Forever in my heart
interview by OLIVIER ZAHM
portraits by HENRY ROY
A new dawn : 20 years after Charlotte For Ever, CHARLOTTE GAINSBOURG delivers her second album, entitled 5:55. Eleven soft, sad, intimate and elegant songs: music by Air, words by Jarvis Cocker (Pulp), produced by Nigel Godrich (Radiohead, Beck), and recorded in London and Los Angeles by Beck’s dad, David Campbell. We’ll let her tell you the rest.
OLIVIER ZAHM — Tu as la réputation de ne pas aimer les interviews.
CHARLOTTE GAINSBOURG — Je détestais les interviews, mais depuis je me suis adoucie par rapport à ça.
OLIVIER ZAHM — Qu’est ce qui te faisait les détester ?
CHARLOTTE GAINSBOURG — J’avais un tempérament très timide. Mes premières interviews datent de L’Effrontée (Claude Miller, 1985), quand il a fallu défendre le film. Pour Paroles et musique (Elie Chouraqui, 1984), mon premier film, je n’avais pas fait d’interviews, ni pour Lemon Incest, ma première chanson en 1985. Je n’étais pas prête pour cela : j’avais quatorze ans avec la mentalité d’une enfant de dix ans… J’étais timide, je n’aimais pas parler.
OLIVIER ZAHM — Etait-ce une réserve spontanée par rapport à l’image très publique de tes parent?
CHARLOTTE GAINSBOURG — Pendant très longtemps, on ne me posait que des questions sur mes parents et surtout sur mon père… C’était sans arrêt, sans arrêt, sans arrêt ! Ça me saoûlait ! Quand tu es enfant, tu n’as pas forcément envie de parler de tes parents tout le temps.
DE MOI TU ES L’AUTEUR
OLIVIER ZAHM — D’où te venais cette timidité ?
CHARLOTTE GAINSBOURG — À cinq ans, je n’étais pas timide. Plutôt rigolote et sans problème, enfin j’espère que je le suis toujours… C’est plus tard que je me suis renfermée…
OLIVIER ZAHM — Comment as-tu vécu ta toute première enfance ?
CHARLOTTE GAINSBOURG — Quand j’y repense, j’ai eu une enfance très normale… Je ne sais plus comment j’ai dealé seule au quotidien avec la célébrité de mon père, je ne m’en rappelle plus. J’ai dû forcément me blinder très vite par rapport aux autres enfants qui m’entouraient. J’ai le souvenir qu’à l’école j’étais agressée en permanence.
OLIVIER ZAHM — À cause de tes parents ?
CHARLOTTE GAINSBOURG — À l’époque, ils avaient une image très sulfureuse, surtout avec le film de mon père Je t’aime moi non plus (1976), sans parler de ses chansons, de leur duo… C’était une autre époque. J’imagine que cela choquait beaucoup de parents et les enfants répétaient ce qu’ils entendaient chez eux. Ce n’était jamais des trucs très agréables à entendre. Aujourd’hui, tout cela c’est inversé, je n’ai plus que des compliments sur mes parents : c’est les plus merveilleux du monde… Je ne peux pas dire que j’en ai souffert réellement. Parce que j’ai dû me protéger et inconsciemment faire abstraction, car je n’ai plus de souvenirs très clairs. Mais j’ai tendance à enjoliver beaucoup le passé…
OLIVIER ZAHM – Did you have a happy childhood despite these attacks?
CHARLOTTE GAINSBOURG – A super childhood! A very happy childhood! I have radiant feelings, precious memories are always with me.
OLIVIER ZAHM – Is it a Parisian childhood?
CHARLOTTE GAINSBOURG – Yes, very Parisian. But a Paris from another era. It is rue de Verneuil at a time when there were no cars. It’s long walks in the Tuileries gardens… And weekends in the countryside: we had a country house in Cresseveuille in Normandy, not far from Houlgate.
OLIVIER ZAHM – Did things change when Charlotte was a teenager?
CHARLOTTE GAINSBOURG – Afterwards, I very quickly started filming and my parents separated. It was the glamor side of my father’s life that I lived for a while. I accompanied him, we went to palaces. It was a life of luxury. Finally you know what I mean … He spoiled me, he wanted to please me when he found me. All of a sudden, it was a little out of the ordinary vacation. But during my early childhood when my parents loved each other, the memories I keep of our life seem very normal to me. We didn’t or didn’t travel much, we walked in Paris.
