In her latest film, On My Way, which opened this week, French screen icon Catherine Deneuve plays a character not at all like herself. Her Bettie, a former beauty queen and failing restaurateur recently jilted by her married lover, is a woman riddled with regrets and running out of options. An impromptu trip across France—she picks up her grandson and the two embark on something of a buddy-comedy road trip—gives Bettie a peek outside of her provincial life, but for Deneuve the role was still a stretch.
For one thing, she says between puffs of a Philip Morris Super Light at a Manhattan hotel, she can’t relate to Bettie’s strained relationship with her family. “Once you have children, it’s very difficult to have real freedom,” she concedes, but Bettie’s own fractured relationship with her daughter was foreign to the mother of two. “Motherhood is the best thing that’s happened to me,” she says.
Over the course of a conversation with DuJour, she praised director Emmanuelle Bercot, explained why she never makes American movies and reveals just what it would take for her to walk away from stardom for good. Read the excerpts below.
You’re on screen for practically every scene of this movie. How was that?
When you read the script and talk with the director, you don’t realize it. Once you start talking about shooting and you see the program, you realize you’re going to shoot every day, it’s not so much stress but it is a challenge to be in good shape and to have the energy. That was my main concern.
Do you ask to shoot less?
What I asked of the director was not to work on Saturdays, because they went too long. But some Saturdays we did work.
What appealed to you about Bettie?
The script. I knew the director, I know her films. She’s a very interesting woman. It was the script, because she wrote it, that was the main reason.
Were you involved in developing the character?
We used a lot of unprofessional people, so there was a lot of testing for the people [Bercot] wanted to have. We didn’t talk so much about the part unless we were on the set rehearsing.
I did some auditions with young men who were supposed to work with me. I thought it was better if I was there to give them the lines. We agreed on the young man she chose for the film; we never disagreed and were very much on the same line.
Have you yourself ever taken a road trip?
No! If I were to do a road trip, it would be prepared. I’ve never run away from anything.
Considering you’ve spent your life in the spotlight, have you ever wanted to?
Of course you think about that when you’re an actress, but if you still want to make films [you stay]. Shooting is one thing, it’s after that it becomes work.
Were you able to relate to Bettie, who was a beauty queen but ended up living in the house she was born in with her mother?
Maybe a little, but frankly not that much because it’s so far away from my life. I’m still working a lot and I get involved in films and go to foreign countries and do television. Also, Bettie is really not me. She lives with her mother—I love my mother but would never think of living with my parents, I left when I was 17—and she doesn’t have a good relationship with her daughter, which I can’t identify with. But I like that a woman of her age can still dream.
You make choices that aren’t conventional, even back in films like Belle de Jour.
I like that, even in films I see as a moviegoer. I like to have the impression that something’s not conventional.
Do you have any favorites from your films?
A lot. Certain films were not big commercial successes, but they were great to shoot.
Do you still get as excited to make movies?
Yes. If I didn’t, I think I would stop. If you’re not excited about it, you can’t go on. When it won’t feel like that, when I am scared the day before I start a film, I’ll do something else. What, I don’t know. But this day hasn’t arrived yet; I still have projects that interest me.
You’ve done American movies, but not for a while. Why?
I don’t think there’s any reason. There’s not much desire from American cinema to have foreign actresses in films anymore.
Really, but you’re an icon. There are no opportunities?
Not for interesting parts, no.
Is there an American director you’d want to work with?
I love Wes Anderson! I’d to love work with him, but if he wanted to he’d contact me. The ball is not in my court.
I wrote to a director once and I did a film with him. It was special because he was supposed to come shoot a big film in Europe and he was going from one country to another. That was Lars von Trier; he had to give up the film, but he proposed to me a musical he wanted to do. That method can work but it’s not always the way to get a good part.
You recently posed in lingerie for New York magazine. What inspired you to say yes to doing that?
It was not like that at all! They wanted to have a photo of me, intimate in the bathroom. I know the photographer Dominique Issermann very well and I was preparing and she said she would do something while I curled my hair, but I said that was very conventional and we had to find something else. I was in a body suit and had just a sweater on and she looked at my legs and said I’d like to do this shot of you. It wasn’t supposed to be like that.
Were you surprised at the photos?
I don’t regret it, but I should have been more careful.
Watch a trailer for On My Way below: