Presenting two films at Rotterdam Film Festival this year, his sixth feature as a director “Hold Me Tight” and musical comedy “Tralala” by his regular collaborators Arnaud and Jean-Marie Larrieu, Mathieu Amalric admitted he found it hard to shake off the role of a singer-songwriter in search of the Virgin Mary.

“It might have been the first time I didn’t want to leave my character. I didn’t cut my hair for a long time, I kept my beard. I was like [a cross between] Jesus and Jim Morrison. I have never felt that gorgeous before!,” he said during an online conversation with festival director Vanja Kaludjercic.

But the film also marked a turning point in his life, as he decided to take a longer break from acting following the shoot.

“After ‘Tralala,’ I couldn’t get out of bed in the morning. Everything was dark. There was this extraordinary project with Noémie Lvovsky, whom I love, there was another one with Pietro Marcello and I said yes to all of it, obviously. And then I just couldn’t do it.”

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Courtesy of Charles Paulicevich

Three-time César winner, including for Julian Schnabel’s “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly,” Amalric has gained international recognition playing James Bond villain in “Quantum of Solace,” and starring in Wes Anderson’s “The Grand Budapest Hotel” and “The French Dispatch.”

“The life of an actor can be incredible. When you work with people like Wes or the Larrieu brothers, why would you say no? You want to be loved, loved by the people you admire and have fun with. But I had to stop. It has been almost two years now,” he said.

It took Italian helmer Nanni Moretti to lure him back. The duo will soon embark on “Il sol dell’avvenire,” said Amalric, praising “The Son’s Room” director.

“Moretti made me love movies. When I was an adolescent, he gave me this feeling that I wasn’t alone in the world. I am learning Italian now and I am excited to go back to acting again.”

The French filmmaker also treated the festival audience to a clip from his upcoming directorial work “John Zorn III.” The third part of his series dedicated to the prolific musician – 12 years in the making – will be shown at Hamburg’s Elbphilharmonie in March, this time focusing on Zorn’s collaboration with Canadian soprano and conductor Barbara Hannigan.

“John will always put musicians in a place of danger. If there is no danger, nothing happens. You are going to see how they are trying to tame this beast,” he said. Previously, Amalric filmed Hannigan – his longtime partner – in “Music Is Music” or “C’est presque au bout du monde.”

“There is this rigor about music that I want to bring to the set,” he said, segueing into discussing his latest directorial effort “Hold Me Tight,” featuring Vicky Krieps and inspired by Claudine Galea’s play. Which, he said, moved him to tears upon the first reading.

“In Claudine’s text, there was this piano that the mother uses to connect with her daughter. I also played the piano when I was a kid. I lived in Moscow with my parents and my mother enrolled me in a music school: I was the only foreigner. I did play quite well but when I came back to France, I got lazy. It was fun to imagine what could have happened if I continued.”

Admitting he is always trying to put himself in the position of a theater-goer when developing a film, not an auteur (“it’s a French disease”), Amalric underlined the need to connect with people, be it his actors or viewers – something he already noticed in the work of another collaborator, director Arnaud Desplechin.

“He believes in connection – just look at his last film [Léa Seydoux starrer ‘Deception’]. These characters make love with words, with questions.”

“[When it comes to ‘Hold Me Tight’] Vicky visited me in my head. I watched ‘The Phantom Thread’ and the first time you see her, she is a waitress coming from the kitchen. You know this ‘haven’t we met already?’ feeling. That’s what it was. When I saw her face, I went: ‘I know her.’ Sometimes things happen this way.”