"The Spirits That I Called" at Oko
What was the impetus to open Oko?
Well, I had this vision...I have always lived in the East Village and I'm an art historian so I'm thinking all the time about the layers of the history of this neighborhood and its relationship to the art world and the Eighties. I was walking by this storefront and I thought, "The paradigm needs to change in how we're looking at art." We're not going to change the whole system but it would be nice to have a space that's a curatorial laboratory to do amazing, rigorous things in a tiny storefront in the East Village.
What was here before you moved in?
It was this vintage jewelry store called Magic Fingers and that's what we really wanted to call the space but the lady who ran it for many years and she felt very territorial about the name. At the same time I saw the space I'd seen these incredible fairy dust paintings Dan Colen was working on—he was calling them Magic Arches. So the whole thing has been very organic, it just grew out of a lot of serendipitous things, but also a deep thinking about how we look at art in New York City.
The whole paradigm of a huge bloated art space in Chelsea is not very agreeable for looking at art in my point of view. This place has a really reasonable rent, it can really be about ideas and looking at stuff as opposed to having to put on super commercial shows. Amalia and Daniella really get it; they're complicit in that idea and they're also great partners because the share my idea that it would be crazy to be walking down 10th Street and see a 19th century painting or something totally unexpected in a storefront that's next to a bunch of Japanese restaurants.
Dan Colen, TBT (to be titled), 2013
So what made you want to open the space with Julian Schnabel?
Actually, Schnabel wasn't really the first show. I let Danny McDonald have the keys before I renovated and he made art here and had this incredible performance of his alterego Mindy Vale. She's like a gypsy, old lady drag queen so we wanted her to do something for Halloween, but then Sandy happened, so Danny would work here all night and he went to Cooper Union so people would come by and it was like a social club. He didn't change anything he just added his space to this old vintage jewelry store and after that we renovated, changed the name and did this Schnabel show and the space has become a way to connect to younger artists.
The next show after this are two really young artists in their Twenties, Borna Sammak and Alex Da Corte. I met those two guys through all these layers, so I said, "Let's do a summer show here." And they're going to do something in relation to the storefront in reference to Claes Oldenburg. One of these guys shows in a small gallery on the Lower East Side and the other guy is from Philadelphia and his career is just gaining a little momentum and he hasn't shown too much in New York yet and they're just excited to do a project in this space. They're talking about this space where you look at it from the window, you don't even come inside, so it's really about the vitrine and the storefront. The most exciting thing for me is that I'm constantly texting and talking with them about, "What is it going to be?" It's the same experience I had at the Centre Pompidou only it's this tiny little storefront. It's like a project room and a museum all at once, except that there's no board of trustees.
“Dan Colen: The Spirits That I Called” is on view at Oko, 220 East 10th Street. Okooko.org
Photo: Christopher Burke, courtesy Gagosian Gallery
How did you end up cooking for DVF?
After culinary school, I cooked on private yachts for about 5 years and then took a break to work as the executive chef at a winery in the Napa Valley. I loved it, but I decided I wanted to do a bit more learning and traveling right around the time that the job became available on Eos… lucky for me! We’ve since circumnavigated the globe, and it’s been incredible.
What is the most memorable meal you've served aboard Eos?
I actually really like the meals that venture just off Eos and on to a beach close by. For DVF’s birthday one year, we found a very remote beach in Costa Rica and set it up with tea lights and a bonfire and cooked outside. DVF’s birthday happens to be New Years Eve, and there were Chinese Lanterns for everyone to send up into the air. The water was filled with newly hatched baby turtles. There was something really special about that night.
What is the biggest difference between cooking on land and on a boat?
On the boat you have to be prepared and very organized—there’s no running to the store if you’ve forgotten something. Space utilization is also crucial. The movement can be pretty strange, too. It’s usually very calm but on crossings, it can get a little rough and sometimes I find myself catching produce rolling off the counter, or stopping pots from sliding around on the stove. One great thing is the ever-changing view from my “office” window.
Fresh, Happy, Tasty
Are there any special challenges involved with cooking for the many members of the fashion world that Diane hosts? The old cliché is that stylists/models/designers survive on Diet Coke and cigarettes. Now it seems everyone is gluten free or on a "cleanse"…
I haven’t really been exposed to any of that. DVF is my favorite person to cook for. She loves the type of food that I like to make, which is lucky for me. My food is clean and fresh. It’s not health food, but I do try and make food that won’t make you feel uncomfortable or heavy after eating. I like to think of it as tasty fuel. Especially being on a yacht, you want to make the most of the day after lunch and hike up a mountain or swim, not slow down. DVF loves life, and for that reason, she eats clean, fresh, real food. The people that I’ve cooked for in the fashion industry seem to like the same, fortunately.
What is your favorite seasonal recipe to cook this time of year?
Basically anything green! Anything in the pea family, asparagus, ramps, artichokes… There’s a green pea salad with lemon and mint in my book that is perfect for spring.
Photo: Katie Osgood
Clare Bowen in Jared Moshe's Dead Man's Burden
In the opening scene of Dead Man’s Burden, you’re holding a gun and acting very unlike your Nashville character Scarlett O’Connor. What drew you to the role of Martha?
