Seigner says Venus no peek at life with Polanski

Posted: August 1, 2014 at 1:52 a.m.

"There are not so many great roles for women. I think there are some, but the better roles are mostly for men," says French actress Emmanuelle Seigner. "Most of the time, you have male characters, [your character] is the wife of somebody or she's a victim."

It's a familiar lament, but the thespian who has called from her homeland isn't on the line to complain.

Venus in Fur, her fourth movie with her husband, director Roman Polanski, opens in Arkansas today. It earned Polanski a Cesar, the French equivalent of an Oscar, and the director and the star have earned solid reviews for their work adapting American playwright David Ives' Tony-winning play. (Arkansas' Wes Bentley starred in the off-Broadway production.) Despite the dialogue-heavy screenplay by Ives and Polanski, the film is loaded with the kinky menace that ran through A Knife in the Water, Repulsion, Rosemary's Baby, Chinatown and the Oscar-winning The Pianist.

A Role Beyond a Lifetime

Seigner plays a straggler named Vanda who stumbles into a crumbling Parisian theater hoping to audition for the female lead in a stage adaptation of Leopold Ritter von Sacher-Masoch's novella Venus in Fur.

Her prospective director Thomas Novacek (played by her co-star in The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, Mathieu Amalric) is skeptical the provocatively dressed (she's wearing leather undies and a dog collar) and scatter-brained woman before him can play the 19th-century dame from the book. In costume, however, she masters the role a little too easily, and Thomas quickly learns why the term "masochism" comes from von Sacher-Masoch's name.

When asked about all the transformations she pulls off in the film, Seigner laughs, "Yeah, like seven people, like a lot of people," she says.

"It really didn't feel like work. It was a lot of work learning the lines, but after learning the lines, the playing was no struggling. I was enjoying myself in all the characters. Maybe the one that was the most fun was the first one, when I arrive and I am so vulgar, because it was so over-the-top. Usually, you don't do that in movies because it's like overacting, so you don't do that most of the time. You're normally asked to be more real and more natural."

She adds, "We don't know if she's real or not. Everything she has is in the bag. We don't know if she's the 'real' Vanda from the 19th century. Or maybe she's a goddess from ancient Greece, or maybe she's only in his mind."

Seigner also politely but quickly indicates that her tastes are not reflected in Vanda's.

"I heard about [the 1869 book], like everybody else. I'd never read the book. I know the [1967] song very well because I did a cover of it on my last album [Distant Lover]. I love the Velvet Underground, but I'm not really into all that crazy S&M stuff. It's not my thing."

The Inside Story

As Seigner points out, those hoping to get a glance inside her head or her husband's probably won't find it in Venus in Fur. This is despite the fact that Amalric, like Polanski, is of Polish-Jewish ancestry and bears a passing resemblance to the 80-year-old filmmaker.

"That's true, actually," she replies. "When we did The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, [director] Julian Schnabel hired our son [Elvis Polanski] to play Mathieu as a child because he thought Mathieu was looking like Roman."

"Thomas in the movie is a lousy director, and that's not the case with Roman. You can see at the beginning of the film that he's pretentious. She knows [the novel] better than him; she gives him a lesson.

MovieStyle on 08/01/2014