Saturday, September 30, 2006

Sleepy Science: Part Two

On Charlotte Gainsbourg, Björk, and the White Stripes

sos horse.jpg
Stephane fixes Stephanie's toy horse in The Science of Sleep

In this section, Michel Gondry talks about his favorite actors and musicians.
Charlotte Gainsbourg, daughter of British singer/actress Jane Birkin and French singer/composer Serge Gainsbourg, is also a recording artist -- just as her father
was also an actor, author, and director -- but Gondry hasn't directed a video for her...yet. Like her mother, she married an actor/director, France's Yvan Attal
(My Wife is an Actress, Happily Ever After), who also appears in Bon Voyage and
Munich. And Charlotte's half-sister, Lou Doillon, daughter of Birkin and French
director Jacques Doillon, is one of the stars of the current Gap ad campaign.
Yes, it's true: The Gainsbourg-Birkin-Attal-Doillons are everywhere!


Fennessy: So, growing up in France, were you a big fan of Serge Gainsbourg?

Gondry: Of course. Serge Gainsbourg -- I would say that in my
home, the two Gods were Serge Gainsbourg and Duke Ellington.

Fennessy: I love Serge Gainsbourg.

Gondry: But I don't think it's why I picked Charlotte. I mean, obviously it's in the back of the head, but Charlotte has been...very iconographic, since she was in her teens. She's one of the best actresses. If you ask even American directors, they
all think of Charlotte Gainsbourg as one of the most -- she's just a magical actress.

Charlotte Gainsbourg...looking much like her mother
Fennessy: She's great. have you seen Lemming?
Gondry: Yeah.
Fennessy: Her and...Charlotte Rampling. I'm looking forward to that.
Gondry: Two Charlottes.
[And that's all he had to say about Lemming, but he smiled when I
asked about the film, so I'm guessing he didn't dislike it too much.]
Fennessy: It sounds like you had met her before casting her in the film?
Gondry: No. Since I was eight years old, I was impressed by meeting her. She's very sweet. She's shy, but quietly strong in some ways. She's very direct and discreet.
Fennessy: That's kind of how she is in the film. Had you written her part before you met her or with her in mind, kind of going back to his [Tyler's] question about Gael?
Gondry: The part was written thinking about somebody I knew. I knew if I had Charlotte, it would bring some humanity, because it could have been harsh. With some other actress, it would've been much harsher, and I didn't want this character to come off as being unfriendly, and I think Charlotte brings so much humanity. And it's interesting. I didn't give her direction in the sense of I didn't know if Stephanie is in love or not with Stephane, and I told her, 'I'm not gonna tell you, because I don't know,' so I'll give you the dialogue and you make the intention you want. Obviously, I gave her some direction, but overall, I would not say what was in her mind, because I didn't know, and I asked her many times, 'So do you think she likes him?' Just taking it for me, but I didn't say, 'Of course she loves him,' so I was happy, but I think she thought I was talking about Stephane-Michel and not Stephane-Gael.
Björk in Gondry's video for "Hyperballad"
Tyler: Do you know when we can see the American trailer for the movie?
Gondry: There is one...and there's a website, We're encouraging people to share their dreams. I'm doing a journal of my dreams on videotape and I'm trying to explain them in my own way. While I was working on the video with Beck, he told me his dream. It's going to be fun. It's going to be related to the film, but not completely directly. It's going to be...a community website.
Fennessy: Are you gonna use a song in the trailer that
isn't in the movie, like you did with Eternal Sunshine?
Gondry: I'm not sure...
Fennessy: [ELO's] 'Mr. Blue Sky.'
Gondry: We did use a song [I think he's referring to the Velvet Underground's
'After Hours']. First I was against it, then I said your terms are good -- let's do it.
Tyler: What do you think is most rewarding about your collaborations with
Björk and the White Stripes, who you work with a lot? Do you think if they
came to you with a project, like a feature-length project -- either fictional or
a concert film, like Dave Chappelle -- would you be willing to do that for them?
Gondry: Yeah, I think so. I have a project I wrote for the White Stripes and then it was put on the side. It was a biographical project and...I was really happy with the project, and I hope it's gonna happen someday. I wanted to interview them, and have a stage with some people re-enacting what they're saying, and we would bring more and more props, and I would have two actors to play Jack and Meg. And then Meg and Jack their music, to demonstrate... I think the idea was like that -- I would play them their music and they would tell me...what they had in mind when they wrote the songs. Then we would illustrate those moments on stage with two actors, one from Jack and one from Meg, while they were doing the same music, so it would build up like that. Each time, we would have some interview or voiceover and we see people re-enacting as they're playing the next song.... At some point with Björk -- it would be a different medium. We may be doing a big exhibition together, maybe we'll do it next year... I don't think she wants to be an actress.
Tyler: That's what she said after Dancer in the Dark.
Gondry: She did do that...[Drawing Restraint 9] with her boyfriend [Matthew Barney], but it's different -- she was just being herself... She was not having to put all emotion out. I would do anything they want me to do, basically. And it's great to have met those people. I mean, it's what you wish for -- any director with my background, a video director -- in music directing. You get involved with a project that's taking off, you never know... And when you jump on one and, whoosh -- to the sky. [Makes airplane gesture.] Like it happened to me with Björk and the White Stripes. It's your best luck, because you travel with them help them and they help you at the same time. Like the White Stripes, at some point, they considered me as a third member of the band. It's very flattering, and I've never been disappointed by any video I did with them. And when you work again and again with the same artist, you have an enormous pressure, which is to make better [work] than before -- not disappoint them -- and it's really a pressure you put to yourself, but it's a good one.
Gondry's Director's Series double-disc set. The image comes from
his Lego video for the White Stripes' "Fell in Love With a Girl."
Next: On Directing vs. Drumming
The Science of Sleep continues at the Egyptian Theatre (801 E Pine). For
more information, please click here or call 206-781-5755. For those Western Washingtonians not in Seattle, it's also playing at Lynnwood's Alderwood 16, Redmond's Bella Bottega 11, and Bellevue's Lincoln Square Cinemas.


  1. Charlotte also has another half sister, the photographer Kate Barry, from her mother's first marriage to John Barry. So there's talent flowing everywhere in that family!

  2. Thanks for the addition! I forgot about Birkin's marriage to Barry. Reminds me that Amy Arbus has just released a collection of her '80s photographs, "On the Street," in advance of Steven Shainberg's upcoming bio-pic about her mother, "Fur: An Imaginary Portrait of Diane Arbus." Here's a link to the book: