The renaissance of Kristin Scott Thomas

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After thrilling the critics in ‘I’ve Loved You So Long’ and ‘Nowhere Boy’, Kristin Scott Thomas is on a roll. David Jenkins finds out what to expect from her steamy new film, ‘Leaving’

As well as having the dubious honour of being Jeremy Clarkson’s favourite bit of trim, British-born, Paris-based Kristin Scott Thomas is currently enjoying a major career renaissance. In 2008, the 50-year-old actress, who first caught the attention of mainstream audiences in the 1990s in ‘Four Weddings and a Funeral’ and ‘The English Patient’, stunned with her role as a released convict in ‘I’ve Loved You So Long’. Then last year she stole ‘Nowhere Boy’ from under the noses of its director (Sam Taylor-Wood) and teen star (Aaron Johnson). Continuing to act in both French and English, her new film is ‘Leaving’, a steamy French drama about the perils of illicit love in which she plays a bored, bourgeois housewife whose love affair with an ex-con (Sergi López) is ruined by her domineering husband.

Many people are calling your roles in ‘I’ve Loved You So Long’ and ‘Leaving’ the most challenging of your career.
‘Well, I wish people had challenged me before. It’s tortuous and hard work and you have to be quite tough, but I like things that make people wriggle around a bit. I like the idea that I’m making things that people might think and argue about.’

You were quoted as saying there is a lack of meaty roles for older women in British and US films.
‘Well, they don’t come my way. It’s not a question of them being meaty, it’s just roles that have something going on in them, something that isn’t just Passive Sighing Regretful Mother.’

Leaving’ has a strong anti-marriage message. Is that something you agree with?
‘No, but it’s the director’s film. I do a film because I like the story and I want to give life to a character – I don’t necessarily have to agree with the director.’

So the politics of a role are less interesting for you?
‘Yeah. I did a film years ago, “An Unforgettable Summer”, about ethnic cleansing. It was the first time I’d ever had that dilemma of thinking: I’ve got to play this scene now and I know what this character is doing is absolutely awful… I had sleepless nights about whether I’d get stoned for doing it. I did it because the story needed telling. I’m being asked to play a character, not judge them.’

Did the director of ‘Leaving’, Catherine Corsini, work closely with you on your performance in the film?
‘Yes. She’s one of those directors who’s very sure of what she wants from you as an actor.’

Is that something you like?
‘Depends. I mean, if you’re being directed very precisely by somebody who has admiration and who’s really smart, it’s great. If you’re being told what to do by a nincompoop – and luckily that hasn’t happened very often – it can be very frustrating.’

Did you have to take a leap of faith when you decided to work with debut director Philippe Claudel on ‘I’ve Loved You So Long’?
‘Yes, but he had to take a leap of faith as well. He’d never made a film and I’d never made a film like that. Nobody really knew what was going to happen. And this one was similar, actually. After “I’ve Loved You So Long” I really needed to do something that was extrovert, proactive and expressive rather than somebody completely shut down and where everything was tiny, tiny, tiny. I needed to do something that yelled and shouted and jumped up and down.’

I read an interview in which you said you wished that you’d played the working-class maid, rather than an aristocrat, in Robert Altman’s ‘Gosford Park’.
‘Altman was extraordinary. He was very tall and had these incredibly long arms. He used to direct everything as if he was some kind of puppeteer. When the script came through, asking if I would play Lady Sylvia McCordle, I wanted to say, “No, I don’t want to be her, I want to be the maid!” It was fine in the end, but at the time I was fed up with being typecast as aristocracy. English, cold, mean people.’

Can we expect to see you doing a cockney accent anytime soon?
‘If someone’s brave enough to try me, then I’m game. But you’d have to be quite brave.’

You hosted the opening and closing ceremonies at Cannes last month. How was that?
‘Well, I loved doing it; it’s a laugh. I just like being on the stage in a great dress.’

Did you get to watch any films?
‘This time I didn’t see anything. I was so frustrated because there were so many things I’d have loved to see. The best way to do Cannes is to be in the jury. That is just heaven.’

What year did you do that? 2000?
‘Yes, ten years ago.’

What won that year?”
‘ “Dancer in the Dark”.’

Good choice.
‘Well, I think so too – I was very pleased. We had to fight for it.’

Would working with Lars von Trier interest you?
‘I would love to work with Lars. I even wrote him a letter saying, “Please employ me!” But he didn’t. He was very funny, actually, he just wrote back and said, “I remember you from a TV series where you played a nun in Yorkshire.” ’

What are you currently working on?
'I have just made a film with Pawel Pawlikowski, which is a very different kind of role for me. It's called "The Woman in the Fifth" and I play the sort of ghost/subconscious person. It's one of the most bizarre things I've done and I can't wait to see it.'

Read our review of 'Leaving'.

Author: Interview: David Jenkins



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