Interview with Audrey Tautou for Coco Before Chanel
“Fashion passes, style remains,” is a memorable quote from the legendary designer Coco Chanel. Inthe latest film based on her mysterious and tumultuous life French actress Audrey Tautou takes on the role of the fashion pioneer. Coco Before Chanel is a film written and directed by Anne Fontaine, and there’s nothing better than a feature centered on a woman, starring a woman, that’s directed by a woman.
Audrey stars as Gabrielle Chanel the poor orphan girl who would later become a fashion and fragrance icon. We had the opportunity to speak with Tautou about the pressure of playing someone of such stature, and the anxiety that comes along with it.
Check out our complete interview below…
What was it like to play such a well-known character?
Audrey Tautou: Playing somebody who is a celebrity adds extra pressure because in the public’s mind, they
already have preconceptions and they think they know that person. Based on the research I did through watching videos, seeing a lot of photographs, and reading the novels, it informed me the way I wanted to interpret this person. It gave me a lot of freedom to inject myself into this character.
How much information were you able to find on the younger Coco?
AT: There was not a lot of information out there. What she said about this period was often full of lies. She wanted to hide a lot of the facts. So, one of the instrumental pieces was the biography, written by Edmonde Charles-Roux, who had done an exhaustive investigation to get to the bottom of who Chanel was in this period. Then there were other books that I read about this period, and I could tell from the different books who believed in the lies that Coco spread, and who didn’t. In the case of Edmonde, who wrote the definitive biography, I dispelled some of the lies that Coco set up.
What was it about Anne Fontaine’s vision that attracted you to the project?
AT: The attraction was that the film was focused on a short period of her life and not a sprawling, epic biography. This was a study of Chanel at that point in time. The fact that Anne Fontaine is a woman, as a director she has a very keen perception of the psychology of the character, and she has an understanding of what it means to function in a man’s world, to advance and to make breakthroughs in that. In addition to the fact that this is not a movie about clothing. This is a movie about somebody who is advancing. The fashion is part of that journey, but it is not the end in and of itself.
Was working with Anne Fontaine a much different experience than other directors you’ve collaborated with?
AT: No, I don’t really see any difference. I have no idea. Also, I don’t really like to analyze my work and my relationship with the director. I don’t like to have distance with the part I’m playing or the story we are telling. When I am involved I don’t look at it objectively or from a third person. I really think it was essential for such a female character, you know a woman, to be directed by a woman. Chanel was so feminine and special that I think a man can understand her, but a woman can feel her.
Would you ever want to work on another period of Chanel’s life?
AT: If you are interested in the rest of her life it is, in part, because this film explored the mystery of who she was. She lived eighty plus years. It would have been too reductive to try to cover every chapter in her life. It is true that she had such a rich life and you could make ten movies about her because she had an amazing love life. It was very romantic, full of hope and tragedies. She created so many amazing things and not only the style, but also the perfume Chanel No. 5. It is amazing. Everything was revolutionary. Today it seems so normal and modern; it is really not old-fashioned. At that time, it was completely new. Chanel is such an interesting a unique personality. That is the reason, for me, why this character deserved to be treated deeply.
I was moved when Coco Chanel was at the end of her life. For so many decades she was ahead of the times, and there is part towards the end when society not only caught up with her but surpassed her, and then she changed. She lived in incredible solitude at the end. After a life full of people and lovers she was in a deep solitude, although she still worked and she was still functional.