Stepping into the role

A guest at this year's Haifa Film Festival, French actress Ariane Ascaride speaks to the 'Post' on shoes, reality TV and old princesses.

Ariane Ascaride 370 (photo credit: Gustavo Hochman)
Ariane Ascaride 370
(photo credit: Gustavo Hochman)
‘I get into my characters through their shoes,” says actress Ariane Ascaride, the star of The Snows of Kilimanjaro, in an interview at the recent Haifa International Film Festival.
Right now, in red platform wedges and a red blouse decorated with elephants, she is playing herself, a versatile and quirky performer who has made a celebrated career out of playing the French everywoman. Born in Marseilles to working-class parents (with an Italian immigrant grandfather), she has made many films with her husband, writer-director Robert Guediguian, who is also from Marseille. The Snows of Kilimanjaro is their latest collaboration.
The two became well known on the world cinema scene when their film Marius and Jeannette, a comedy/drama of working-class life and romance set in their hometown, became a huge international hit.
“That was the turning point,” says Ascaride, who won a Cesar Award (the French Oscar) in 1998 for Best Actress for the film, which also won Best Picture and Best Director and Screenplay awards for Guediguian.
The Snows of Kilimanjaro, once again set in the city of their birth, is a much darker and grittier look at the aftermath of a violent robbery that changes the lives of everyone involved.
In addition to finding the perfect shoes for her character, Marie-Claire, the wife of a union official, she says she prepares by imagining “an apartment with lots of furniture. I take out all my furniture and things and put in the character’s.”
Admitting her approach is “not Lee Strasberg,” she says she also feels her way in through “the character’s gestures. If she is wealthy and bourgeois, she has a lot of time. If she is a married woman with children, a working woman, she will move quickly.”
Although her characters generally lack pretention, Ascaride is a classically trained actress who studied at the prestigious National Conservatory of Dramatic Art of Paris. She spent her childhood watching her father perform in amateur theatricals, and knew from a very young age she wanted to act.
“When you grow up, all the work as an actor is to try to reconnect to the freedom of being a child,” she says. Smoking a cigarette at the end of each interview, she says she is relieved that her own two daughters, the elder of whom is 30, have chosen not to go into the family business.
“One works for the National Radio of France and one is studying philosophy,” she says with pride. She is especially glad they are not actresses. “Today it’s very difficult for young actresses. It was always hard... but now with reality TV, people think they must become famous in three months. And as a mother, I’m glad they won’t be judged on their appearance. I was very small and very brown, untypical.”
She learned to make peace with the fact that, “as an actress, everyone tells you you’re not attractive enough. But it’s hard to become indifferent.”
This realistic attitude comes into play when she talks about one of her upcoming films, a remake of Marcel Pagnol’s Fanny, directed by actor Daniel Auteuil. Asked whether she will play Fanny, she collapses on the couch in a mock-faint.
“Fanny is 18! I play Fanny’s aunt,” she says.
In terms of giving advice to young people who want to go into the film industry, she says, “If you want to be an actor, you’ll be an actor. Just go and do it.”
Pointing out that she and Guediguian did not enjoy she financial success until Marius and Jeannette, she emphasizes, “Before that, Robert had made six movies already.”
Asked about her dream role, the actress doesn’t need to think before answering, “To play an old princess.”