“This was the most technical performance I’ve ever had to give.”
From the moment Alessandro Nivola stepped into the room, he immediately put the group of journalists before him at ease. He was different from Audrey Tautou and Anne Fontaine who had translators and agents in tow, instead, Alessandro walked in solo and started cracking jokes.
Having met him, it’s easy to see how he was cast as Boy Capel, the man who played a large role in making Coco Chanel the icon she is today: Alessandro is funny and charming and sitting down to talk to him was like sitting down to chat with an old friend.
Nivola was a very different man than Boy Capel and Nivola had to learn a lot of new skills including how to play polo, play piano, dance, and the most difficult, how to speak French. Anne Fontaine, the director of Coco Before Chanel, had found him in some English movies that he had been in. Anne’s people got in touch with Nivola’s agent and asked, “Does he speak French? My agent said yes, when I barely did.” Next came a phone interview where he “had prepared very specific statements that I could stumble through and the next thing I know I was in Paris.”
Anne liked the sound of Alessandro’s voice speaking French, “even though my grammar was deplorable,” because his accent is hard to define, it’s not French or English, it sounds vaguely foreign. Like many French people, she didn’t find French being spoken with an American or English accent very “sexy”.
Learning French was a tedious process and Fontaine hired a woman to come to Nivola’s house for 2 hours a day for a month before they started filming. Then, he went to France a few weeks before filming and he spoke French the whole time he was there. Being the only American on set was a bit lonely for Nivola – the whole crew spoke French and he spent the first few weeks on set not understanding what people were saying. Reflecting on the experience, he said, “You lose your personality and your sense of humor and you find yourself just rigid with fear.”
Having seen the film, it’s impossible to see any guardedness in Nivola’s acting. In fact, I remember thinking to myself that I was quite impressed with his French and how natural it seemed. “The language thing made it much scarier [but I] wouldn’t trade it. There’s a part of me that likes feeling out of control that way. … I’m restless and get bored easily…I knew it would be an adventure that I would go and come back, and now I speak fluent French.”
You can see Alessandro Nivola charm you and Coco Chanel in Coco Before Chanel tomorrow, Friday, September 25th, in New York and Los Angeles, and in San Francisco on October 2nd.
Be sure to also check out the interview with Audrey Tautou, the actress who plays Coco Chanel. Stay tuned for an exclusive one-on-one video interview with director Anne Fontaine.