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By Alice Butterlin

Rediscover our meeting with Anaïs Demoustier from our issue #84.

An actor’s first film can determine many things: it sets a tone for their career, it may guide their future roles, and even inspire their specific tastes and values in film. So when Anais Demoustier, still just a teenager from Lille, first appeared in Michael Haneke’s Time of the Wolf alongside Isabelle Huppert in 2002, she appeared destined for a career full of challenging films and unique roles. Don’t be deceived by her quiet and sweet appearance: Anais hides a dark side and an undeniable talent for embodying delirium, neurosis, and even madness. From Pascale Ferran’s Bird People to François Ozon’s A New Friend, her characters gradually reveal their layers with all the grace and subtlety of great actresses. She appears in July in Au Poste, the highly anticipated next film from Quentin Dupieux, and in Frédéric Tellier’s Sauver ou Périr opening this fall.

You got your start in film at just thirteen, in Time of the Wolf directed by Michael Haneke. Did you take drama classes to become an actress?

I took drama classes before shooting that film, but I had no real intention of becoming an actress. I begged my parents to let me do drama, and then that film came along and I spent two and a half months on set. It was a long time for a first experience. We shot in Austria with Haneke and I played the daughter of Isabelle Huppert’s character. It was thrilling. I knew I wanted to keep acting after doing that film. But I still followed a normal path and finished high school before arriving in Paris. I’m originally from Lille.

Shooting with Michael Haneke seems like an incredible way to start working in film.

What’s crazy is that I didn’t even realize it at the time, since I didn’t have anything to compare it to. Still today, I see how that experience influenced my relationship to film. Haneke is very demanding and expects a lot from his actors. The level of precision is immense and that sacred vision of film has stayed with me. Of course, I was too young to have seen his films. It wasn’t until I finally watched them that I realized what an incredible filmmaker he is. Afterwards, we went to Cannes and I remember the screening was chaotic because the film created a controversy. Some of the more difficult scenes sparked a strong reaction among the audience. People booed and left the room, while others applauded. It was like a soccer match. (laughs) My first experience taught me that film is about making choices. A true filmmaker can be despised just as much as he can be applauded. I like that idea. Another film I did and that caused a ruckus at Cannes was Valérie Donzelli’s Marguerite & Julien. Some people take hostile reactions to heart, but not me. It’s another part of a filmmaker’s work. That first experience taught me that my favorite parts of film are the people, the encounters, and the human contact. With a more reserved director, I may not have understood how important interaction is. I play a lot of supporting roles because my character’s position is not an essential criterion for me. What matters most is who I’m working with. All that comes from my powerful first experience… But I also had to adjust my expectations because if I waited around to work with Haneke every year, I would be waiting a long time. (laughs)

You never worked with him again?

No, never. I’ve run into him a lot and he is always very kind towards me, it’s funny. He said he was watching me and he was happy that I was finding my way in this business. Obviously, he knows I’m only an actress today because of him. He opened the path.

Did you always want to act in films that go to the extreme and dare to do unconventional things?

It wasn’t something I chose, but oddly enough that’s what comes my way. I think I’m a fairly normal girl, I don’t seem too borderline. (laughs) But I’m happy that the film world turns to me for that type of character. Many of the projects that come my way are unique. I loved the film Bird People directed by Pascale Ferran, in which I transform into a bird, as well as François Ozon’s The New Girlfriend. It’s about a girl who loses her best friend and the best friend’s husband starts cross-dressing after her death. One day he puts on a garment that belonged to his wife and then he starts to like it. My character, who provides the film’s point of view, discovers the cross-dressing and starts to fantasize about the man turned woman. She becomes completely unhinged from her prim and proper bourgeois life. Films like this are exciting to me, I like when there is an element of danger in film. I like playing characters with a lot of secrets of mystery. In the end, it all works because there is a great director driving the project. If I were a filmmaker, I would love to film a paradox or contradiction in a character. I have an innocent face that people often call “fresh” or “young.” It’s interesting to live out things that are more complex, dense, and even dark with this type of face. I like portraying characters that are the opposite of what I look like. I’m at an age where I’m not going to get too excited about playing a cute little girl. I recently acted in a film directed by my brother Stéphane. My character was a district attorney, so it was an extremely cerebral style of acting. At first glance it might not seem like a role for me, but I had so much fun with that part. I wasn’t expecting it at all. It’s a role that forced me to think and reflect much more than I’ve ever had to for a part. For once it wasn’t about emotion or affect.