OLIVIER ZAHM – Were you going to stay with your family in England?
CHARLOTTE GAINSBOURG – Every year in London for Christmas. They are magical memories.
OLIVIER ZAHM – Did you speak English with Jane?
CHARLOTTE GAINSBOURG – No. I had a weird relationship with this language because my father didn’t speak a word of English in the 70s! Well, not a word, he wasn’t doing well, so my mother didn’t speak English to my sister and me, to avoid the secret language between girls. She made the effort to speak French to us. My sister’s first language is English. But because she is John Barry’s daughter. She was born and lived her first two years in England before arriving in France. I was born in London but I came to Paris straight away. My mother’s French was full of mistakes … For a very long time I reproduced them. Like saying “I phone so and so” … and my father would systematically repeat: “No! To call someone ! “
OLIVIER ZAHM – Then barely a teenager you find yourself on the screen …
CHARLOTTE GAINSBOURG – Yes very quickly.
OLIVIER ZAHM – Immediately confronted with the image of you, at this delicate age …
CHARLOTTE GAINSBOURG – Confronted, yes … But it all started with a desire.
OLIVIER ZAHM – At a time when self-image is extremely problematic.
CHARLOTTE GAINSBOURG – Yes, it’s true, but I haven’t experienced it like that at all. I was shy, withdrawn, lonely, whatever you want, but my image has never been a problem for me. In myself I was good. The only problem that has never been serious is that I have always been physically complex … I don’t think there has ever been a moment when I have loved myself physically (laughs).
OLIVIER ZAHM — Complexe qui viens sans doute de ton père, lui qui parlait toujours de sa laideur… Il t’a collé le virus !
CHARLOTTE GAINSBOURG — Il m’a collé le virus… (Rires). D’autant que ma grand-mère était sublime. D’une classe exceptionnelle… Tu ne peux pas savoir ! Une beauté vraiment hollywoodienne. Et ma mère, elle est à tomber à la renverse. Moi, en face d’elles, je me sentais vraiment pas terrible… Pourquoi ils n’ont pas fait mieux ? Ils auraient pu faire mieux ! (Rires) C’est exactement ça, je n’ai jamais aussi bien résumé mon complexe. Sans doute que j’accorde trop d’importance au physique, alors que je ne devrais pas. Cela dit à trente-quatre ans maintenant quand même, ça va mieux et ça va aller de mieux en mieux.
OLIVIER ZAHM — Tu ressembles plus à ta mère qu’à ton père pourtant… Et lui, tu ne le trouvais pas beau ?
CHARLOTTE GAINSBOURG — À mes yeux si… Très très beau. Quand je revois des photos de lui, je le trouve renversant de beauté, de charme et de tout… Sa timidité, sa pudeur… Tout ce qui ressort de son personnage, de son caractère.
OLIVIER ZAHM — Et son obsession stylistique ?
CHARLOTTE GAINSBOURG — Oui, mais ce n’est pas ça qui me touche. J’attache plus d’importance à son caractère, à ses défauts, à ce qu’il est vraiment.
OLIVIER ZAHM — C’est plus la personnalité de ton père que tu admires que l’artiste Serge Gainsbourg ?
CHARLOTTE GAINSBOURG — Evidemment ses goûts et son talent aussi. Sa musique. Ses films. Ses textes. Bien sûr ! Mais mon père était quelqu’un d’assez exceptionnel. Avec tous les défauts de quelqu’un de très égoïste et mégalo. Enfin bon, normal pour un artiste…
OLIVIER ZAHM — Enfin malgré cette timidité chronique et ce complexe physique tu te retrouves très vite à l’écran dans des films importants de l’époque.
CHARLOTTE GAINSBOURG — Qui ont eu un certain succès oui.
OLIVIER ZAHM – Films which embodied the youth of the early 80s.
CHARLOTTE GAINSBOURG – Yes, it left a mark on a generation. But I didn’t realize it. I haven’t seen the success of L’Effrontée by Claude Miller. I totally missed it. And luckily besides … Maybe I would have had a big head. But I was completely protected from the reception of the film.
OLIVIER ZAHM – You still got a Caesar for your performance in L’Effrontée.
CHARLOTTE GAINSBOURG – Yes, I was rewarded. But it’s something that I forgot overnight. I remember that I had made the bet that I would not have it… It was a game. I had my schoolgirl and teenage life to lead at the same time. I was only filming during summer vacation.
