While I’ve Loved You So Long has earned rave notices towards Kristin Scott Thomas, equally impressive is her co-star Elsa Zlyberstein.
Born and raised in Paris, France, Zylberstein has been nominated for four Ceaser awards –the French equivalent of the Oscars – including a recent nod for best supporting actress in I’ve Loved You So Long.
During her promotional rounds in Sydney, I was granted an interview with the charming actress. Enjoy!
Matthew Pejkovic: To use a clichéd term, I’ve Loved You So Long is a film about redemption. Yet I found the redemptive figure not to be Juliette (Kristen Scott Thomas), but Lea: she wants her sister’s forgiveness. Would that be an accurate assumption?
Elsa Zylberstein: You are right. My character – for me – was in a prison as well, in a way. She is full of guilt, and when her sister comes back to her life ...she did not try to reach out or see her... she is welcoming to her (to achieve) redemption, and deal with her own feelings of guilt.
MP: Would it be fair to say – to use another clichéd term – that without her sister in her life, she was not complete as a person? That with her sister in her life, she was able to fully come into her own as an adult?
EZ: I agree with you. Yeah! I think she was not herself when her sister was not in her life. She was lying to herself. She is cut in the middle in a way, you are totally right. Her sister is part of her.
MP: Because her sister evokes a lot of memories for her. For example, the song that you and Kristin Scott Thomas play on the piano, these are things that she – purposely or not, perhaps from her parents influence – she blocked out.
EZ: I think all the happy moments she had in her youth was with her sister. And afterwards she had to deal with her memories and deal with her parents. She had to lie, pretend she was the only daughter. She had to go against who she was. And while she stated “I’m not like the others”, she was the others. She represents society in a way. She always had this stuff on her shoulders, and her sister coming back is like...she is all shaken from the inside. And all of her fragility and sensibility is coming up.
MP: To achieve the disconnect between Lea and Juliette, is it true that (writer/director) Philippe Claudel asked you both not to interact before filming commenced?
EZ: He didn’t push us to see each other. I think it was obviously something he wanted, for us not to meet too much. We did one flat reading, and then we didn’t speak or see each other until the beginning of shooting.
MP: Do you approach a lot of your characters that way. Do you have a certain method to your technique when you are developing your characters, be it Lea, or otherwise?
EZ: I think I am searching... taking notes and adding things ... it was important to fill my character, and to make her real, and strong, and breathe. So when the camera is on my eyes, I should make sure that we believe in this connection, we believe in this relationship, and that I was full of love and hate... mixed feelings.
MP: Claudel wrote the role of Lea with you in mind. Could you provide me with some background on how this came to be? You knew him before hand...?
EZ: I knew him before, and we got along really well. I am always looking for good material and it was tough. We would begin to talk about movies, and how he loves movies and how close he was with screenplays, and how finally he was able to write a screenplay. And a couple of months after we talked, I got and he wrote a part for me.
MP: With Claudel being a well renowned novelist, and literature professor, writing a screenplay -I’m sure a lot of people thought- was a natural step for him. But directing a film...
EZ: Yeah, I agree...
MP: ... was something different altogether. Did you have any concerns whether he could ... how he would approach the material as a director, rather than a screenwriter?
EZ: It is funny, because when I got the script, I didn’t know he was going to direct it! And then after 15min of talking to him on the phone, I realised that he wanted to direct it. And I thought, “This guy is going to do it, and great! He is going to do a great job, I am sure”.
I trusted him from the first moment I met him. I knew the way he was with people, the humanity he has, the cleverness, the sensitivity, I knew this guy was going to do a great job. I knew it. I felt it.
MP: He did do a very good job. Solid direction. I found that his visual approach suited the material. It was very close to the bone. A lot of very close shots. Do shots like that put you off when you are playing your...
EZ: No, I love it. I think it is very beautiful. It was like he wanted to film our souls, our hearts beating, you know? He got close to our eyes. It was very intimate...every single movement in our eyes he wanted to catch that.
MP: The film has done tremendously well as an independent feature all around the globe. You have been trotting around the world giving interviews. How do you think this will affect your career from now on?
EZ: I feel it. Yeah, I hope. It’s great! We’ll see. For me the best reward would be getting some parts from some great directors. So I do want to work with foreigners, and with all of the best in America.
MP: Well some names you have mentioned in previous interviews are Steven Soderbergh, Danny Boyle, Mike Leigh... are you hoping now with the film out there...because your performance has received awards consideration, which is a very big thing. Do you think maybe this film is your next step towards working with these directors?
EZ: Oh, I would love that! You know, maybe I would get nothing. We don’t know. But it is already something, getting all of this attention today, and maybe being able to work with great directors tomorrow.