How do you prepare for a role? Is it hard to visualize the character before arriving on the film set?

It’s easy for me to imagine the director’s vision. Many scripts include all sorts of directions. The films I liked the most, like with Ozon and Pascale Ferran, already indicate the direction in the script. It’s written in a way that shows you exactly what is going to be filmed and what the director is interested in. It’s not just what’s on the page, there is also a lot of information between the lines. That’s what makes a good script, much more so than background elements or what a character looks like. I look for a rallying point between the character and me. Even if a character is nothing like me, there is always a way to connect. Once I’ve found that way, then the real work can begin. Some actors say they can play any role, but I don’t feel that way. Not every character can hook me. I like when you can still see something of the actor in the film. I think there are a few different schools of thought in that regard. Some actors have extremely obvious personalities and are very extroverted. So they take up a lot of space in the characters they portray. My nature is to take up little space and be available to the nature of other characters. That’s what I find exciting. All my favorite actors, whether it’s Isabelle Huppert, Gérard Depardieu, or Kate Winslet, share the same capacity to be present in the film through their role. At the same time, that doesn’t prevent them from doing a vast range of parts, but they always leave their mark. It’s nice to see actors who aren’t like machines and who do not have to radically transform themselves. They always offer a little bit of themselves in every role, even if they have little in common with the character.

Have you ever seen a performance that blew you away while on set, even when you were not in the scene?

Isabelle Huppert fascinated me while shooting Haneke’s film, but she was also the first actress I had seen up close. Of course it moved me, Isabelle is amazing. The part I found most fascinating was her concentration, the fact that she seemed like she was in a bubble. Her acting made me believe in the story we were telling. What I liked was that capacity to believe so strongly in a story that it becomes dizzying. I’ve tried to get to that same point of excitement in every role I’ve done since then. In Haneke’s film, there is a moment when Isabelle’s character and mine run into the man who killed my character’s father. As soon as I saw her expression, I believed it was all real until I heard “cut!” I remember that Haneke started crying during this scene. It’s so much more powerful than drugs or sports. (laughs) Acting can contain something dangerous and reinvigorating… But to get back to your question, I don’t think I watch everyone else on set anymore. I know I don’t like when my partner watches me act. I love Jean-Pierre Darroussin, I think he’s one of the greatest actors. The same thing happened with him, he helped me believe. Vincent Lacoste is also brilliant. I acted with him recently and I was fascinated. I had already seen him in a few films, but acting with him showed me how incredibly available and down-to-earth he is. It makes me happiest when actors are on the same level with me and there is a real exchange. Just like in life. Sometimes it looks like we’re talking, but everything just goes right over our heads, we don’t exchange anything. Acting is the same way.

Blurring the line between fact and fiction while acting reminds me of the Japanese animated film Perfect Blue: an overworked actress starts to lose her mind and can no longer distinguish between reality and fiction.

It’s strange but knowing how to leave your character behind and return to reality is a real issue – it’s not just made up. A lot of things go through your mind when you act in a film, a character teaches you about yourself. It’s like a long psychoanalysis, as though the character opened a door to different facets of your personality that you never suspected were there. Sometimes you get parts that resemble your actual life. Emmanuelle Devos told me that she was offered parts all throughout her career that lined up perfectly with what she was living through at each moment. I think I understand what she meant now.

Did you ever see yourself in any particular role?

