just going to be stressed out every day. So he trusts me, ok. I’m going to trust that. And I’m going to try to just relax and have fun.”
And it’s just so great on the set. We just had that dance every day, and that sort of line like—wee! “I want another take!” “Why?” “Because we love making mooo-vieeees!” And you just hear 100 people saying that every day. And, you’re like, “Oh ok. I’m going to have fun. I don’t want to think about the pressure of.” And he cut a lot of my part. So the part was more big than you saw on the screen, but yeah—I was just away with the fairies most of the time, and just had fun.
So when you just have that amazing opportunity—when you are the most lucky French actress ever at that moment, you just have fun. You just enjoy it. I just forgot how lucky I am to do that job.
How did you get to be part of this project?
Melanie: Oh very classical casting. I had three rounds, reading with him, reading with Daniel Bruhl at the end, that was the third one. I just made like four movies in France just before Quentin’s movie, and after a while, it’s just like kind of a job like, ok, you just wake up at 5 every day, and you don’t really know why, and you’re just so inspired.Being actress, it’s so funny and great—and with him, I was waiting my alarm clock everyday. I was like, “OK! It’s 5! Ok! Let’s go!” And I remember, the last—almost the last day, I was crying in his arms, and I said, “It’s almost done! What am I going to do?” And I did another movie and it was great.
Working with Quentin, did it inspire you to want direct more? I know you directed a short film that played at Cannes.
Melanie: Yeah. I’m going to make my movie next summer in France, and yeah—you’re right—because it was not about just actors, it was about everything. It was about—ok! He’s the most passionate person I’ve ever met. He’s crazy. Perhaps too much sometimes, but he just love making movies!
Was there advice he gave you on making movies?
Melanie: Yeah! I’m going to steal a lot from him. About utmost fear on the set. You can just accept a lot of things from a director who just love making movies. When you are working with someone who is an asshole, whose movie is just not good, who doesn’t know how to speak to their crew, and doesn’t really like actors—I’m completely upset against all that. I don’t get directors who say, “Oh the shooting part is just not my favorite.” Excuse me?! Or, “Yeah, I like editing or writing. So I’m alone and…” You want to work with 100 people now!?! Why are you a director? Maybe when I’m making little baby movies, I think it’s just amazing. The moment I’m writing, the moment I’m on the set, the moment I’m just directing my actors, the moment I’m just talking with the sound with the camera with the costumes. Blue, green, yellow! It’s just amazing! I’m not going to be actress all my life. I’m going to be a director, because that is the best job ever. You are the boss! And you can make everything just great, not like—you don’t have to be an asshole to make great movies. They don’t know that. Most other people in that work. So yeah.
What are you working on now?
After this was over, my life is quite crazy and funny, I met—Damien Rice. I was just completely crazy about him. And I met that guy, just after Tarantino. It’s so crazy. Like, “Oh! What I’m going to do without you!” “Ohp! I met Damien Rice! Sorry!” [She pantomimes scooting closer to her next greatest thing!] I was like—Masters! It’s funny to have just met two masters. They’re very different, because it’s music and it’s cinema, but I was like, “I’m so fucking lucky!” And so we are working on my CD right now.
Damien just said to me, “You wanna be a singer? Ok, so work!” Ok yeah. So you go in the bathroom, lock the door, and you work two hours. Ok. Good. “Play some piano! Just go to work! Listen the birds! Caress a tree, be with the nature, and just be inspired!” And I just forgot that, you know sometime you just work and work, and you have no life, no boyfriend, you have no more friends and you just make movies, and you’re tired, and you don’t know why. Because everybody said, “oh you are so lucky, you are working!” And you’re like, “oh yeah, it’s so great.” And suddenly, I just—I’m not mystic at all but—I was like, “Oh, I met that master of making movies! And I met that master of making CDs, and I worked with those two guys!” And the common point is inspiration, and make that job with passion, and that’s all. And it’s so great, because I just have a new life now. I enjoy everything. Even after that moment, and I’m jet lagged!
It seems like—you’re going into all these different fields, and you’re just completely fearless. Do you have any fears, or are you just ready to take on whatever comes next and follow your dreams in a way?
Melanie: Yeah. Know what, I’m really confident. I had a perfect childhood. I had perfect parents and grandparents. They just love me, simply. So I have no fears. I’m really sensitive—because (pretending to gasp and wipe away a tear) I don’t know why people are so cruel or violent. I like to be [carefree and childish in a sing-song voice:] “Oh, this is the world!” But yeah, so I have lots of confidence. And I just realized that that job is completely absurd, it’s not life. So, I just want to take care of that. That’s not real. This is not real. I’m 26, and I’m in a poster with Brad Pitt. That’s not really “real.” But it’s my life now, and I just want to take time, and go to Ireland, and make my music. And I’m so glad to see Quentin, and to dance with him and talk about movies and just protect myself. And you can—[escort arrives] No I don’t want to go! I like this room! [They tell her she has to] OK. Thank you so much!
Watch Inglourious Basterds in theaters August 21st.