I found this amazing script with a strong female character. It was really exciting getting to ride horses every day and being out in the wilderness, and to learn about a totally different culture. The writing was so beautiful and the landscape sounded so terrifying; I just wanted it.
Did you have to learn how to ride a horse?
No, I used to muster the cattle before I started acting full-time. I actually ended up working with a wrangler —Tom Berto who did The Missing with Cate Blanchett—because he was a bit short-handed. We drove cattle on the edges of inland Australia, in the mountains and stuff like that; you drive them from station to station. It’s kind of an unusual job, not many people do it any more. So that was lovely, I got to be with beautiful animals every day and wonderful people.
What was the most challenging part of filming?
I didn’t learn about the Civil War growing up in school and I had to make sure that I knew what I was talking about. It was such an honor as a foreigner to be given that role—I just had to make sure that I was doing what had to be done, that I knew my shit, basically.
A lot of people may not know you’re from Australia. How did you nail the Southern accent that you have in the movie and in Nashville?
Thank you! Well, Martha’s Texan. I love Westerns. I didn’t watch a lot of television growing up, but I did watch a lot of films. My favorites were Fried Green Tomatoes, things like that. I didn’t have any accent training, so I learned by listening, which is just the way it works for me. So I don’t know the technical stuff, but I know what it sounds like and what it feels like, that’s kind of the way I work.
How did you get involved with Nashville?
After I did Dead Man’s Burden, I was back in LA for about three days and I was picked up by a wonderful agency who has just been fantastic, and they said “Well you’d better come back out for pilot season.” About two weeks in I got Callie Khouri’s script for Nashville, and I thought, Oh my goodness, this is amazing. It was kind of that same thing with Dead Man’s Burden. I thought, I am just going to have to go in and be really relaxed and loose and just do it. I came in with Scarlett sounding the way she sounds and they kept it, they kept her from Mississippi.
I love the music on the show too. Do you like country music?
Yeah, mostly love bluegrass. I didn’t know a country song to sing when I went into the casting so I just sang an Australian folk song. I had to learn a country music song for the second time I went in to sing for Callie. I sang, “In The Arms of The Angels” by Sarah Machlachlan.
What kind of music do you listen to in your free time?
Everything, I love country. There’s nothing I don’t love. Big mix. Hank Williams, Edith Piaf, Ella Fitzgerald, Etta James. Elvis. I love Elvis, that’s like the Bible. Billie Holliday, Elvis Costello. T-Bone [Burnett]’s stuff is so beautiful. I like The Lumineers, Edward Sharpe, Mumford and Sons—that stuff as well. I am really an open book when it comes to music, there’s nothing that I won’t at least listen to.
What’s your favorite thing to do in Nashville?
Gosh, sing, perform; just hang out. There’s so much to do. I’ve found a wonderful place where I can ride horses—they’re all rescues—so I get to take one of them out for a few hours every now and then.
Do you and the other actors ever perform off screen?
Yeah we do, it’s quite fun. I like to do as much for charity as I can. We’ve been accepted into this amazing culture here. Some of the most talented musicians in the world live here, and when one of the most talented musicians in the world asks to write with you, or asks to sing with you, or asks you to sing on one of their songs, it’s one of the biggest honors in the world. I got a call from Elvis Costello the other day. I was like, Are you joking? That’s the kind of thing we do here, it’s just the biggest privilege.
Bowen in Nashville
Would you ever want to put out a solo album of originals or covers?
Yeah, definitely. I’m a big collaborator, I don’t think I am genius enough to put my own entire album out of entire music. I’m a social creature. It’s like having a party on your own—I’m not ready for that yet, I’m not experienced enough to do it on my own yet. I’m writing with my brother, Timothy Bowen, who’s visiting me at the moment. And finding songs because there are so many talented people out there and so when they give you song it’s such an honor, but I think that’s the way I work. T-Bone and I are working on some stuff and that’s exciting.
How is Nashville different from LA?
It’s the South, so it’s very different in that respect. There’s definitely something to be said for Southern hospitality, but then again when I went to LA people were so lovely, everyone’s very welcoming there as well. I think people are more slowed down here; people take time to appreciate stuff. I find it to be more of a creative atmosphere here, but maybe that’s just me and maybe I haven’t been exposed to that yet [in LA]. It’s quieter out here and there is a wonderful appreciation for other people’s art, which I think is important.
Do you relate to Scarlett or is she very different from you?
It’s a bit of both; there are a lot of things that Scarlett’s going through, especially in the pilot, which we kind of went through at the same time. It’s difficult if you’re pursuing a similar career with someone that you’re close to. She’s on this huge journey and so am I, not just on a relationship level, on a whole life thing. It’s a metamorphosis, getting validation, ‘Oh god I can do this.’ Now at the end of the season, Scarlett has a little bit of the ambition that I have. She’s in it now, so we’re a lot more similar now than we were in the beginning. She still has a lot of growing to do.
What’s your relationship with Connie Britton?
She’s so lovely. It’s wonderful to have, a seasoned professional such as her, she’s just a really wonderful person to talk to, to hang out with. I really enjoy her company immensely. I’ve sort of learned a lot by watching her, I didn’t know a lot about American television, but Friday Night Lights is really, really popular in Australia. She’s a really lovely person and you know I think she’s really taken the role of Rayna on beautifully.