OLIVIER ZAHM – How old were you exactly?
CHARLOTTE GAINSBOURG – When Claude Miller came to pick me up in 1985, I was in a boarding school in Switzerland and I was 13 years old. During the shooting, I turned 14 because it was summer.
OLIVIER ZAHM – With L’Effrontée and Charlotte for ever (1986) you played the French teenager at that time.
CHARLOTTE GAINSBOURG – Let’s say the Parisian teenager. For me, I was just happy that finally they recognized me … and that it was not always my parents who attracted the attention. It’s something that I rehashed a bit, I don’t even know if I really experienced it like that … But I was satisfied that I was recognized by what I was and not more compared to my father. It made a difference!
OLIVIER ZAHM – Did your father push you on the path to success and public recognition?
CHARLOTTE GAINSBOURG – No, he was happy for me. But he didn’t understand why I wasn’t overjoyed to be on the cover of magazines. I didn’t give a damn. But for him it was a real thing! He loved the press. Every day he bought it. If he could be quoted anywhere, it pleased him in a very naive way.
OLIVIER ZAHM – While he didn’t like television?
CHARLOTTE GAINSBOURG – But yes! He loved doing his TV show! He liked people to talk about him, which is a bit normal when you do a public job. I didn’t have that desire at all… But I really enjoyed making films. For me, the shoots were incredible moments, like a vacation. Finally you see, something free and surprising, far from parents …
OLIVIER ZAHM – Like a kind of authorized runaway?
CHARLOTTE GAINSBOURG – During the shootings, I was alone, free, but protected, surrounded by a team and people who loved me. It was pretty amazing, I loved it. But the fun ended with the shooting. Once the film came out, I didn’t feel a thing anymore … The follow-up, the interviews, the promotion, the screenings … It didn’t interest me.
OLIVIER ZAHM – This is exactly the reverse of what is happening today. We have the feeling that actors and actresses are obsessed with their image.
CHARLOTTE GAINSBOURG – Do you think a 14-year-old girl will care about her image?
OLIVIER ZAHM – Today, no doubt!
CHARLOTTE GAINSBOURG – Oh yes? I was very naive. I’m glad I was. Honestly, I was fine. I was protected, I was in my bubble. And that allowed me to pass my baccalaureate in peace.
OLIVIER ZAHM – Were you seriously continuing your studies?
CHARLOTTE GAINSBOURG – I did not stop my studies. I needed a structure. It was a balance that I wanted for myself, not a request from my parents. It was I who asked to go to a boarding school in Switzerland. I wanted something very rigorous. I always needed a very specific framework.
OLIVIER ZAHM – If we were talking about Charlotte for ever, which for me is Gainsbourg’s best film.
CHARLOTTE GAINSBOURG – Oh yes! For me it’s I love you neither. But I haven’t seen Charlotte for ever. I have memories of the shoot and of seeing the film afterwards. And then after my father died and I never wanted to see him again.
OLIVIER ZAHM – Was this shooting difficult?
CHARLOTTE GAINSBOURG – Very, very difficult. Because I wanted to do it so badly, and I wanted to make him happy at the same time. And at the same time, there was a modesty between me and my father which at the time unsettled me and made me very uncomfortable. I found it hard to come to terms with what he was asking me to do.
OLIVIER ZAHM — Tu faisais du cinéma pour échapper à la famille, et ton père t’y replace avec son film.
CHARLOTTE GAINSBOURG — Oui, ce n’était plus du tout l’échappatoire et les rigolades dont j’avais pris l’habitude… J’avais mon père sur le dos et c’est lui qui menait le jeu. Alors que sur d’autres tournages, je pouvais être qui je voulais. Je suis sûre que si je revoyais le film, je serais touchée.
OLIVIER ZAHM — As-tu appris des choses avec ton père sur le jeu d’acteur ?
CHARLOTTE GAINSBOURG — Sans doute… Mais je suis aussi incapable de dire ce que j’ai appris avec d’autres metteurs en scène à cette époque en tout cas.
OLIVIER ZAHM — Comment as-tu appris à jouer ?
CHARLOTTE GAINSBOURG — Je crois que je n’ai jamais eu à apprendre. Je n’ai pas pris de cours. J’ai juste été dans les mains de personnes douées, qui m’ont amené à faire des choses sans que je m’en rende compte. Je pense que j’avais un réel plaisir à être actrice, à le devenir.
