In a career spanning some 40 movies including global hits The English Patient and Chocolat, Juliette Binoche has built a strong reputation by playing many erotically charged and emotionally naked characters.
In her new film Paris, which opens Friday in Los Angeles and New York, the French actress and Oscar winner plays Elise, a lonely social worker and mother who moves in with her brother when he is diagnosed with a terminal disease.
In real life, things are a lot more upbeat for Binoche. A multifaceted artist -- she's a dancer, poet and painter -- her many talents converge in New York City and Brooklyn this month for In-I & Jubilations, a month-long artistic event.
Q: How would you describe Paris?
A: It's always so hard for me to describe a film I'm in, as it's so subjective. It's about a lot of different people living in Paris, and a mix of many sides of life, not all happy ones. If you don't go to the bottom, you don't know what joy is, and to explore life you have to plunge head first and take risks. And the way we're brought up with this whole view of life as black and white, good and bad, is completely false, because in life everything is transformable, and something bad can actually be very good, and vice versa. So it's about all those ideas.
Q: And how much of you is there in Elise?
A: I try to put everything I can of myself into every role. I never try to detach from the characters. We have everything inside us, anyway, and I have a brother -- thank God he doesn't have cancer, and I'm a mother. I've been single, so there's a lot of Elise in me. The more you live, the better you become as an actor as you've experienced more, even though you create with your imagination. That's the great thing about maturity.
Q: Is it true that you first met the director, Cedric Klapisch, when he was working as an electrician on a film back in the '80s?
A: Yes, Bad Blood, in 1986 I think, and I remembered him because in one scene I had to throw this note from a window, and he had this air compressor which he used to make sure it fell exactly in the right place. He's come a long way.
Q: What does the city of Paris mean to you?
A: I just moved back, and even though I was born there, I didn't actually live there until I was 16. But it was always the dream city for me, because it meant art, independence, meeting different kinds of people -- so it was very exciting.
But then the reality of it was quite rough, because of the Metro, no money, hard winters -- just the harsh reality of daily city life. But later when you're an adult, all your memories are of love stories, first kiss, first betrayal. Then of first meeting this director, or this scene and where you shot it, and somehow it becomes a map of your heart. And that's the same for anyone and the history of where they came from. I'll always love Paris, but I also hate it because it's noisy, polluted and stressful.
Q: September should be renamed The Month of Binoche, as you have all these events going on in New York City and Brooklyn, called In-I & Jubilations, starting with dance performances. What made you decide to do all this?
A: It all came together by coincidence, although I never really believe in coincidences. I just started dancing a year ago, and it's so hard! And it seemed like a good time to combine that show with my other interests.
Q: And you have your first-ever art show in America, an exhibition of portraits and poetry. You've been painting a long time, right?
A: On and off, yes. I love painting. I painted on The English Patient because the scenery was so beautiful.
Q: There's also a documentary about you, produced by your sister Marion Stalens. After playing other characters for so long, was it strange being on camera just as yourself?
A: A little. I told her, 'Do whatever you want. If you want to film me waking up, that's fine.' But it's one thing to say 'Yes' and open the door, another to keep the door open! And I didn't like it when she filmed me painting. I felt I should be alone and in silence.