Has the show been renewed for a second season?
I think we would have heard if we had gotten an official pickup. It’s sort of a bit of a secret at the moment, but we’re very excited.
Photos: Dead Man's Burden: Philip DeJong; Nashville: Katherine Bomboy-Thornton/ ABC Media
Cecile de France at the Tribeca Film Festival
In Mobius, directed by Eric Rochant, de France changes tack, playing Alice, a glamorous, gifted trader who after bringing down Lehman Brothers in 2008 is forced to spy for the CIA in Monaco until she is granted reentry in the United States. Her endeavors are complicated when the Russian FSB recruits her in its own mission and the team’s lead agent Moises (Jean Dujardin) falls in love with her. Unable to reveal his true identity, his affair with her jeopardizes both their lives—and turns the film into a modern day Hitchcockian tale, with a dose of Audrey Hepburn and Carey Grant in Charade.
Just after the film’s US premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival last week, de France, 37, chatted financial terminology, wardrobe decisions and how she handled the movie’s revealing love scenes.
How would you describe Alice?
She is a famous star trader so I had to find self-assurance, a feeling of power, but she is cool, she cracks jokes, she has humor, she has irony. She’s calmly superior; she’s a bit of a cynical individual. Quite abrupt. And she’s as intrepid in her career as in her life because she likes to bet. She’s a gambler, a risk-taker. So this is the part that is very tough and tenacious. But on the other hand, she is a free spirit, she likes to have fun, she likes to make love. And when she is in love, she is more fragile and spontaneous. And with Moises there are no taboos. And it’s miraculous. It’s been a long time since she’s felt that with a man. So it was very interesting to mix the hard part and the soft part.
Did you have to prepare for her financial background?
Yes, I knew nothing about the financial world and still don’t. I had to take lessons in finance. And Eric was passionate about the financial world so he came to my house to give me some lessons in finance. But it was the way to enter into the character. To find a credibility as a professional.
Cecile de France with Jean Dujardin in Mobius
So now you can fake it on the trading floor?
No, I just remember a few things… but I had to understand what is securitization, diluting. So I understood a little bit better, but it’s not perfect.
I loved all the clothes you wore as Alice: lots of very chic pantsuits with shirts tastefully unbuttoned. Did you have a lot of input into the wardrobe and how it shaped the character?
The costume designer proposed some photos and we talked about them. We had as a model, Julia Roberts in Closer, her style was very feminine but also very classic. And pants are good on me, sometimes better than skirts. But that tells the tough part of Alice. She’s feminine when she’s making love. She’s very, very feminine.
Speaking of which, the love scenes are quite long and revealing. Were they hard for you to shoot?
It’s very difficult. But with Jean, it was relaxed. And there was no ambiguity or embarrassment. You know, it relaxed the atmosphere, it was good to laugh with him. But we really worked on the choreography, on each shivering spasm, trembling in the scene. But it was my job. Because Jean is very attentive and delicate and respectful, but I did the job more than he did. So that was difficult. But he was helpful. And Eric also was attentive. We were making love the three of us, a ménage a trois, because we were very close.
In an interview, Jean Dujardin says that you have mostly played “child-women” and that in this movie you’re a “very feminine woman.” Do you agree that this is the most grown up, womanly character you’ve played?
The true thing is it’s a very complex character. Very rich. So it’s not usual. And of course it’s really glamorous. When I enter the bar, the Destiny, he has to fall in love immediately with me. So I had to be the most beautiful, with the hairdresser, the makeup and the costume, we did our best.
What is next for you?
The Chinese Puzzle, which is third part of L’Auberge Espagnol and Les Poupees Russes. We just shot it here in Chinatown in September. I’m rehearsing a musical comedy in Paris called Anna by Serge Gainsbourg. [My character, Anna] is an intern at a publicity company. The boss of the company falls in love with a photo of her and he doesn’t know it’s Anna. It’s a complicated story, but it’s a love story.
So once again, you are making a man fall in love with you.
Portrait: Getty Images
Five years ago, Julie Sarkissian was an aspiring poet-turned-novelist desperately seeking inspiration when a childlike female narrator—strange but full of naïve wonder—suddenly made herself heard. “I remember the actual day she just started rambling in my head,” recalls Sarkissian. In Dear Lucy, her debut novel which came out last week (Simon & Schuster), Sarkissian builds a world around that singular voice. Living with a churchgoing farming family and their pregnant teenage daughter, Lucy (who suffers from an unclear learning disability) comes of age in a timeless story of motherhood, family, and loss in rural America. Lucy’s words help lift the story out of the pastoral and into a heightened realism that mingles easily with flights of occasional fantasy.
Novelists often begin with a sentence or situation they find intriguing. I wonder if you started with Lucy’s voice—it’s so unusual.
Oh, I did. Definitely. The voice came to me out of the blue; I wrote eight pages in her voice without stopping. By the time she stopped, there wasn’t really a world yet, but it was enough.
What was the first thing that Lucy said to you?
It’s so strange. She said, “Some of the things I do on the farm is I get the eggs.” The grammar was off just enough that I wanted to follow her down the rabbit hole.