OLIVIER ZAHM — Est-ce que tes parents t’ont poussée d’une manière ou d’une autre ?
CHARLOTTE GAINSBOURG — Pas du tout. J’ai des souvenirs d’avoir observé ma mère jouer. De l’avoir aidé à apprendre son texte de temps en temps. De me cacher en la regardant tourner des scènes. J’observais beaucoup toute seule pendant les tournages et je me souviens que je donnais mon avis sur les scènes. J’adorais l’ambiance qui régnait pendant les tournages, cela me plaisait…
OLIVIER ZAHM — Tu te souviens d’un film de ta mère plus spécialement ou pas ?
CHARLOTTE GAINSBOURG — Non. Le plus souvent ce sont des tournages dont elle n’était pas hyper fière. Je me souviens vaguement d’un tournage d’un film italien, je sais plus lequel, qui a compté (Bruciati da Cocente Passione, de Giorgio Capitani, ndlr)… Je me souviens aussi d’un film de Patrice Leconte, d’un film de Jacques Rivette, de Pierre Granier-Deferre… Ça a du me donner envie.
OLIVIER ZAHM — Donc l’envie d’être actrice, c’est l’image de ta mère.
CHARLOTTE GAINSBOURG — Oui. C’est beaucoup l’envie d’être regardée…
OLIVIER ZAHM — Est-ce qu’il y a eu un déclic ?
CHARLOTTE GAINSBOURG — Peut-être au moment du tournage de La Pirate quand Jacques Doillon avait choisi Laure Marsac qui était une enfant. J’étais un petit peu plus jeune qu’elle, mais je sais que j’ai dû être un peu jalouse. Je me souviens qu’au même moment où ils tournaient La Pirate, nous, on avait fait un petit film en 8 millimètres, avec Lola, la fille de Jacques, mon oncle Andrew et moi. Un film de gangsters. On s’y croyait déjà un petit peu tu vois… (Rires). C’était rigolo. C’était un film de vacances, mais déjà je ressentais une espèce de plaisir à me mettre en scène, à me grimer. J’ai le souvenir aussi de ma sœur Kate qui me déguisait, qui me maquillait. Enfin, c’est plein de petites choses qui s’accumulent.
OLIVIER ZAHM — Une addition d’expériences, mais pas d’école d’acteur ?
CHARLOTTE GAINSBOURG — Je sais que j’ai toujours eu des complexes de n’avoir jamais pris de cours. Je crois que c’est Claude Miller, ou mon père, ou mon oncle qui m’ont le plus appris réellement sur le jeu… Mais je ne sais plus très bien ! J’ai l’impression que j’ai appris avec Jacques Villeret aussi. Mais aussi quand j’ai fait du théâtre avec Maurice Bénichou qui était metteur en scène et acteur. J’ai pris ses répétitions comme un cours de théâtre.
OLIVIER ZAHM — Sur la diction, sur le souffle ?
CHARLOTTE GAINSBOURG — Oui, sur le fait de se lâcher un peu, sur le fait aussi de pas être spontanée. Moi, j’avais toujours l’impression qui fallait être naturelle, qu’il ne fallait pas répéter. Qu’il fallait faire tout à l’instinct. Mais au théâtre, tu as deux mois de répétitions et tu rabâches les scènes. J’ai découvert que tu retrouves la spontanéité au bout d’un certain temps après avoir ressassé le truc. Mais je n’ai eu qu’une seule expérience au théâtre.
OLIVIER ZAHM — Tu n’aimes pas le théâtre ?
CHARLOTTE GAINSBOURG — En fait, j’adore le cinéma. Et je n’ai pas une grande culture théâtrale. Je n’en suis pas à rêver d’un grand rôle classique…
JE DÉRIVE À L’INFINI
OLIVIER ZAHM — Ensuite arrivent les années 90, avec Merci la vie de Bertrand Blier. Un film important qui inaugure une nouvelle décennie en France.
CHARLOTTE GAINSBOURG — J’avais 17 ans je crois et j’étais surexcitée quand j’ai su que Bertrand Blier me voulait pour son film. Je me souviens avoir lu son scénario, je n’avais jamais rien lu de pareil ! C’était un truc assez dingue !
OLIVIER ZAHM — C’était un gros pavé ?
