In “Paradise Highway” Juliette Binoche slips into the role of a US trucker. An unfamiliar environment for the French actress – but none that she doesn’t seem up to
Juliette Binoche has been an actress for 40 years and is not only one of the best known in her French homeland. Recently, the 58-year-old Parisian, who won an Oscar for The English Patient, returned to the United States for her film Paradise Highway. We met her on the occasion of the premiere at the Locarno film festival for a chat with an idyllic view of Lake Maggiore.
Ms. Binoche, in your new film “Paradise Highway” you play a trucker in the USA. What surprised you most about the world we learn about in this story?
First of all, I was actually surprised that this world even existed. I had actually never heard of women driving trucks before, so I knew nothing about their everyday lives. I didn’t realize how long the working days are and how many regulations there are when the drivers have to take breaks and for how long. I was shocked to hear how many of the women on the job are raped, not least by the men who give them their driver’s license. Of course, it’s banal in comparison, but I also find it somehow outrageous how terrible the female truckers have to feed themselves. A few have small kitchens in their cars, but most stop at the gas stations and truck stops – and they, I now know, only serve really awful food that doesn’t taste good or is healthy.
At the same time, many people associate a certain romance with truck driving…
I can understand where that comes from. When you’re at the controls of such a huge vehicle and there’s an endless American highway in front of you, you kind of feel a sense of freedom. You set off, possibly in a new direction, leaving something else far behind.
Have you driven yourself?
Of course, I learned that for the film. I’m one of those actors who loves to learn new things for their roles and face physical challenges. That’s why I was excited about this job. It was also important to me that you really see me driving in the film and that the whole thing comes across as authentic. I had to know what I was doing there. For security reasons, the highway was partially closed during the scenes and police cars drove alongside me to the left and right. But I was behind the wheel and driving this huge thing myself.
One also has the feeling that you move differently in this role…
I copied that from the real trucker who I accompanied for a while as research. She seemed a bit masculine in her appearance, which of course also had a lot to do with self-protection. I was immediately reminded of my time as a young actress. When I came home from school late in the evening, I always ran the last way from the subway particularly powerfully and strikingly. Simply to appear as strong as possible and hopefully arrive home unharmed.
Your interest in physical work even led you to work with famous choreographer Akram Khan on a modern dance production a few years ago. Do you also see yourself as a dancer?
No, just because I danced on that show back then doesn’t mean I’m a dancer. That would do us real dancers an injustice. But I love movement, you can definitely say that. Movement is life and the most exciting way to externalize something internal. Even when working in front of the camera. A person’s physical appearance says so much about their inner balance and how they go through life. Of course, this also applies to film characters. That’s why this aspect is always one of the most exciting aspects of a role for me.
Is exercise of the sporty kind also part of your everyday life?
Sometimes more and sometimes less, if I’m honest. There are phases when I try to do a little sport every day. But when I’m shooting, I’m often really exhausted from work and actually totally focused on my role and nothing else. So it can happen that I don’t give a lot of thought to my physical fitness for a few weeks.
Juliette Binoche (58) was born with her talent early on as the daughter of a director and an actress. She had her first well-known film role at the age of 20 in Jean-Luc Godard’s “Mary and Joseph”.
Binoche received an Oscar in 1997 for Best Supporting Actress for her role as Hana in The English Patient.
In “Paradise Highway” trucker Sally (Binoche) is forced to transport illegal cargo. The thriller by director Anna Gutto is now available on DVD and Blu-Ray. FR
Overall, you get the impression that you work quite a lot. This year, for example, you were already seen in the cinema with the film “Like in real life” and also played in the series “The Staircase” (on Sky). Do you get bored when you’re not filming?
Oh no, don’t worry, I know how to keep myself busy without a job. Not least during the Corona lockdown I noticed that again. I painted, translated a text or cooked with my children. Just hanging around and doing nothing, that’s actually not really my thing. And as for acting, it’s true that I love it very much. The research, the creative work, the physical and psychological challenges, all the insights about human nature that I gain from it – all this is a great joy for me and I consider myself very lucky to be able to practice this profession.
Do you remember how your love for the profession kindled?
When I was 11 or 12, I did drama at school and was immediately hooked. At the time I was fascinated by all the trimmings. I couldn’t have said whether I’d rather be an actress, director or set designer. And I didn’t even think about film at first anyway. Both my parents were mainly active in the theater, so I didn’t really have any other options in mind. It was only when a good friend persuaded me to go to a casting agent in Paris that the door to the cinema opened for me. I first waved him off when he wanted me to audition for a film. But when he warned me that there were many other up-and-coming actresses who wanted the part and that I shouldn’t hesitate for long, I spontaneously changed my mind. Which was a good decision because I got the part, the film went to the Cannes Film Festival and got great reviews. Who knows if I would otherwise still be in front of the camera today?
You never pursued the idea of directing yourself. Why not?
It’s not like I’m not still kind of interested in it. But I’ve had so many wonderful opportunities over the years to work on great stories with great directors. Could I have topped that somehow? In any case, I would have robbed myself of a lot of opportunities, because preparing and directing a film yourself is a task that takes a lot of time and energy. Then you don’t get much else for a while.
In the meantime, you have not only been shooting in your home country for a long time, but also – see “Paradise Highway” – in the USA. Do you have a preference?
No, I like to shoot anywhere in the world. Sometimes it’s logistically easier to shoot in France because you can either just live at home or at least not be far away when family issues come up. At the same time, of course, that can sometimes be difficult, and I was often happy to be far away from my everyday life and in my little film bubble. Filming abroad used to be a particular challenge before the children were grown up, because then we had to find an apartment and a school, and there were always a lot of people involved in our lives, from the nanny to an assistant to the language teacher. To further complicate matters, one of my children loved such trips and one did not. But I also have a lot of good memories of that time.
And which ones do you indulge in today with your adult children?
My children, even more than I am, are very firmly anchored in the here and now. There are more exciting things for them than chatting with mom about the good old days. But I’ve already warned you: When I’m an old grandmother someday, all the old camels will be brought back to the table.
Over the years, what was the most extraordinary place you have ever ended up working?
My problem is that I’m so focused on my work that I don’t always appreciate the special places I’m shooting. But one experience that stuck with me was filming the film “In My Country” in South Africa. The writer Antije Krog, on whose memoirs the script was based, took me to the Little Karoo and read me her poetry as we drove through this impressive landscape of beautiful mountains. Not only was that a pretty unique travel moment, but it changed my approach to poetry forever. Until then, poetry had actually been a very intellectual thing for me. Since then they have opened my heart.
Interview: Patrick Heidmann