The voice really lends itself to imagery and metaphor.
Absolutely! For me, with my background as a poet, when I can play with figurative language … there’s no place I would rather be.
The stylishness helps you through the book. Without it, then you’ve got a depressing story where everybody gets abandoned by their loved ones.
That’s true, except for the ending. But I did view Lucy as this person that saw the beauty in a totally gross situation. If you take her away, you’re left with a lot of ugliness.
The story does not appear to be set in any defined time or place. Was that a conscious choice?
Yes, but it definitely brought a set of problems for me as a writer. Anytime my mind went to that place where I thought about defining those things, I just stopped. It had a Southern Gothic vibe to me, but I wasn’t interested in pursuing the details. I wanted to keep it purposefully vague. It was like my thinking with Lucy’s diagnosis. Sarkissian's debut novel
So she has an undefined learning disability?
A lot of people think she’s autistic, but I don’t think that quite fits. You know, I always thought of her as a unique voice rather than a real person. For a while, I was considering the novel in a postmodern way, with this fancy ending where Lucy would come to possess these eloquent language skills. But then I thought, Was there anything ‘wrong’ with her at all? Why did we ever need to think that?
What did your mom think of your portrayal of motherhood?
I actually wrote a piece for Huffpo about my mom, my therapist, and writing the book. [laughs] I think that there was always this desire to get closer to my mother, who was sort of emotionally unavailable because of her own traumatic past. And my mom knows that I have those feelings, so I’m sure she saw them reflected in the book.
Did your therapist read the book?
I wanted her to, but she didn’t. That was a funny situation. It came down to my wanting her validation. She’s been my therapist for six years—basically the whole time I was writing the book. But she said, “Here’s the deal. I’m going to take it and I will read it, but we’re never going to talk about it again.” So I had to accept that.
That must’ve been frustrating.
Oh my god, yes. It’s like getting back test results, but you’re not allowed to see them.
And you don’t know if you passed or not.
I don’t know if I passed! And I never will.
Photo: Mad Art Studio
Sun Don’t Shine is set in south Florida, where you grew up. It’s an unsettling place—I think Lee Daniels shot those grisly scenes from The Paperboy there.
Yeah, I think it was shot in the same town, actually. And Harmony Korine shot Spring Breakers in my hometown, too.
Has it become recently trendy to shoot noir movies in the swamps of Florida? Three makes a trend, I suppose.
Yeah, I’m getting a little upset with all these people coming down to my—no, I’m kidding. [laughs] I think Florida got trendy somehow, yeah. It’s this huge flash of vacationland where the elderly retire to, but there’s also a lot of violence there. It’s a strange clash of cultures, and very atmospheric.
The idea for the film came out of a nightmare that you had. Do you often have dreams where you’re on the lam? My dreams are incredibly boring; I don’t ever have fun dreams like that.
They’re not fun—they’re horrific! I don’t know what other people’s nightmares are like, but mine have this sound and feeling to them of an electrical current passing through. It’s almost too unnerving when I have nightmares. I tried to incorporate that sensation of vibration into the film. Also, if humidity could make a sound, it would sound like the vibration of the drum I used in the score.
Sun Don't Shine Trailer from factory twenty five on Vimeo.
It’s a pretty sweaty movie. Was it actually as hot and humid as it looked, or did you apply a glycerin sheen to the actors?
I sprayed the actors down, but not with glycerin. We were shooting in 110-degree weather, so I didn’t have to do too much, but here and there I sprayed them down with a water bottle, which was totally welcome. I think our biggest expenses were sunscreen and mosquito repellant. We made the film on a pretty low budget. [laughs]
The movie is very suspenseful, but all the violence happens off-camera. Was that a conscious choice?
I think it’s much scarier what you don’t see. One of the scariest movies I saw as a kid was When A Stranger Calls, the original version with Carol Kane. It’s just this guy who keeps calling her from within the house, but she doesn’t know where he is. He keeps asking her, “Have you checked the children?” It’s just a man repeating one line over and over, but it’s completely terrifying. I think tension is built when there’s an agitation, as opposed to showing the act, which releases tension.
I noticed that the way you used voiceover in the film—a sort of oblique dialogue that doesn’t quite sync up to the images—was similar to the way Shane Carruth used voiceover in Upstream Color. Was that something you borrowed from him?
No, I did it first! [laughs] I was editing Sun Don’t Shine when he cast me in Upstream. Actually, I think we use voiceover in different ways. I thought of the voiceover in my film as a conversation the two main characters had in bed before the movie ever began.
Seimetz in the Aritzia SS2013 look book
You were also recently cast in Christopher Guest’s new HBO comedy Family Tree, which is very exciting. What’s your role on the show?
Well, Chris O’Dowd [of Girls and Bridesmaids] plays a Brit character who inherits a box of stuff from his great aunt. She’s decided that he’ll be the one who’s going to track down the family tree. His research brings him to California, which is where I come in. I’m a potential love interest. There’s a spark of friendship—and perhaps a romantic one as well.
I love a good will-they-or-won’t-they plotline. A Chris Guest TV show is a pretty big deal. Do you think about how people might start recognizing you soon?