CHARLOTTE GAINSBOURG — Ouais, c’était un énorme truc, incroyable à lire. Et je me souviens de lui comme metteur en scène. Il était très impressionnant et très gentil à la fois. Un chef d’orchestre avec son pupitre : il m’a beaucoup marquée.
OLIVIER ZAHM – At that time you also shot Aux Yeux du monde by Eric Rochant.
CHARLOTTE GAINSBOURG – Five short days of filming only. But that’s where I met Yvan Attal.
OLIVIER ZAHM – It’s a bit of a generation that was forming in French cinema at that time. A generation of actors and directors.
CHARLOTTE GAINSBOURG – Yes, and it’s true that I had never shot before that with young directors.
OLIVIER ZAHM – So you made the choice to be an actress?
CHARLOTTE GAINSBOURG – Yes, because when I passed my baccalaureate. I did a bit of a buffer year at the Charpentier Academy which was preparing for the Fine Arts. It was a great year where I could only draw. But after a while, I still had to make a choice between studying and filming, because I could no longer say that I only shoot during the holidays. From Merci la vie, I can shoot whenever I want. But afterwards, I have a real hole. I think I have a two-year break … I was offered films, but I refused and I did not work.
OLIVIER ZAHM – Is it due to the death of your father in 91?
CHARLOTTE GAINSBOURG – Yes, that’s when my father died. I hit rock bottom.
OLIVIER ZAHM – So it is when you decide to be an actress that things go wrong …
CHARLOTTE GAINSBOURG – Yes, professionally I have a slump during this period. Just when I said to myself: “Okay now I’m an actress, I’m going, I’m available”. But, in my private life, I fell in love with Yvan.
OLIVIER ZAHM – Yet you shoot in 1992 with your uncle, Andrew Birkin, The Cement Garden, a film which is very successful in England.
CHARLOTTE GAINSBOURG – Exactly: I had a lot of success across the Channel with this film which went almost unnoticed in France!
OLIVIER ZAHM – Why this discrepancy?
CHARLOTTE GAINSBOURG – In England, I believe the book was a best seller. I love that movie. Both in England and in the United States, I hear about it all the time.
OLIVIER ZAHM – It’s an intense family story.
CHARLOTTE GAINSBOURG – It’s an incest story focused on a young boy. The mother dies, she is buried in the cellar and the four children begin to live in harmony. A somewhat special relationship is established between the big sister that I play and her big brother.
OLIVIER ZAHM – Another murky story, you who sang Lemon incest in duet with your father …
CHARLOTTE GAINSBOURG – Yes … And in the end there is a love scene between brother and sister. In the book the police arrest them, in the movie we are seen in bed with each other, but we just see the light of the police siren coming in. It ends like this.
OLIVIER ZAHM – With this film, are you really starting your acting career, making your choices?
CHARLOTTE GAINSBOURG – Before too I made choices!
OLIVIER ZAHM – Nothing was forced on you?
CHARLOTTE GAINSBOURG – No, nothing at all! I don’t really know what I refused. But it’s true that from Bertrand Blier’s film, my choices are much more voluntary and conscious.
MORE YES FOR EVER
OLIVIER ZAHM – Then come more avant-garde films, close to the language of contemporary art with 21 Grams by Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu and The Science of Dreams, Michel Gondry’s recent film. There, you engage in less marked cinematographic terrain.
CHARLOTTE GAINSBOURG – Maybe, but compared to what?
OLIVIER ZAHM – Compared to the academicism of French cinema marked by Les Cahiers du Cinéma and La Nouvelle Vague, by literature and romantic psychology … compared to an Anglo-Saxon cinema more linked to the hybrid, violent dimension of the contemporary image.
CHARLOTTE GAINSBOURG – No doubt, but I don’t have that perspective. Because I work on favorites with directors that I admire.
OLIVIER ZAHM – What is your vision of cinema? What guides you today in your choices?
CHARLOTTE GAINSBOURG – It’s totally subjective. They are directors that I love and whose films touch me.
OLIVIER ZAHM – Isn’t that a report at the time?
CHARLOTTE GAINSBOURG – No, I don’t see myself like that… I can’t put films back in their time. For 21 grams, I had seen Amours chiennes that I loved, it’s that simple. Even though it is indeed a very modern cinema, that’s not what prompted me to do it, I don’t pay attention to it. I was just as happy to do My Wife is a Yvan Attal actress as 21 Grams. Happier besides!
