The son of French filmmakers Agnés Varda and Jacques Demy (director of The Umbrellas of Cherbourg), Matthieu Demy pays homage to his parents legacy with his directorial debut Americano. The film tells the story of a Frenchman who returns to his childhood home in Los Angeles when he learns of his mother’s death. “Artistically and personally, I wanted to approach filmmaking within the context of my own parents and their careers,” says the 39 year-old director. He rounds out the cast with like-minded children of famous celebrities—Geraldine Chaplin (daughter of Charlie Chaplin) and Chiara Mastroianni (daughter of Catherine Deneuve). He also nabbed Salma Hayek, who embodied a type of “foreignness” that was integral to Demy’s vision. On how he managed to convince Hayek: “She just happens to be married to a French guy [Francois-Henri Pinault] and lives partly in Paris, so it was easier for me to pass her the script.”
Not to spoil anything for the audience—but Salma Hayek plays a stripper in a Tijuana brothel. What was it like shooting her steamy pole-dancing scene? It was pretty tricky, because I had it in my mind to do it all in one take. She had sprained her ankles a couple weeks before the shoot, so she could hardly stand up and couldn’t do the conventional pole tricks. I thought, “shit!” this is the end of my movie, but she was really courageous and a real trooper. We still found a way to make the scene sensual and special; it was kind of a magic moment.
Did you write the character with her in mind? Yeah, I actually wrote it for her. I didn’t know her personally, but I was looking for a Mexican woman my age, who is really hot. At some point, I knew it was Salma Hayek.
Directing versus acting: do you tap into different parts of your brain? I guess so. Acting is on an instinctive level, while directing is more intellectual. It’s also an issue of responsibility. When you act, you’re protected by a character and a script. So acting is more like a kid—it’s playful. As a director, you’re much more exposed; it’s about growing up and being an adult.
Totally off topic, but you sort of have this Clive Owen thing about you. Do you hear that a lot? No, but I’m really flattered by it. I’m going to post on my Facebook wall, “I’m the French Clive Owen – so beware.”
Myth or Fact: Are French men serial seducers? You’ve got to come to Paris.
Americano opens in theaters June 15.
Photo: courtesy of MPI Pictures/Les Film de l’Autre