Well, somebody at customs did when I flew into L.A. this time, which was a really surreal experience. They were a big Shane Carruth fan, so they knew that I was in his movie. Plus, my name is in my passport. [laughs] Honestly, I’ve been holed up in Florida for the past couple of years, so even the idea of anyone caring about who I am is so far removed from my brain. But we’ll see. It’s been an interesting year so far.
Photo: Jeff Vespa/Contour by GettyImages; Aritzia: Nicholas Maggio.
True to her word, Ireland appeared with neither stitch of clothing nor a single line in Adam Rapp’s Nocturne (2001), and as a girl with a “regular” face in the Broadway run of Neil LaBute’s Reasons to be Pretty (2009), and she recently played a home-grown terrorist, Aileen, who eventually slit her wrists in prison in the first and second seasons of Homeland.
Her current part in The Roundabout Theatre’s The Big Knife which opened a week at the American Airlines Theater in New York, is something of a departure, at least superficially. In the Clifford Odets play, set in 1948, Ireland is Marion the Veronica Lake-maned wife of the doomed movie star Charlie Castle (Bobby Cannavale), who spends most of his spare time slugging scotch and sleeping with ingénues. At the play’s outset, Marion pleads with Charlie to turn down a hefty studio contract overseen by the bully Marcus Hoff (Richard Kind) so they can focus on their family. But this being Hollywood, things descend into epically disastrous territory as scandals emerge and Charlie is forced to the edge of a very steep moral cliff.
Here, Ireland chats about cautionary tales, weirdos and the romance hidden in even the darkest of stories.
Marion is such a glamorous woman. Is this the most glamorous role you’ve ever played?
On stage for sure, at least on this level. Usually I end up being the frumpy or mentally challenged or in Reasons to Be Pretty, regular. Or a weirdo. I play a lot of weirdos. But in this play, there’s a glamour that comes from the era. The way those clothes fit and feel, it’s not just the glamour—it’s the posture they give you. The pants, the flow of the fabric, the way the shoes feel. But Doug [Hughes] and I talked about her and Charlie like they’re both junkies: they have this need for each other and they get locked into these situations, so I don’t feel like I was playing a purely glamorous stage role. This play I feel like everyone in it is bananas. Everyone is ravenous and totally bonkers. It’s not a play where the glamour is the essence of the whole piece. That’s what I think is so interesting about this: they’re glamorous people existing in this bloodthirsty upside down world.
Like a really beautiful homicide scene.
Exactly. They’re all at their breaking point and people are just doing horrible things to each other. But yes, it was an exciting thing. And it was a tough thing trying to figure out. Doug and I talked about Slim Keith. We were trying to think of somebody who wasn’t an actress. Marion doesn’t want anything from the other people in this industry. That makes her very different from everyone else in this play. So we were trying to find a texture for that that felt like the lady of the house, the good hostess, but not Jackie O. And Slim went shooting with Ernest Hemingway; she was a really robust California girl. She was smart and she didn’t take a lot of shit from everybody. Because we were trying to figure out How does it look and feel and sound if it’s a little less caring what people think of you and something that’s in you a little more?
Ireland in “The Big Knife”
Marion is kind of the moral compass in this work. Was it a challenge to do that while still remaining sympathetic?
I was definitely worried that people in the audience would get fed up with her or feel like she’s a wet blanket or boring in relation to these other people. And what often happens when you get pretty far into the process, you start to realize whatever your worries are as an actor are the character’s worries and that can really help you relax about some of that stuff. She has that line about how “I wish the world were more serious so I could be my superficial self again.” Yeah, she’s aware of it that she’s not a lot of fun right now. I think that’s why she’s trying to remove herself from this situation. She used to be a fun broad, I think.
Pretty much everybody thinks the celebrity culture today is awful. But seeing this play and the brutality of the studio system was quite shocking. Does it make you grateful that you live in this particular era of acting?
I do think that it’s a hard thing for people watching this play to go, oh boo-hoo, Hollywood guy with too much money. I don’t think Odets is asking you to have sympathy for him particularly. I think he is an anti-hero. I think he’s a guy where it’s really in the last ten minutes of the play that he starts to wake up. He is a guy who makes bad decision after bad decision after bad decision. If you feel for him, great. You can also spend a lot the play watching it play out as a cautionary tale. I don’t think you need to empathize with him. That’s what makes the play tricky. I know Odets talked a lot about wanting it to feel Elizabethan in scope. And it is more like Richard III or Macbeth, watching someone make a slew of terrible decisions and they’re in the rubble and there’s just carnage. It is the ultimate rise and fall of human behavior.
Ireland with Bobby Cannavale in "The Big Knife"
You mentioned you’ve played a lot of “weirdos.” Is that a product of what you’re attracted to?
I think it’s a combination of the things that scare me and are challenging and also the parts you tend to get are the ones that make you light up a little bit more in the room when you’re thinking or talking about them. With Homeland, when I auditioned for Aileen I had like two pages, I didn’t even know she was a terrorist. But the casting director for Homeland casts a lot of theater in New York. And she had just cast me right before that in A Lie of the Mind where I played a woman who had been beaten so severely she was almost entirely brain-damaged. The first time you see her she’s covered in bandages and she wakes up and she’s gargled. And then the whole show, she speaks gibberish. So I think the casting director was like, Well, I think this might become a crazy part. I know this girl is game. So I feel like there is some thread there. Even though it’s a lot of crazies and weirdos it’s not the same kind. So I feel good about that, I don’t feel typecast as one particular kind of crazy.
