How did you meet the Dardenne brothers?
We met briefly in Belgium, on the set of Jacques Audiardʼs Rust and Bone; a very short meeting, between two elevators. I was slightly in awe, as I have always admired them so much… A few months after Rust and Bone was released my agent called me and said that Luc and Jean-Pierre wanted to offer me a part. I couldnʼt believe it. I thought working with them was beyond of my reach.
I know that working in the US would open doors to certain filmmakers for me. But the Dardennes? I couldnʼt even imagine it… they donʼt usually work with actors like me. Cécile de France worked with them on The Kid With a Bike, but sheʼs Belgian and her appearing in their universe was less astonishing than me doing the same. So it was a real surprise they contacted me, and an absolute joy.
How would you define their cinema?
Each of their films closely observes the realities of society while taking new cinematic risks. They make real auteur films – you canʼt get much more auteur than Luc and Jean-Pierre – but manage to defy any categorization! Their cinema is absolutely universal.
What was your first reaction when they offered you the role of Sandra?
During our first meeting I was bubbling with ideas, just like a kid! I tried really hard to hold it all in but it had to come out. I said: “Iʼm so happy to be working with you, I could turn somersaults!” I had to tell them how I felt before moving on to more serious business!
How did they present Two Days, One Night to you?
They spoke a little about the filmʼs subject, but I really discovered Sandraʼs story when I read the screenplay. I realized what a beautiful real-life hero she was and what a challenge it would be for me to play this part: a woman who meets each of her colleagues and tries to convince them to reconsider their vote. The aspect of repetition meant I would have to work hard on nuances and variations.
How would you define Sandra?
She is an ordinary woman, a worker who knows what things cost, because she has to. She understands why some (of her colleagues) have chosen to pocket the thousand Euro bonus rather than voting for her to keep her job. No one knows what she would have done in their place and the film doesnʼt judge anyone. Thatʼs what makes it so powerful. She suffers from depression…
In one scene she even says: “I am nothing”. This feeling of uselessness lives deep inside her, as it does for a lot of people who donʼt know how to deal with their work or the lack of it. Several months before we shot the film, I had been deeply shocked to read articles and reports about work-related suicides, people whoʼd rather end it all than endure this feeling of being useless. The film echoes with some of these events that had struck me so.
How do the Dardenne brothers work?
We rehearsed for over a month – a crucial phase. It was all about working on the locations, the energy of the characters, and the rhythm of the scenes. This work is as complex as it is essential work, all the more so since the brothers shoot in long takes. I had to lose my French accent, which I was dreading the most, without falling into a faked Belgian accent, which would have been a real mistake. These rehearsals allowed me to be more comfortable with the whole Belgian aspect…
The film carefully avoids any self-indulgent dwelling on the sordid side of life.
With the Dardennes, the intent must always stay in the shadows, and this suits me. Even when my parts lend themselves to a ʻperformanceʼ I always try to conceal my acting, so the audience can be with the character and her emotions. When you like working this way, you canʼt ask for anything more than working with the Dardenne brothers.
How do they direct actors on set?
Thanks to all the work achieved during rehearsals, Luc and Jean-Pierre can concentrate above all on the actorsʼ work during the shoot. They are demanding like no one else… Each and every detail matters so much that they will do things again and again. Thatʼs the price for the intensity and truth in their films. Had they asked me to shoot 250 takes for one scene, I would have done it. I never grew sick of it… Iʼve never been directed like this before.
You and Fabrizio Rongione make a very believable couple.
Rehearsals had a lot to do with it. On a film like this you have to meet before the Shooting starts. Rehearsals allowed us to get used to each other. Fabrizio is a Dardenne brothers old hand: he has appeared in most of their films. He fits very well in their world because he shares the same authenticity. I was very lucky to work with him under their direction.
The part of Sandra is very different to the roles you have played in the US recently.
I have always dreamed of this kind of diversity, going from one to the other. I feel extremely lucky to be able to switch worlds like this. I have realized the dream I had as a young actress: to explore different genres and territories, with real filmmakers.
Will Two Days, One Night remain a special film in your career?
Yes, for sure. I have had some fabulous experiences but this one was the deepest and the most idyllic of all. I have never felt so taken care of by a director – sorry, two directors! Luc, Jean-Pierre and I were “accomplices” from the first to the last day of shooting. When the time came for the last shot I felt so very sad to know it was over.
Would you like to work with the brothers again?
Whenever they want! They donʼt even need to show me a script, Iʼll accept right away. Iʼd love be their new Jérémie Renier or Olivier Gourmet.
Once again you find yourself in competition at Cannes, a year after James Grayʼs The Immigrant. And two years after Jacques Audiardʼs Rust and Bone.
To climb the red carpet with Luc and Jean-Pierre, who have made their cinema live at Cannes, itʼs magic, nothing less. They took me on such a cinematic and human adventure that nothing could make me happier than to be beside hem at the Festival.