When you are a rebel, you suffer. You fight, you’re determined, but you suffer because you don’t know if you are going to succeed…. it’s so much easier to accept the ruse. It’s that violence that isolated [Coco Chanel] and this is what I tried to keep everyday of the shooting, even if I was not expressing it in a scene, I really thought this mix of strength and vulnerability was very important.
-Audrey Tautou, on playing Coco Chanel
It may be hard to believe, but Audrey Tautou is even more beautiful in person than she is on the silver screen. Her piercing dark eyes, cropped dark hair and androgynous silhouette made her the only actress who could play the iconic Gabrielle Chanel in Coco Before Chanel. The resemblance is striking and the two women even shared an interest in the androgynous look, Audrey mused, “[Chanel] created the masculine/feminine [look] and I think that’s something that I share with her because I’m not girly girly.”
However, the two women are also very different. Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel was known for being ahead of her time and Audrey says of herself, “I’m not modern at all, I’m a bit more savage, I don’t like the Parisian show business, it’s not my cup of tee.” It may not be her cup of tee, but it’s a craft that Audrey Tautou does exceedingly well. I had the chance to sit down with Mlle. Tautou with a group of journalists to ask her about her role as Coco Chanel. What follows below is an excerpt from the interview.
How Did You Get This Role? How Did It Come To You?
It come to me because Anne [Fontaine, the director] met me to propose me the part but without having written anything and without even knowing if she would find in Chanel’s life a moment interesting enough… to make a movie not a movie about clothes or fashion, but to make a real movie….I really like her….movies, they’re very clever.. so I thought…she was the right person to do something about Chanel.
Were you very familiar with Chanel?
I was not familiar, in fact I realized very quickly that I didn’t know that much and that my idea of her was kind of false. I knew the icon she was and…that she had created a new style and how elegant, strong and…authoritative she was but…I thought she was coming from the high bourgeoise and that everything had been easy. So, I was surprised to realize where she came from and in fact her vocation was not something that she was born with but it was more the elements and her unpredictable talent and the meetings with Boy Capel that put her on this road. It’s very surprising when you think of the empire she created and…how she influenced women’s fashion, it’s amazing.
You were also the face of Chanel no.5. Who approached you first, Anne Fontaine or Chanel No.5?
Did preparing for the role of Coco Chanel help you in filming the ad campaign?
No, because I filmed the ad campaign before shooting. …it was a real coincidence…. [W]hen you know a bit more Chanel,…I know her much better now,…I realized this perfume, No. 5, how it was revolutionary because everything was completely out of the fashion at this moment – it was not fashion at all – the smell, the packaging, the name, everything was exactly the opposite of what everybody else was doing. It’s amazing that she could be so modern and ahead of her time. Today it’s still the best selling perfume and still very modern, it’s not old fashioned at all.
You know much more about her now, but is there something that’s still a big mystery to you?
Oh yes, I don’t understand how a woman who is so proud and independent could bear to be very often a mistress…and I don’t really understand why she worked so hard to hide her past.
It seemed that Chanel would put on a mask to hide her feelings. As an actress you have an extraordinarily expressive face, was it a struggle to put that mask on?
I don’t really agree because Chanel, she was not cold…with no emotions…when you see her interviewed she was very, very expressive she was almost like a clown…she’s an incredible entertainer and she’s funny and ….she really expressed things.
How important was it playing a woman like this? She was ahead of her time so as an actress how did you feel playing a powerful iconic woman?
First it was intimidating…even if it’s not a like character and an easy part to play. I can’t say it’s the part that gave me the biggest pleasure in my career but I think she was the most interesting and deep.
You can see Audrey Tautou bring Mlle. Chanel back to life on the big screen 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 Alessandro Nivola, the actor who plays Chanel’s love interest, Boy Capel. Stay tuned for an exclusive one-on-one video interview with director Anne Fontaine.