One of the first roles for which you received a lot of attention was in Adam Rapp’s Nocturne, in which you were naked on stage and had no lines. After starting out with that, is there anything you would say or have said no to?
I’ve done a lot of weird stuff. Blasted was a real pet project of mine and that I helped bring to Soho Rep and in that someone beats a baby, I get raped and I give a guy a blowjob and then he punches me in the head. But that play, it sounds crazy, it’s a love story. I think it’s the most beautiful play ever. That for me is the driving force behind all of this. A Lie of the Mind, it’s like Romeo and Juliet. I have a really hard time watching gory stuff and horror movies. I have said no to some horror movie things. I wouldn’t rule it out, I could probably be convinced to do one. But sometimes, I just get ill. I did this part [as a serial killer] on The Following, and I killed a bunch of people in really weird ways. But they sent me the pilot to watch, I had no idea what it was at the time and I could barely get through it. I kept having to pause it and get up and walk around the room for a bit. I was so upset.
Portrait: Getty; Others: Joan Marcus
At the center of Ozon’s latest movie In the House, which opens in New York on April 19, is Claude (Ernst Umhauer), a 16 year-old student who is teeming with ideas but totally lacking in structure. (The film was loosely adapted from the Spanish play The Boy in the Last Row.) Claude catches the eye of a literature professor, Germain (Fabrice Luchini), who encourages his writing endeavors, which entail infiltrating a bourgeois family’s home and penning their secrets. As Claude’s short stories build, he becomes increasingly invested in their events—as does Germain—and soon his literary narrative becomes indecipherable from reality. Here, Ozon, 45, discusses the perils of creativity, his vampiric tendencies and Woody Allen’s immortal status.
Director Francois Ozon and actor Fabrice Luchini on the set of In the House
In an interview about Swimming Pool, you said you felt Charlotte Rampling’s writer character was somewhat autobiographical. Do you feel the same way about either Claude or Germain in this film?
Yes, when I discovered the play I thought it could be the right material to speak about my work, like a self-portrait of my process of working, the questions you can have when you are writing, doing a film, what do I do with this character? In which direction do I go? I thought it could be a good opportunity to share all these questions with the audience. And to put really the audience in this process of creating a story.
Yes, you really put a lot of onus on the audience. There are so many moments as the film progresses where we can’t distinguish between what is happening and what Claude is making up. It’s up to us to make that decision.
That’s the danger of creation. It’s a kind of madness. Because that moment when you are totally obsessed with your story, you can confuse reality and fiction. I tried in my mise-en-scene in the beginning of the film to be very clear what is real and what is fiction. But step-by-step as we go through the film, you realize you don’t know anymore what is fiction and what is reality and it was the idea and challenge of the film to mix them and decide myself in my mise-en -scene to show everything in the same way. To decide that everything is true. But at the end, for me it’s an opportunity for me to say, ‘I don’t care if it’s real or fiction.’ Everything is the same story.
Actors Ernst Umhauer and Bastien Ughetto in a still from In the House
If this is a self-portrait of your work process, does that mean Claude or Germain is representative of you?
I have the feeling still to be a student. I don’t consider myself as a teacher at all. I still need to learn and I’m still learning. I feel closer to Claude. Maybe when I was younger I was like him.
When you were a student, did you have a similar relationship with a mentor, though without the dark undertones in this film?
I was not good at school at all. I didn’t like to learn. And when I decided I wanted to make movies, suddenly I became a very good student. And I had some very important teachers in university and film school in France. Eric Rhomer was my teacher at university and was very important for me. But I didn’t have a teacher like Germain, not so close. But with directors like [Rainer Werner] Fassbinder and Ingmar Bergman, you don’t know them in reality but you learn a lot watching all their films and sometimes you have the feeling they talk to you. There is a link between the films and you and when you see all the films of a director you have a feeling to learn some good lessons so it’s like a very good teacher.
Speaking of other directors, it was interesting when Germain entered the narrative of Claude’s story and began speaking to him. It was reminiscent of Woody Allen.
Of course. But everybody speaks of Woody Allen, but Ingmar Bergman did that first in Wild Strawberries. Actually it’s a tradition that comes from theater, you see that very often in theater. It was a risk. I didn’t know if it would work. It’s not so usual. Especially when it’s not really comedy. But I think it works very well and it shows how much Germain is involved in the story, he wants to know so much what will happen. I thought my reference to Woody Allen was more in the couple of Jeanne (Kristin Scott Thomas) and Germain, I had in mind Diane Keaton and Woody Allen in the films they did in the Nineties. But I don’t know, in France Woody Allen and Diane Keaton are like gods. I don’t know if in America it’s the same thing?
I think it’s fair to say it’s the same thing. When you are working on a project, do reality and fiction blur for you the way they do in this film?
