Interview with Charlotte Gainsbourg and Yvan Attal


By Marty Mapes, Published July 25, 2002

In My Wife is an Actress, the title character is named Charlotte, and she is married to Yvan. The actress who plays Charlotte is Charlotte Gainsbourg, and the actor playing Yvan is Yvan Attal, who also wrote and directed. Off-screen, Gainsbourg and Attal are married.

Based on the above information, you might think My Wife is an Actress is autobiographical. Attal would be quick to correct you in his accented English (both are French).

“No, it’s not our life at all. It’s obvious it’s not our life. If my life was so funny, it would have been great. But no no no, it’s not our life. It’s the subject of the film to play on what is real and what is not real on the screen.”

Gainsbourg, also in Denver to promote the movie, agrees that she didn’t expose herself. “No, of my real intimacy, no. There’s nothing really intimate. I’m a very shy person towards my intimacy and private life.”
I remain skeptical that their lives are so different from what’s on-screen. Methinks they doth protest too much. Still, nobody outside of their friends and family will ever really know. After all, that’s what acting is all about — convincing an audience that you are what you are not.

Now acting, that’s a topic on which you can take their word. Both Gainsbourg and Attal have been acting for years. Both offered some honest insight into this cultish profession.

Marty Mapes: You talk a lot about acting in the movie, about how actors are a strange breed of people. I think that some of that is true. What is your take on acting as a profession?
Charlotte Gainsbourg: It’s true if I take a step back, I see that it’s a weird job to be doing. But I’ve been into it since I was 12 and I love it.

MM: But it’s not like a sportswriter or a dentist.
Yvan Attal: Of course. Actors and actresses, you can ask them to do anything and they will do it. It’s crazy. I realize the power I have as a director. I could ask anything of an actor and he would say “oh yeah!” It’s exactly the thing that characterizes a cult. They can do anything for the master. It’s really the same.

MM: Does every actor go through a phase where, they feel like “I’m afraid to do this?”
YA: I’m sure. I’m sure it’s frightening to act…
CG: … to let go …
YA: …to let go of something. You know I think everybody can be an actor, if he wants to do that, if he can escape to this phase of the world. if you pass the fact that you can forget who you are, you can be an actor.

MM: And how easy is that to do?
CG: It depends. I still find it hard to push my own limits and I know where my limits are and I know that I always have to push myself. I think it’s more a question of pleasure.

MM: So some people enjoy the thrill of becoming another person?
CG: Yeah, and just letting go and forgetting about yourself and just falling into character. Not only hiding, but just getting lost in emotions.

MM: There’s a cost to being the one who does that, especially on a movie set. I think on any movie set actors are treated differently from directors and stage hands and people holding lights. Is there such a wall, and what is it for?
CG: In France I think there’s much less of this actors being in their trailers…
YA: Yeah, but that’s the same kind of thing
CG: Yeah, but it’s less in France. You’re with the crew, and you have lunch with them. It’s more like a family thing.
YA: Yeah, but I think it’s a very difficult job to be an actor. Very very difficult. So I understand why actors can behave like that, protect themselves. You know an actor, when he arrives on the set, he gives everything he’s got. He gives everything he is, really. So anything can touch him and make him panic or make him nervous. He needs all these little things to trust himself. So if something happens… anyway, that’s why he needs to protect himself. And I think the more an actor is a star, the more he needs to protect himself because a lot of things can be very violent for him.
CG: Yeah you’re very vulnerable. I remember on one film I was not very self-confident. And I was asking everyone, if they had seen the rushes, wanting to get advice from everyone. And then suddenly I went into a panic because I wasn’t getting the responses I hoped for. So it’s true that when you can just protect yourself from other judgments. You don’t even need the director’s judgement. You can’t. It’s too much.

MM: (To Attal:) You’ve been an actor and now you’ve also been a director, on both sides of the cult.
YA: Exactly. I prefer to be the director.

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