Esther Garrel may be best known for her turn as Marzia, the Franco-Italian teen who falls for Timothée Chalamet’s Elio in Call Me by Your Name, but the scion of a prominent French film family takes part in a very New York story in her latest film, The Great Pretender.
In the film, directed by Nathan Silver, which premiered recently at the 2018 Tribeca Film Festival, Garrel plays Thérèse, an aloof French actress who moves to New York to play the younger version of a playwright named Mona (played by Maëlle Poésy). In the story, told from the perspective of each member of the love quadrangle that unfurls, Garrel’s character gets a little bit more than she bargained for when she falls for a fellow actor, though her love is unrequited.
“When I ask myself if I want to be a part of a project, the first thing I find is if I like [the director’s] energy, or if I feel a link between us,” the actress said at a café near the festival. Filmed on location across New York City, the episodic narrative tells a typical Brooklyn tale of self-absorbed artist types and their relationships with one another. “I already worked with Nathan Silver in Thirst Street. We shot that in Paris, and it was great, but I was super-super-excited to shoot a movie in New York,” Garrel said. “I really like his energy, and his way of directing actors, and his way of directing the sets.”
Garrel says that pursuing a career in cinema came “naturally” to her at the age of 17, not the least because she is the offspring of the French director Philippe Garrel and younger sister of the actor Louis Garrel (who recently portrayed Jean-Luc Godard in Godard Mon Amour). “I knew that I wanted to act when I discovered my own favorite type of movies and type of cinema,” Esther said. “It’s really strange when I think about it, because The Great Pretender is so far from French movies. Finally, it’s not the same work,” she said, confessing that she finds some French projects (including her father’s films Love for a Day and Jealousy, in which she had major roles) to be a little too familiar.
“It’s funny because it was very refreshing to play a naive character like Thérèse,” Garrel said. She also added that the character’s impulsiveness is immature, and unlike the 27-year-old actress who plays her. “She doesn’t think before opening her mouth. She doesn’t think of how to react. And we are all thinking all the time about what is the right way to react, what is the right word, the right sentence, the right way of behaving with people,” Garrel exclaimed. “She’s too naive, I think, poor girl [Laughs]. But I think she’s great! It also leads me to say that I am super-proud that I really like my characters in movies.”
“I actually like Marzia in Call Me by Your Name, I like Thérèse, I like my character in my father’s movie,” Garrel went on. “It’s all about great characters, and it fills me a lot to try to play them because they are great and we need great people, great points of view, great behaviors.”
There has been some speculation over whether Marzia is aware that Elio is attracted to Oliver (the older graduate student, played by Armie Hammer, who comes to live with Elio’s family for the summer in Italy) during Marzia and Elio’s romance. On set, though, Garrel and her Call Me by Your Name director, Luca Guadagnino, both felt the same way.
“She is not naive at all! I think she knows from the beginning of the movie what is happening in Elio’s head. We just don’t see it,” Garrel said. “Luca and I, we agree about that, that she knows from the beginning but she just doesn’t care. She just loves him so much that she doesn’t care what it’s about, and we can see that at the end”—when Marzia stoically accepts that she and Elio are fated to be just friends.
Although she couldn’t divulge anything regarding the possibility of a Call Me by Your Name sequel, Garrel did say that she would be more than willing to jump onboard for another round. (Guadagnino previously commented, at the BFI London Film Festival, that he could see Elio and Marzia having an “intense relationship” in the sequel.) “The second that I met Luca, I wanted to be his actress,” Garrel said.
She will soon appear in Caroline Fourest’s Red Snake, a film about the women in the Kurdish guerilla forces who combat ISIS. She trained with a member of the army, and is currently filming the project in Morocco, but still has her sights set on New York—especially now that she’s becoming increasingly known on the streets. “I never thought that one day someone could recognize me in New York!” she said with a laugh.