Yes, when you are obsessed with a story, you are thinking about it all the time, you are dreaming about it. I don’t know if it’s dangerous for me, but it’s dangerous for other people in my life. Because I’m like a vampire, I can eat the blood of all the people around me. So it’s dangerous for my family and the people around me because when you’re obsessed with something, the story is more important than everything.
What next project are you working on?
I finished a new film called Jeune et Jolie. Which means “Young and Beautiful” in English. And it’s a portrait of a girl of 17 who discovers her sexuality. And maybe will be in Cannes. It will be released in France at the end of August.
So you’re still dealing with adolescence, but a different strain of it.
It was very common for me to work with adolescence when I was younger and I did short films and my first features. But after Under the Sand and 8 Women, actually I worked with very mature actresses. So it’s a comeback to my youth, because I feel old. So maybe I need fresh flesh.
Photos: Jean-Claude Moireau
Now the 38 year-old theater regular is hitting the floorboards in the Roundabout Theatre Company’s production of Lanford Wilson’s Talley’s Folly, which opens at the Laura Pels Theatre on March 5. Set in 1944, the deceptively probing work opens with Jewish immigrant Matt Friedman (Danny Burstein) in hot pursuit of Sally Talley (Paulson), the only daughter in a wealthy Christian Missouri clan, who has resigned herself to a life of eccentric maidenhood. As he woos her over the course of an evening in her family’s boathouse, their snappy banter descends into more painful—and heartfelt—territory. Here, Paulson discusses unorthodox choices, Valentine’s Day horrors and finding your inner dolphin.
I read that you feel like certain plays come into your life at certain points for a reason. What do you think it means that you’re doing this play now?
I am a person who is not mated. And neither is Sally. And in 1944, to be 31 and living at home is tantamount to being 38 or older today and not being with anyone. And so it is certainly something that I think about in my own life—how my choice not to marry is perceived. And I just related to Sally’s commitment and resolution, something that we learn later was born of a great family trauma. She believes she is a broken woman, that she is not a viable, worthwhile person. That she’s a commodity to be traded. I can kind of relate to that from a professional standpoint, being in this business and how little control you have over your own career and how you sometimes take jobs just to work because you like working. I heard her voice in my own head and it just felt like it lived in me somewhere.
What do you think attracts Sally to Matt? They are rather mismatched.
They are opposites in so many ways. But in the most important ways they’re identical to each other. They’re the most private, calcified people internally who have committed themselves to their beliefs. Both of them have made choices that are are very on the margins of things and so in that way they’re very, very alike. And I think they’re able to appreciate each other the way any person that’s ever outside of the quote unquote norm can—you can always identify another freak.
On American Horror Story: Asylum, you got to travel with Lana Winters from her youth through her seventies. Here, you only get to live with Sally for 97 minutes. Was that a hard switch?
In this play, from the moment we enter we never leave. It’s essentially a 97 minute-long scene. And so your level of attention and focus and spontaneity and everything has to be on high alert, so it is as similar to that beginning, middle and end feeling as anything I’ve ever done on stage. And it’s exhausting in that way. But rewarding, too. I get to look at that Danny Burstein mug and kiss it. I guess that’s a spoiler. People shouldn’t come here expecting us to make out the whole time.
Sarah Paulson and Danny Burstein in Talley's Folly
Well, he says from the beginning that the play is a valentine. Though I guess it could be a really bad valentine…
Exactly. It could be like my actual Valentine’s Day. When I woke up and vomited six times.
Yeah, I woke up and had that 24-hour thing that was going around. I was like, Is this foreshadowing? Is this what my love life this year is going to be?
Or maybe it was a cleanse…
Let’s go with that! It was a cleanse.
You’ve been super active with tweeting to your more than 40,000 followers. What brought you back to Twitter?
I had gone away from Twitter because before people had been so mean to me. Talking about my lisp and my enormous forehead and all these things. I do have a lisp, I do have a forehead I know you could land a plane on, it’s no mystery to me. I just didn’t have the skin for it. And then when American Horror Story happened people so loved Lana Winters and I felt it was a little safer somehow. And I really like to tweet my fans back when they say nice things. Because I sort of feel like they’re the ones who keep things going on. And I never in my life have felt so protective of a character [like I did of Lana]. I really cried like a baby at the end of the shooting. I didn’t want to say goodbye to her. I kept my little Lana pin [that I wore on the show], the little ‘L.’ Which I decided was for labia, lesbian, Lana.
The big three.
The big three. Because it was an all-encompassing symbol.
Do you wear it?
I wear it all the time. No, I don’t.
I’m not going to ask you to do it now, but I’ve heard you do a very good impression of a dolphin. How did you ever discover your talent for that?
Well, the story to that is sort of a bad story.
You had a really bad time at Sea World?
No, it was when I was in high school, I smoked a lot of pot one night. And we were really stoned, my three best girlfriends and I, and I was like, ‘You know, it’s kind of like just being a dolphin!’ And I just made the noise and my friends were like, ‘Oh my god. That was crazy you really do sound like a dolphin.’ And then it was something that I would just pull out every once in a while as a party trick. I’ve gotten a lot of mileage out of it: I did it in The Other Sister; I did it on David Letterman; it’s in Studio 60; I did it on Anderson Cooper… So cannabis can further you career, I guess, help you find your inner dolphin.
