by Alain Elkann
Amira Casar regularly comes to Salzburg for the Festival. This year the actress has just been performing at the Festival d’Avignon. Soon she has to be back in Paris where she starts a new role in Versailles, a television series about the life of the young Louis XIV. She is preparing by reading biographies of the Roi-Soleil….
Amira Casar, why did you choose Salzburg for your vacation?
Because it is the temple of opera and I love women who sing loudly in the morning. For me, the sound that comes out of opera singers is the closest to expressing tragedy. I like the Austrian bit of Salzburg, the folklore in which there is something both childlike and grotesque. And, for the observer that I am, “Le spectacle est dans la salle.” There are so many interesting characters around and somewhere in my mind I store information about them, because I am a character actor. I have played lesbians, bus drivers, toilet cleaners, terrorists and maids. I love playing maids, they are such good observers. I love the Italian school of acting; I love Anna Magnani, Silvana Mangano and Monica Vitti so much, because they could play both maids and countesses.
You are a French actress and yet you are also fluent in English and German. How come?
I wanted to master French and so I went to Drama School in France at the National Conservatory of Dramatic Arts in Paris.
Why did you study in France when you hold a British passport?
I like the rhythm of the language. It’s a hard language to master and I am a self-proclaimed masochist so I always go the hard way. I am also a frustrated opera singer. Now I am considered a French actress, but I try to maintain a sense of self-mockery in France.
Photo by Paolo Roversi
Is your character interesting in the Yves Saint Laurent film by Bertrand Bonello that will be released in the autumn?
Yes, it’s the one that was in the Palme d’Or competition at the Cannes Film Festival this year.
Aren’t there two different films coming out about Saint Laurent?
Yes, and the press has presented it as a war. It’s not. It’s just that we were not supported by Pierre Bergé.
What’s your role?
I play the character of Anne-Marie Muñoz, the friend, the sister, the one that keeps the show on the road. She was the director of the Saint Laurent atelier. When I work on a role I become like Detective Columbo, I try to find the voice, her voice, who she was, to make a real lady out of the shadows. I have huge respect for that woman. When Saint Laurent disappeared into his follies, Anne-Marie was running the whole studio, she had great knowledge of her craft. She met Saint Laurent at Dior when they were both very young and she said about him: “He is the one.” They vouched to each other that they would never separate. He could not work without her.
Did you enjoy playing that role?
Yes, I loved it.
Are you starting a new project now?
Yes, I am going to play a fictional character in Versailles, the TV series about the youth of Louis XIV. I play a very strong woman.
Are you doing your own research for this new role?
Yes, when I was younger I wanted to be a historian. What I love in acting is when you can infuse details. For instance, Bertrand Bonello is such a good women’s director because he knows how to observe women through a magnifying glass.
Who is the director of Versailles?
That will change every two episodes.
What are you reading?
I am delving into Madame de Sévigné’s letters. She is a very strong woman and knows what it is to be a woman of that time. Louis XIV was the son of Anne of Austria and he had great respect for women; he was a very courteous king. I think that Nancy Mitford’s book The Sun King is very good. I am also reading Saint-Simon and I find him very Proustian with his long passages.
Since you also work in theatre do you consider yourself a classical actress?
I like the wonderful German word that they used during the Vienna Secession: “Gesamtkunstwerk.” That means art in its totality. I have worked with strong avant garde directors like Werner Schroeter, Catherine Breillat, the Quay Brothers, Sophie Calle, Carlos Saura, Betrand Bonello and Tony Gatlif. MyPapesse is Isabelle Huppert.
Because her curiosity is insatiable, like mine. I am an autonomous person, but I am interested in entering into the director’s realm and seeing how they will shape me, sculpt me and drive me.
Is being an actress sometimes a frightening job?
I deplore the ranking of people and the quantifying of everything. I don’t want to find that my own life has become too small or too narrow and that’s why I am looking for the eternal elsewhere. When you do good and exciting projects with people who would push you, this is what I am looking for. I have to see myself as a monster, great actors like Robert Mitchum are monsters.
Ingrid Bergman, Liv Ullmann, Marcello Mastroianni and Monica Vitti have something larger than life. They are fascinating and I could watch their features endlessly. Tilda Swinton is also like that.
Are you like that?
It would be immodest for me to say that. I was talking about my colleagues. Isabelle Huppert, Greta Garbo, their faces are fascinating to watch. Marina Abramović has that too.
Is it charisma?
Are you in love with cinema?
Yes, definitely, and France is still the best place to be for the insatiable cinema goer that I am. I spend lots of time in dark fusty rooms and sometimes I go to morning screenings. I think that the new French cinema is great; there is a new wave of young French directors coming up. I am happy about doing Versailles because it is in English and I like the gymnastics of working in different languages.
Are you ambitious?
Personally, I don’t regard ambition as a negative thing. I think that I was trained to work hard and to do my utter best.
What are the qualities needed to be a great actress?
To be a real human being would be my ultimate ambition. To let all the masks drop. I am fascinated by women who give up their vanity and just wear a uniform, it is something Spartan, very simple. In those days I think of the Magnanis and the Vittis and Bergmans, and today of the Blanchettes. There is in them something called star quality. When I was a child in England I rode a lot; when the ponies walked into the show ring, they were the “bobby-dazzlers.”
Photos: Carole Bethuel © 2014 MANDARIN CINEMA – EUROPACORP – ORANGE STUDIO – ARTE FRANCE CINEMA – SCOPE PICTURES / CAROLE BETHUEL