French Argentine actor Bérénice Bejo discussed her early career, breaking into French cinema and starring in a silent film, as part of the 2020 Sarajevo Film Festival masterclass series, hosted by Variety Streaming Room.
The conversation and subsequent audience Q&A, moderated by film critic Peter Debruge, covered the actor’s performance in “After Love” and “The Artist,” as well as advice for aspiring filmmakers.
Bejo made her screen debut through a newspaper advertisement in 1998. She called director Abdelkrim Bahlo’s number in her local paper and auditioned over the phone for her role in “Les Soeurs Hamlet.” Since her early 20s, Bejo has starred in over 50 films and two theatrical productions.
“For me, it was always onscreen. Every Saturday, [my dad] would show us like critics and decide what we will see, so while my friends were watching TV or things like that, I was not allowed to watch. I was watching John Wayne, Marilyn Monroe and Audrey Hepburn and those kinds of movies,” she said. “I thought it was the best thing in life, you know, like all those stories that were told, and I wanted to be part of that.”
In 2000, director Gérard Jugnot gave Bejo her first lead role in “Most Promising Young Actress,” for which she was nominated for her first César Award in the most promising actress category.
“It’s a really beautiful movie about a girl who lives in the West of France, and her dad is raising her alone without the mother. He’s a hairdresser, and he wanted her to be a hairdresser. And she wants to be an actress,” she explained. “And it was perfect for me, because when I was 20, a young movie for young people were like all dramatic, and everybody was dying or on drugs. And it was really not my type, and the relationship with the dad [in the film] was so close from my dad who helped me to do the audition.”
But following the film’s box office success, Bejo declined casting calls from several films, including big-budget comedies and blockbusters. She waited over five years, until she starred in her husband Michel Hazanavicius’ 2006 spy comedy, “OSS 117: Cairo, Nest of Spies.”
“It was very easy to be with Michel, to work with Michel, because we have the same path,” she said. “Like it’s just as simple as it is. And so, working together is a privilege and it’s something that we really love and share.”
Bejo went on to star in her husband’s next film, “The Artist,” which won five Oscars, including best picture, and three Golden Globes. She describes the 2011 black and white silent film as “the best gift ever” that challenged her craft as an actress.
“I played ‘The Artist’ the way I played in other movies,” she explained. “Because you don’t hear me – or I mean us, the actors – you see us a lot. So everything looks bigger, because sound is not there anymore. But that’s the way I act. I’m always like talking like out, continuing with the hands.”
Bejo also shared her experience starring in Asghar Farhadi’s “The Past,” for which she received the best actress award at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival. She said she was lucky to collaborate with another wonderful director and work on set with Tahar Rahim.
Bejo shared stories of learning from the directors she has worked with, including Belgian filmmaker Joachim Lafosse (“After Love”) and actor-turned-helmer Brady Corbet, who directed Bejo in “The Childhood of a Leader.”
“The movie for me is a little masterpiece, and it’s the relationship between the mother and her boy, who’s going to become a dictator — like we understand the relationship of those two people is very strong. It’s a vision of someone [who’s] very special,” she said.
During the audience-sourced portion of the masterclass, the actress spoke on her recent projects, Tom Shoval’s “Shake Your Cares Away” and Sergio Castellitto’s “Un Drago a Forma Di Nuvola.” She finished shooting both films last year and had plans on starring in two upcoming movies and a theatrical production. But with Paris’ slow recovery from the coronavirus pandemic, she is unsure when she will be returning to production.
For aspiring filmmakers, she said she is excited to work with new writers, as long as they have “a really good story and good characters.” “I did a German movie and Israeli movie, just because the two directors sent me a letter to my agent. So I read the letter and then read the script, and I did it,” she said. “I think the cue of a good movie is the script, so I’m totally open.”
Watch the masterclass below.