Photo: Joan Marcus
Half the Sky
Several years ago, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalists Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn co-authored the book Half the Sky, a blistering yet altogether compelling reportage on the oppression of children and women in developing countries. There were, and continue to be, no snap solutions to such issues as sex trafficking and gender-based violence, but the book was an inspirational call to arms to those who read it, quickly hitting #1 on The New York Times Bestseller list (where Kristof happens to pen his twice-weekly op-ed column.) Now the husband and wife duo have followed up with a PBS documentary series by the same name, out on video this week, still squarely in line with their belief that “if you educate a girl, you educate the world.” To help tell these stories, Kristof enlisted the allure of celebrity advocates (America Ferrera, Diane Lane, Eva Mendes, Meg Ryan, Gabrielle Union and Olivia Wilde), traveling with these actresses to six of the world’s most impoverished countries to meet the women and girls who were born into the most dire circumstances, yet fight to change their fate – both from the oppressive society without and the demons within.
W spoke to Kristof about making this documentary, his journalism philosophies, and why a film is easier to “raise” than children.
The stories you cover in Half The Sky—how did you decide that these needed to move from print to moving image?
I looked for topics that were very visual, that people might tune out in print, but the video footage would be so compelling they wouldn’t turn away. The problem with a book is that the people who are going to buy and read it are those already agree that the topic is important, and we didn’t just want to preach to the choir, we wanted to build a choir. A documentary can help a great deal with that, especially when you bring in celebrities.
International Rescue Committee Women's Protection and Empowerment Coordinator Amie Kandeh with Eva Mendes in Sierra Leone
Speaking of the celebrities – you are so used to reporting in developing countries as a journalist, but it must have been a change to go with Hollywood A-listers. What was that experience like?
Frankly, I thought that having celebrities along might cheapen the coverage of issues that I care a lot about. I thought the celebrities would be dragging around hair and makeup people and stopping off to shoplift at stores. [Laughing] In fact, the cheapening concern was an unnecessary worry; they all approached the stories with tremendous seriousness and dedication. Logistically, it was a bit of a hassle. I believe in traveling very light, but that becomes impossible if you’ve got a big camera crew and entourage. But, it was nice to have other people organizing the cars and figuring out where we were going to stay, for a change.
Was there a time during filming when you thought, “This story is actually being told better with the actress here, than if I was to tell it as an individual?”
Yes, a few times. One example is when Diane Lane and I were in Somalia to address female genital mutilation. The challenge is to explain what is done to these women, but you can’t just show a video clip. So instead, we had Diane watch a clip of it being done to a young girl, and the horror on her face brilliantly captured what any viewer would feel. In a sense, her inexperience in that area made her a much better proxy for the viewer than I would, because I’ve been to Somalia and seen this before, but she—similar to the viewer—hasn’t.
What’s the best way for a viewer to make a positive impact on these issues?
Sheryl and I did the documentary with the aim to not just inform and outrage, but also galvanize people to get involved. We hope that they will go to halftheskymovement.org and find some cause that speaks to them. There’s also a Half The Sky Facebook game that will be coming out in January, where game play will unlock real world changes. It’s kind of like FarmVille. For example, if you get a book for your village in the game, then a real book will go to a real kid somewhere in the world.
I think a lot of people embrace a charitable cause because they think they’ll be helping other people. The truth is, at the end of the day, our efforts to help other people have a somewhat mixed record of success, but they have the most perfect record of helping ourselves.
Nicholas Kristof in Somaliland
You and Sheryl have reported on several major stories as a team, including the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests, a story that made you the first married couple to win the Pulitzer Prize for journalism. Be honest, what is it like to work so closely with your wife?
People always tell me, “Oh, if I was working with my spouse we would quickly end up being divorced,” or “We would break plates over each others heads!” The truth is, a book or a documentary is so much easier to raise together than kids.
Which you have three of—
Yes. You can put a book to bed at night and it doesn’t talk back. A documentary doesn’t play you off one another. If you can manage to raise kids without killing each other, then a work project is actually pretty easy.
You were an early champion of online and social media. You were the first to blog for The New York Times, @NickKristof is seen by over 1.3 million followers... How did you see it coming?
I really wanted to reach young people and an audience that may not be spending a lot of time on the op-ed pages, so this prompted my foray into blogging and social media. The other thing is that I think a news organization has to experiment, take risks, and search for whatever new business model will evolve to pay for the kind of reporting I believe in. So I sort of turned my world into a little sandbox to experiment with—to see what works and what doesn’t.
Which avenues have been the most successful?
Twitter and Facebook have been very powerful.
For this film alone, you traveled to six countries. In your career, that number is over 150. You must have some traveling essentials by now.
There was a funny video that Conde Nast Traveler had created, where they made fun of my wardrobe – specifically, the red polo shirt! [Laughing] But you can kind of get away with interviewing a prime minister in it - it’s better than a t-shirt - and yet if you’re being chased by rebels through the jungle for a week, you can wear it day after day. I also carry a decoy wallet, so if a child soldier demands my wallet, I can hand over the decoy. And I carry a very small steel lock with me, so I can tie my bag to something immovable so it doesn’t just wander off.
Photos: PBS; David Smoler