She acted as Jacques Demy’s Lola, as Federico Fellini’s corrupted aristocrat, but the audience most remembered her as Anna Gauthier from Claude Lelouch’s movie “A Man and A Woman”. At the age of 87, she returned to the screen with the film “Best years of life, in which the same Claude Lelouch showed what happened to the heroes of “A Man and A Woman” 53 years later. Seven questions for the legendary French actress.
How did you end up on the set?
This happened in 1946 and I was 14 years old. I was walking down Coliseum street in the eighth arrondissement of Paris when a man approached me and invited to act in films. Later, I found out that the man’s name is Henri Calef, he was the director of “House on the Sea”, in which my heroine was called Anouk. However, I had no plans to act in films, I always wanted to be a dancer. My mother, who was with me, as we were going to the cinema, to Billy Wilder’s “Double Insurance”, said that stage experience is also important for the dancer. So I made my film debut. I have always been very lucky to meet good people. Just imagine: a young, unknown girl – and immediately gets to the popular director. Pure luck!
Why did you change your name?
After my first film everyone called me Anouk. Once Jacques Prevert said: “You cannot always be called Anouk. Imagine you are forty and you are still Anouk!” The idea that I would ever be forty was at that time completely abstract for me. However, I did not argue, I rarely argued with directors. All the people around me called me affectionately Aimée – so I turned from Nicole Dreyfus to Anouk Aimée.
You started filming quite early, but the fame came to you twenty years later…
The real success came to me in the late 1950s, after the film “Lovers from Montparnasse.” Gerard Philip played the artist Modigliani in it, and I – his young lover. Then Federico Fellini noticed me and invited to his films “La Dolce Vita” and “Eight and a Half”. When “Dolce Vita” was released, the cars still had “tail fins”, and women appreciated their curves, and men noisily and openly expressed their enthusiasm about this. Today, both feelings and forms have become, to put it mildly, slender… Fellini was a great director. In the end, he glorified Italian cinema!
Is there something you regret today?
If you look at the number of films in which I participated, at the people with whom I worked, I have nothing to regret… Perhaps I did not always make the right choice. For example, I didn’t want to star in Robert Altman’s film “High Fashion” or I refused to act in “Thomas Crown Scam”. Faye Dunaway played my role, and this role was written specifically for me. That’s what I’m sorry about…
Your most iconic heroine is Anna Gauthier. What does she mean to you?
I am in love with her… I still remember our 1966 premiere, followed by numerous award ceremonies. “Golden Globe”, “Oscar” – these were magical, unforgettable moments… I remember when our film was declared the winner at the Oscars, the audience exploded with applause. And I saw Claude’s happy face… Such a touching picture – a young guy, smiling embarrassedly, is standing in front of a roaring crowd. It seems to me that I never heard such a roar again, except at the awarding ceremony of the Spielberg “Alien”! But when I remember the shooting itself, I involuntarily want to laugh at the absurdity of fate. Claude invested his own money in this little film and he swore that if he failed, he would leave the movie and look for another profession. Luckily he didn’t have to.
Do you think the love shown on the screen exists?
I hope so. The most difficult thing is to take the first step, but if it is done, life instantly begins to make sense. However, besides courage, people still have to possess emotional intelligence. Meetings that leave a mark can only happen to those who live outside of stereotypes and who have developed sensitivity. I also believe that cinema has an extraordinary ability: when we watch films, other people’s memories become our own, it begins to seem to us that what we saw happened to us.
By the way, what is the secret of your youth?
Makeup and a good cameraman. I think this is the secret of all the pretty faces on screen.