OLIVIER ZAHM – In My Woman is an Actress, you play with the representation of your private life. With the character that you have always been, from childhood, caught between fiction and reality. With the duality of your private-public identity.
CHARLOTTE GAINSBOURG – Yes, and Yvan saw that and used this duality in me… He knew how to play it, have fun with it, because the film remains a comedy.
OLIVIER ZAHM – It is also a risk to put your couple on stage. Even if the story is fictional, it is part of a real dynamic of your husband-wife relationship caught between fiction and reality. Is it his initiative?
CHARLOTTE GAINSBOURG – Yvan Attal had written another screenplay before, but when he told Claude Berri about the Ma Femme est une actress project, he wanted Yvan to get started immediately. He wrote it very quickly. I was scared … I trusted him completely but I was worried … I can’t remember exactly what. Now I’m so happy with the movie that I wonder why I was scared. Maybe people think we took ourselves too seriously, that we are too narcissistic in it … The film erased any worries I could have.
OLIVIER ZAHM – To end your career as an actress today?
CHARLOTTE GAINSBOURG – I have three films to release at the same time … There is The Science of Dreams, the film by Michel Gondry that I adore. And then The Golden Door, a film by Italian director Emanuele Crialese. Finally, I made a film by Eric Lartigau with Alain Chabat. These three films will be released one after the other. It’s a shame because I tell myself that after a while people will be fed up … (laughs). And I’m planning the new Todd Haynes film about the personality of the mysterious Bob Dylan.
OLIVIER ZAHM – And you found the time to make an album, the first since Charlotte for ever …
CHARLOTTE GAINSBOURG – I was given the time and the means to make this album between shootings, in a luxurious way, spread over one year. By getting into it, by stopping, by taking the time. We must have had six or seven recording sessions!
OLIVIER ZAHM – Where does this sudden desire to sing after twenty years come from?
CHARLOTTE GAINSBOURG – When I made my first song “Lemon incest”, I was twelve years old. It was only one track on my father’s album Love on the Beat. I was unconscious. I love this song. It’s one of my favorite songs, but I hear more of a child’s voice. Then he wrote me an album just for me Charlotte for ever, but then again, I’m just emerging from adolescence, I was chaperoned by my father. I was more than happy to be in his hands as a composer and musician, but it was not me who decided to make an album. It was he who kindly wrote me an album. I didn’t ask him anything …
OLIVIER ZAHM – Did you enjoy singing?
CHARLOTTE GAINSBOURG – Very pleasure … But I was not really involved, it was five or six days of recording. It was great to be directed by my dad, he was really like a director in a studio. He was leading very, very precisely. But now, I was in his hands for six days and it ended there. Then my father died. And I told myself that the song was over for me! That it was not legitimate for me to be in music. It’s not my job, I’m not a singer. I did it thanks to him, but here it is… It was as if I no longer had the right to do it, as if I was forbidden to sing.
OLIVIER ZAHM – But you had other musical experiences before this album with Air.
CHARLOTTE GAINSBOURG – Yes, but little accidental experiences … There was a film called Love etc. by Marion Vernoux where I was asked to sing on the credits. I was happy to do it. And then one day, maybe in 1994, Madonna asked me if I wanted her to use my voice. It was a line from The Cement Garden where I talk about the girls and boys that she wanted to use as the introduction to a song. I was really happy. From that moment on, I said to myself: “Oh maybe …” The idea of singing took hold of me …
OLIVIER ZAHM – Did it click to hear your voice?
CHARLOTTE GAINSBOURG – Yes, I thought my voice was going well on her song. Okay, these are only introductory lyrics and she’s singing (“What it feels like for a girl”, 2000, note). I didn’t even speak with her. I haven’t met her. We just chatted on the phone for three minutes. She sent me the title. I listened and said, “Thank you very much” (laughs). From that point on, I was contacted by record companies.
OLIVIER ZAHM – Did you want a new album?
CHARLOTTE GAINSBOURG – I was playing cat and mouse a bit. I wanted but I didn’t know what or with whom. I had listened to a Portishead album that I loved. I had met them, but I was not strong enough. I was waiting for things to be done perhaps a little in spite of myself, I don’t know… There was also Etienne Daho who asked me to sing a duet on his album Réévolution (2003). From there, it becomes a little more serious… Afterwards, it’s a coincidence of circumstances.