It was a long time ago, but Isabelle Czajka’s film Living on Love Alone corresponded exactly to what I was going through in my life. It was just as I was leaving childhood behind and becoming an adult. I was in a liminal state between two worlds. The movie is about a young woman who arrives in Paris and encounters all the difficulties of working, love, and everything you go through when you’re young and you have no money. For Sophie’s Misfortunes, when Christophe Honoré offered me the part, I was skeptical at first about playing a mother of three and then I became pregnant right before shooting the second half of the film. I was afraid I wouldn’t be believable as a mother. Obviously that’s not something I worry about anymore. (laughs)

Do you also do theater?

Yes, I took a lot of classes as a child. The first time I acted on stage was in a play by Christophe Honoré. It came at just the right moment when I wanted to do theater. I thought it would be tough because I didn’t go to the conservatory or national acting school. I played in Christophe’s The Beautiful Person and then he asked me to do the play right after. That’s when I met Emmanuelle Devos. She later mentioned me to another director who was working on a play written by François Bégaudeau. I did another play with Christophe Honoré that I absolutely loved. It was about the French experimental novelists of the Nouveau Roman and I played Marguerite Duras. It was great. At first I was supposed to play Françoise Sagan in the play, but then he changed his mind.

You recently filmed with Quentin Dupieux for his film Au poste, which opens in July.

Yes, I’m very excited about it. My part is very small, I was only on set for five days. But apparently it’s a nice scene, since a few people saw it and told me it was funny. It was a total physical transformation for me. I wear a short wig of curly blonde hair and I’m barely recognizable. Quentin wanted me to play a total idiot. (laughs) It’s a fun role to play, like playing a drunk girl for the first time. You can just give into the feeling without any stress. It was the first time I played such a loud character with nothing in common with myself. I loved working with Quentin. He’s very intriguing and has gone his own way for many years. He doesn’t need anybody else. He sets up his films at home, and his wife does the sets. He put together a wonderful team. What really helps is that he does the framing and camera work in addition to directing. Including Ozon that’s the second time I’ve seen someone work that way. It’s rare to see a director get behind the camera. It’s usually a task reserved for the director of photography. When a director operates the camera, he becomes part of the shot with the actors. He is fully present in the moment, like there is no filter between him and us.

Did you know his work before filming with him?

Yes, I saw Reality, which I loved, and also Rubber. After filming, I saw Steak which is very good! I was ecstatic that Quentin thought of me. It came as a total surprise, and I felt so lucky. He told me he saw me in Emmanuel Mouret’s Caprice and that’s what made him call me. It’s rare that people you would like to work with also think about working with you. It’s quite a treat when that happens. I like films where the director puts a lot into it, when they do something truly unique.

What director would you love to work with?

I would say Matthieu Amalric. He has a strong point of view that I would love to experience through acting.

What are your next projects?

I have a lot of openings coming up for films I played in. There is Au Poste on July 4, and Sauver ou Périr, a film with Pierre Niney that opens in November. There is also Félix Moati’s Deux Fils that will likely open in fall. There is my brother Stéphane’s film, which I loved filming. In August I’m going to film with Nicolas Pariser who directed The Great Game in 2015. He does extremely well-written movies about politics. He’s very funny and smart. I can’t wait to work with him. The film is called Alice et le Maire. I play Alice and the mayor is Fabrice Lucchini. I think we’re going to have a good time. After that, I’m doing a film with Karin Viard where I play her daughter. It’s based on Madame de Sevigné and her daughter, the Countess of Grignan, who had a terrible almost perverted rivalry, but also a great intimacy. Another borderline role. (laughs) Next, I’m doing another period film with a director named Aurélia Georges who did The Girl and the River in 2014. Later on I’m supposed to film with Nine Antico, who does comic books. I love her work. Finally, I’m going to act in the next Guédiguian film.

Kappa x Christian Dada – hoodie in polyester
Dior Joaillerie – Diorama necklace in gold and diamonds


Photographers : Elsa and Johanna
Stylist : Andrej Skok
Make-up : Hugo Villard
Hair : Christos Voulios
Stylist Assistants : Julien Mazzoli and Pauline Grosjean
Interview: Alice Butterlin

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