Treading the red carpet with Ariane Ascaride

Art & Lit Screen

With more than 30 films to her name, renowned in the world of French cinema, Ariane Ascaride received the César Award for her performance aged 20 in Marius et Jeannette in 1998. Following on from such success, she has since taken on many more roles for the big screen, often working alongside her husband and film-director, Robert Guédiguian. Her work includes Le Voyage en Arménie, La ville est tranquille, L’Armée du crime, Les neiges de Killmandjaro, Brodeuses, Le hérisson and, most recently, La délicatesse.

As a young girl, Ascaride was to grow up with her father’s involvement in amateur theatre, where, on Sunday afternoons, instead of going to play in the park she would watch her father act. Her love of acting was founded upon a need to reconcile the realisation that we only have one life to live, with a desire to do many things, particularly to further her passion for story-telling. For Ascaride, it was ultimately acting that seemed to contain the secret to living.

Ascaride is often admired for the naturalness of her acting style, and upon being asked about this she offers a comparison: “being an actress is to be like a musician. Only for the actor it is their own body that is the instrument. It is not a case of just having a small talent, but rather one of hard work”. According to Ascaride, the importance of being an actress lies in abandoning the attempt to bring the character to you, but rather instead a recognition of the need for the actress to go towards the character (‘aller vers le personage’). An actress thus plays the role of the interpreter, a ‘passeur’ that must seek to convey an author’s creation, and bring it to life.

For Ascaride there are three important ways of discovering a new character to be played:

1. Clear your head ‘as you would your apartment’

2. Look for your character in the street (she says she found her character for Marie-Jo on the Paris Métro)

3. Look for your characters shoes– if you have found the shoes, you’ve found your character!

If you want to speak of the world, speak of your village’ (Anton Chekov)

Born and brought up in Marseille in 1954, the town is not only a birthplace but also the location for many of Ascaride’s films. Though she has lived in Paris for a long time now, since her early acting days at the Conservatoire Nationale Superieure, Marseille is of course the locus of the many grandes oeuvres of her husband Guédiguian. Why? Ascaride explains the attraction of the Marseillan setting: it is the particular light and the people, people that never change or move from the same habits. It is a multicultural world, one which offers a mixed life and heritage, where ‘foreignness’ is omnipresent. Such a fascinating mixture of roots could be felt when the interview moved from French to Italian as Ascaride spoke fondly of her paternal grandparents’ Neapolitan origins  (before settling in Italian quartier of Marseille),  and in her insistence that whilst French is her native language, Italian remains the language of her heart.

The Dream Team? : Ascaride and Guédiguian

Upon being asked what it is like to work so closely with her film-director husband, Robert Guédiguian, Ascaride replied that when they are working on a film, they are not husband and wife, but rather director and actress. He is her best friend; there is great complicity between them both having worked together for 30 years. And yet their roles are still extremely well-defined: he writes the scenes and shoots them, she acts. Meanwhile, at home, the couple ‘speak about two things’: cinema and their children!

Il est nuit. La cabane est pauvre, mais bien close…’ (Les Pauvres Gens, Victor Hugo)

Ascaride reels off her many current projects. At the moment she is taking part in readings at two literary festivals, one in ToulouseLe Marathon des mots (28th June- 1st July 2012) and another at Grignan: Festival de la correspondence (4th-8th July 2012). She is also currently filming with Daniel Auteuil for Marius and Fanny.

Yet, for Ascaride charitable work remains very close to her heart. The movement for peace is of utmost importance for her; and she expresses her great frustration with people that merely protest in the streets without doing anything practical. For Ascaride, it isn’t a case of being compassionate, but rather of showing solidarity: she strongly believes that we shouldn’t live our own lives without being aware of what is going on around us, and this is more important than ever in a time where there is  already far too much individualism. She admits that her charity work is based on an element of selfishness- she is ‘in no way a heroine’- it is just a case of doing something which matters to her, namely meeting people, and doing what you can to make a difference.

Having studied Sociology in Aix-en-Provence, Ascaride recognises that it was a degree that enabled her to learn to watch and observe others- an essential skill shared in the profession of actor: to be an observer of humankind. It was this delight in what it means to be human, and to have roots that spread across cultures, that could be felt upon a meeting with Ariane Ascaride.

In Ascaride’s recent film Les neiges de Killmandjaro (2011), what the actress particularly liked about her character Marie-Claire was the notion that the heroine can be discovered in the everyday: ‘ the idea that people we pass in the streets everyday have the potential to become heroes or heroines.’ Inspired by Victor Hugo’s poem Les Pauvres Gens, Les neiges de Killmandjaro for Ascaride is an important film for the way that it gives dignity to the ordinary people, offering a chance for the voiceless to be finally heard.

Claire Cocks

This interview is thanks to the permission and organisation of Michael Abecassis and Gemma McKinnie