OLIVIER ZAHM – Under what circumstances exactly did you meet Jean-Benoît Dunkel and Nicolas Godin de Air?
CHARLOTTE GAINSBOURG – I met them at one of their concerts and they told me backstage that they had listened to the song of Love etc., and that it would be good to make a record with me. At the same time I loved their music, like Radiohead. This is one of those very happy coincidences.
OLIVIER ZAHM – It’s more a common sensibility than a real chance, isn’t it?
CHARLOTTE GAINSBOURG – Yet I was hesitant for a very long time. I also had a problem with the lyrics, I didn’t know what to do with the lyrics. The text problem slowed me down a lot
OLIVIER ZAHM – You didn’t want to write them down?
CHARLOTTE GAINSBOURG – I made a few unconvincing attempts. It is Jarvis Cocker who finally wrote most of the texts which revolve around the night, the sadness, the loneliness. Five Fity Five, title of the album, is the hour when night slides into day.
OLIVIER ZAHM – Why this writing problem, is it your father’s shadow always overwhelming?
CHARLOTTE GAINSBOURG – I didn’t see how it was possible to write texts myself. Or who to ask, because I had to find someone I adore as much as my father … And an album in French, I couldn’t … I was afraid of a copy of my father’s style. There was no one who seemed obvious to me in France. As much the music of Air, it seemed clear to me, as much the lyrics I did not see.
OLIVIER ZAHM – What was the trigger?
CHARLOTTE GAINSBOURG – I remember a dinner with Nicolas, Jean-Benoît and Yvan where they said to me: “But Charlotte, an album is done instantly! We must stop thinking about it, being afraid! Stop asking yourself all these questions! So at first we went to the studio without having solved the text problem. I had desires. I wanted nocturnal evocations, a bit like in The Night of the Hunter, in The Shining, or in The Ball of the Vampires. No precise images, just impressions, isolation, childhood nightmares, dreams …
OLIVIER ZAHM – That is to say, there was the melodic and poetic frame, but not the lyrics?
CHARLOTTE GAINSBOURG – Jarvis Cocker arrived and took over the first songs written by Air. The song that gives the album its name, “Five Fifty Five”, was first written in French by Air and covered by Jarvis in English. The same goes for the song “Beauty Mark”. The third piece, “Telle que tu es”, is the only one to remain in French. The fourth piece was not retained.
OLIVIER ZAHM – And the rest are texts by Jarvis?
CHARLOTTE GAINSBOURG – Jarvis came halfway.
OLIVIER ZAHM – It’s a great idea to ask him, he who bridges Paris and London like your mother did.
CHARLOTTE GAINSBOURG – Yes it’s true. I really like his state of mind, his turns, his writing. I needed to admire the texts. I didn’t just want “drinkable” texts. But there is also Neil Hannon, the singer of Divine Comedy, who brought things to the beginning of the album.
OLIVIER ZAHM – Why did he intervene?
CHARLOTTE GAINSBOURG – When we got a little confused with the texts, he’s a friend of Nigel’s and he came to help us out a bit. But he didn’t have much time either.
OLIVIER ZAHM – And your voice… How did you work on your voice?
CHARLOTTE GAINSBOURG – It was tricky at first. I have a very small voice, I did not dare to sing, I felt that my voice was trembling with the jitters … It took me a year to tame it, to achieve something that I be proud enough, working and reworking songs between shoots. Here, I am very hardworking.
OLIVIER ZAHM – And are you happy with the result?
CHARLOTTE GAINSBOURG – It’s funny because I can be proud of certain films, but it’s not me. I was someone’s object, I just did my job to the best of my ability. With this album, I feel that even if I didn’t write the music and the lyrics, it’s like an intimate portrait. It’s totally me!
NO LEADER NO DEARLER
OLIVIER ZAHM – Do you consider yourself a fashion icon?
CHARLOTTE GAINSBOURG – No!
OLIVIER ZAHM – But yet you are. You are one of the rare French actresses who have a personal style, recognized abroad.
CHARLOTTE GAINSBOURG – I don’t see it at all. But not at all ! When I review pictures of myself fifteen years ago (not photos from the set), I am ashamed of what I was putting on my back. I’ve always had a taste for clothes, but I don’t see myself embodying any style. I know what I like and what I don’t like, but it has nothing to do with fashion… I am not a “Fashion icon”.
