Audrey Tautou is arguably this one of the biggest names within French film, despite the fact that she only stars in one film a year, and has not appeared in a directorial début in ten years. This year, however, she has made an exception. Tautou takes on the lead role in upcoming romantic comedy, Delicacy, the directorial début from esteemed casting director Stéphane Foenkinos and his brother, David Foenkinos, who also penned the screenplay, and the novel on which this film was based.
We interviewed the two directors to ask about making the transition from page to screen, the role given to French comedian François Damiens, and of course, what it was like working with Ms Tautou…
Q: When you wrote the book, did you know that you were going to make it in to a movie?
David: No, each time I write a book, I only think about the book. It was my brother, when he read the book, he said to me that we [should] do it by ourselves – “even if you have a phone call from Woody Allen, or whoever!” We made a short movie five years ago…
Stéphane: Don’t see it. It didn’t do well internationally because it’s an in-joke, a French joke, and it’s a lot of puns and puns about feet. You only see feet, so you don’t know who’s talking – so it was impossible to translate.
D: So we were waiting for a story for another movie. It took five years, and when he read this book he said to me, “this is the story we are waiting for”. I wrote the script – at the beginning it was like a dream to try to give it Audrey Tautou. We really wanted her, we love her, but she only does one movie a year.
Q: How did she say yes in the end?
D: She loved that we had very precise ideas about the aesthetics of the film. She liked that we had envisioned the whole thing. Also, her last question was, who is going to play Markus? That was a big deal for us too. Even though I did casting for a long time, this was a challenge because he’s Swedish – and there are not so many Swedish actors who speak French. We did a casting session in Sweden but… it did not go well. We had this actor (Damiens) that we loved and physically was exactly what we were looking for . He’s Belgian, but Audrey was very fond of him, and it was a plus for her.
But for him, when we said to him, “We have a romantic comedy with Audrey Tautou,” he was like “Haha”. He’s doing a lot of pranks and candid camera shows in France, where he is very famous for playing these outrageous characters, so he thought it was another joke.
Q: Why was it so important that Markus’ character is Swedish?
D: Because I wanted to make a depressive character, and the first country that came to my mind was Sweden. It’s a cliché – I’m not saying it’s true, but… if I say ‘he is Swedish’ then most of my job is already done.
S: He doesn’t describe his characters very much, but he gives them their citizenship.
D: The first sentence of the book is about Nathalie, I wrote: “Nathalie was rather private, a kind of Swiss femininity”.
S: So everyone in France said, “It’s strange that you’ve picked Audrey Tautou, because [Nathalie] is blonde” – but no. In France, the book is a huge bestseller, and it because a best-seller while we were filming.
D: The paperback edition sold almost one million copies, it’s crazy!
S: So people have a passion for the book, and it’s very difficult that the film had to be faithful to that.
Q: How did you switch between the two mediums – a novel to a screenplay?
D: It was very important to keep the heart of the book, but to make it into a movie script. In the book you have all the childhood of Markus in Sweden – it would have been impossible to have it in the movie (unless you want to see a three-hour movie), so we decided to put only a short scene with his parents, without subtitles. I think that in 30 seconds, you can understand all his life. It was always on my mind to try to explain in my scenes what I have tried to explain in my book.
Q: Does it matters that international audiences will not recognise Francois Damiens as a famous comedian?
S: Of course in France, the moment François Damiens appears, people love him. But it was also very difficult for him to be accepted as a character that is not that outrageous. To him, it was hard because sometimes he would say to us, “But I’m doing nothing?” but it was like, “But you’re brilliant!”. The fact that he was not that at ease, in the way that he was dressed especially – he said, “Oh no, another beige sweater, please no! How can I seduce Audrey Tautou dressed like that? It’s not possible!” There is a link between him and the audience in France which exists… but people bought the fact that he was Swedish. Now, when we go abroad, [audiences] love him the same way, even though they don’t know who he is.
Q: You tackle quite a sensitive subject for a comedy with the death of her husband towards the beginning of this film – were you keen to keep it light-hearted? How did you go about merging the comic and tragic elements?
S: We followed the book. It was very difficult when we adapted it – we had a big discussion with the producers and they said, “You have the biggest comedian in your country, and he’s making an entrance 30 minutes into the film!” It was really tricky, but we said, “No, we cannot change that. It will be cheating the readers and cheating the audience.” We even did something that is really perverse: [Nathalie] has a meeting with all her colleagues and we see [Markus] from behind – we don’t see his face, but we know it is him.
D: This is a joke for France, because a lot of people came to see him, and they were saying, “Where is François Damiens? What is this movie? Oh I see him!”
S: We are waiting for him like [Nathalie] is waiting for him, even if it is unconscious.
D: (pointing at another journalist’s Jaw’s t-shirt) I like your t-shirt!
S: Do you know that there is a link between your t-shirt and our film? There’s a cameo from Steven Spielberg’s daughter in the film. When Nathalie comes back to the café where she met [Francis], and she sees this couple, and they ask her to take a picture – that’s Sasha Spielberg. So Steven Spielberg wants to see the movie! (laughing) We hope he does the remake with Will Ferrell and Natalie Portman.
Q: What was it like working with Audrey Tautou?
S: It was quite impressive. She’s so normal in real life, she’s not a diva, she hates everything that is associated with being a star – if she could, she would run away from the media. It’s not because she doesn’t like it; she loves her job as an actor, and she is extra generous to other actors, which is very rare for someone of her status.
D: It was funny, François Damiens would say when we were shooting the same scene five times, “You are waiting for me to be good, because Audrey is always perfect first time.” She is really amazing. She said, for this film, that she wanted everything that came out of her mouth to be truthful, she didn’t want to think too much. That’s why we didn’t want her to read the book before – she read the script, but we didn’t want the actors to read the book because there is too much information in it.
Delicacy is released in UK cinemas on Friday 13th April – take a look at our review here.