The Hot Seat: Juliette Binoche
The actor turned dancer gets served by her new boss.
Wed Sep 2 2009
Illustration: Rob Kelly
Juliette Binoche, 45, has the reputation of trying just about anything. The French Academy Award–winning actor is more than a film star: She's the sort of artist who isn't afraid of being afraid. Binoche is also a poet and painter; examples of both can be seen in the exhibition "In-Eyes," and its accompanying book, both at the French Embassy. And now she has reinvented herself again as a dancer (though, to be true, she prefers the less-ambitious term mover). In the U.S. premiere of In-I, which opens BAM's Next Wave season later this month, Binoche collaborates with choreographer Akram Khan in a work about love. But she hasn't abandoned acting; Binoche also appears in another love letter of sorts—Cdric Klapisch's upcoming film Paris, which pays homage to the City of Light.
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Your massage therapist is married to Akram Khan's producer. How did this show happen?
Akram proposed to go to a studio for three days to see if we could find some connection. At the end of it, we decided to do something together. We didn't know what, but the idea was to codirect and to go into the other's world.
Did you find a bridge?
I think we found an encounter. It was not easy every day. I had to learn to follow sometimes and to train my body. I was asking Akram, "How do you deal when you can't breathe and you think you're going to die?" He said, "You've just got to trust you're going to be able to carry on and to love the feeling of being out of breath." So I listened to him, and now I understand what he meant; if you want to go further with your own self, you've got to love the moment of difficulty.
What is the worst fight you had with him?
Oh, it went through phases, but I'd say that it was almost necessary because it was not a polite relationship in terms of, "Oh yes, please do after me." It was so true and intensely committed. There's nowhere to hide. The challenge is to go on the edge. A good show is when we're not judging ourselves—he's not an actor and I'm not a dancer and yet the idea is to be daring, to do something we've never done and to share it. It's like somebody singing a little false. It's not right on the pitch, but it brings a certain authenticity.
Do you know how dancing will affect your acting?
[Since then] I've already made a film with Abbas Kiarostami; he's an Iranian director. I'd say that his camera was so still that it allowed me to move inside. I felt that in Blue sometimes—that the camera was so focused that it allowed me my inside world. I was not moving physically, but internally it was like a roller coaster! Is it because of the show? Because I moved so much on stage and that it allowed me to feel the movement inside of me? I am still in awe of that feeling of moving inside space.
Did you hurt yourself during In-I?
Yes. [Laughs] During rehearsals, very early on, I had a double sprain on my left foot. We were doing the dance in bare feet and you can imagine: He's been doing kathak [Indian classical dance] for 25 years—his feet are his instrument....
His skill as a dancer is incredible.
Incredible. So our two feet met. [Laughs] He had nothing and I had double sprains, thank you very much. I had to carry on the training; it healed finally, but instead of taking three weeks to heal, it took five months.
What's the worst part about going on tour as a dancer?
Ah, I have to say I didn't like it! There's no time off. You're always rehearsing. It's brutal. [Laughs] But at the same time when you accept the difficulty, it's the most wonderful feeling because there's a freedom that is just incomparable.
This month you also appear in the film Paris. What represents that city to you?
I was living outside of Paris for more than 12 years and now I'm coming back because my son needs to go to a specific school. I'm very excited. I've been more in the countryside. I needed nature and to see trees and seasons; in Paris, you feel the temperature but not always the season. But for me it's the city of arts and that's why I'm so excited to be there with the kids. To explore Paris in a different way. We'll keep one foot outside, but I think it's time for us to move back—to see life in a different way.