OLIVIER ZAHM – And yet you are interested in the world of Fashion and designers for your style, and not just because you are a talented actress with famous parents. There is no shortage today …
CHARLOTTE GAINSBOURG – So what is my thing? I always dress the same!
OLIVIER ZAHM – It’s up to you to tell me …
CHARLOTTE GAINSBOURG – I do with what I am … I have no forms! I am not feminine! I don’t have fun dressing like a chick who likes to show off. I am not looking for style in the morning when I get dressed … I feel more like trying to be everything. And then I like clothes that are dated. I have always had a teenage penchant for fleas. I like that the clothes have lived, that they have a past, a patina.
OLIVIER ZAHM – But this discretion or this slight transparency of which you speak is precisely what attracts. For example, we like that you don’t go out with the latest bag from a luxury brand.
CHARLOTTE GAINSBOURG – It is the influence of my mother who marked my adolescence and who remains my model. She sticks to the thing where you don’t really care what you’re wearing, with jeans, an old t-shirt and white sneakers. My absolute beauty model is her! I had a hard time letting go of the androgynous side.
OLIVIER ZAHM— Your father didn’t matter when it comes to style?
CHARLOTTE GAINSBOURG – Like him, I like uniforms, and always dress the same, not having to think about it. It must have struck me that he always wore his jeans, his Repettos and his shirts. It was him ! And I also needed to feel this constancy.
OLIVIER ZAHM – But you’re much more feminine now. You wear dresses and heels …
CHARLOTTE GAINSBOURG – It was Yvan who once said to me: “Stop with your jeans-sneakers, that makes me drunk!” (Laughs). The post-adolescent side ended up tiring him …
OLIVIER ZAHM – You don’t follow Fashion very precisely?
CHARLOTTE GAINSBOURG – I don’t know Fashion very well.
OLIVIER ZAHM – Yet we meet you in some designer shows …
CHARLOTTE GAINSBOURG – It’s true that there is one person I really admire: it’s Nicolas Ghesquière at Balenciaga. I trust him blindly. It is very “classy”!
OLIVIER ZAHM – Yet it is not a very easy fashion to wear. It’s very tight, close to the body, protruding and very drawn …
CHARLOTTE GAINSBOURG – It’s made for flat girls. It’s true that sometimes it’s a bit cramped …
OLIVIER ZAHM – Finally, Fashion for Charlotte does not count for much?
CHARLOTTE GAINSBOURG – No! And I still have a lot of fun dressing today. On special occasions, like Cannes or the Caesars, I like to wear an exceptional dress, dress like “a real girl”. But it is so not part of my daily life. And then, I rarely go out …
OLIVIER ZAHM – And you are going to go out more?
CHARLOTTE GAINSBOURG – No (laughs).
OLIVIER ZAHM – Are you waiting for your children to grow up?
CHARLOTTE GAINSBOURG – They are very small, three and nine years old, and I want them to stay that way as long as possible.
OLIVIER ZAHM – But we would like to see you more often at parties…
CHARLOTTE GAINSBOURG – I can’t dance… I don’t drink too much and I quit smoking. It’s very boring for me to go out. Anyway, I can drink like a hole (laughs). But it is not in my habits …
[Table of contents]
Report from the ShowsRead the article
by Pierre Even
Fall Winter 2006/2007: Vincent Gallo
by Terry Richardson
by Olivier Zahm
by Olivier Zahm
Gardar Eide Einarsson
by Bob Nickas
by Gary Indiana
by Olivier Zahm
by Yan Céh
by Glenn O'Brien
by Carlo Antonelli
by Olivier Zahm
by Olivier Zahm
Camille Bidault Waddington
by Horst Diekgerdes
by Alexei Hay
by Inez van Lamsweerde and Vinoodh Matadin
by Matthias Vriens
by Katja Rahlwes
The Genealogy of Morals
by Serge Leblon
by Liz Collins
by Jork Weismann
by Vava Ribeiro
Dick & James, A True Story
by Juergen Teller
Pete Doherty, Latest News
by Hedi Slimane
Yves Saint Laurent Cruise Winter 2007
by Nathaniel Goldberg
by Heinz Peter Knes
New York Dolls
by Terry Richardson
by Katsuya Kamo
A View On The French Art Scene
by Pierre Even
She Smiles For The Camera
by Christopher Wool