Sara Forestier: “When I did the casting for ‘M,’ it was almost like an interview. I asked the actors ten questions’

Sara Forestier (b. 1986), a two-time César-winning actress who has worked with numerous talented directors since her screen debut in 2001, recently made her first feature “M” as screenwriter and director, with Ms. Forestier also appearing in the leading role. Playing a young introverted 18-year-old girl with an extreme speech impediment who prefers to write everything down, she gets romantically involved with an exuberant and talented cook and part-time car racer who has communication problems of his own, as he’s barely able to read or write. This communicational paradox is Ms. Forestier’s basic ingredient to tell her story.

After promoting the release of “M” in Venice and Vienna, Namur was Ms. Forestier’s third stop to introduce the film. The versatile actress, whose many screen credits include the title character in Katell Quillévéré’s “Suzanne” (2012), talked passionately about her latest achievement which includes another awesome tour-de-force performance of hers.

Redouanne Harjane and Sara Forestier playing the leading characters in “M”. Photograph: Chifoumi Productions

Miss Forestier, why did you want to tell this story, write the screenplay, direct the film and play the leading role as well?

There were many reasons for that. I was fascinated by this story, this love story, and the possibilities the two main characters have future-wise. I tried to take a look inside the privacy of their own lives, find out what their lives and their precious moments were like, and what their intimacy meant to them.

Was it difficult to write the screenplay?

No, because when I wrote the screenplay, I basically wanted to tell a story, and not every detail of it. It is based on what happened to me many years ago. When I was about twenty-three, I had a relationship with someone who couldn’t read. So when you start writing about it, you work on the characters, you clarify everything, and adapt the characters so that you can actually portray them on the screen. You always keep in mind what you really want to say, make sure that you remain loyal to the story you initially wanted to tell, and stay focused to keep everything in perfect balance.

Your casting is very interesting. It ranges from a rather unknown actor such as Redouanne Harjane who plays Mo, the young man, to screen veteran Jean-Pierre Léaud who portrays your father.

I had cast six hundred men for the character of Mo. And when I saw Redouanne Harjane, he had this dark and drestructive look in his eyes, the look of someone who had suffered. And that’s what I wanted to show on the screen. He had also lost a lot of weight before we started shooting, something like 45 pounds. At first, he didn’t really look like the character I had in mind – or as you can see him now on the screen – but his looks were perfect for the part, and that convinced me to cast him. When I did my casting – which took me two years – it was almost like an interview. I asked the actors ten questions, I liked that and it helped me a lot to see what they could bring to their part and to the film. When I cast Jean-Pierre Léaud, that was something else. I first looked at photographs of his, and with his long black hair, I thought he looked like a character who felt lost without the love of his life. We then met in a café, he even asked me if he had to go through casting if he wanted to play this role [laughs]. I liked his approach and his spontaneity right away. His face is very expressive, looking at him is as if you’re looking at a painting, and he doesn’t need any direction at all. He just has to be there.

So during the writing process, you didn’t have any particular actors in mind?

That’s right. I like the characters to be fresh, although you always tend to create certain roles loosely based on people you may have met over the years. But in the end, I think it’s a good idea that the characters have a life of their own.

Do you have a different point of view on acting now, after directing your first feature?

I have much more respect for film directors now, even more than had before. It requires so much to get a film made, to finish it – while you’re directing, you also have to manage an entire crew, you need to make decisions all the time… It’s a very complicated and demanding job.

When you’re acting, how do you prepare for a scene?

That depends on the role, on the character that I play. So I don’t have a specific method, it changes all the time. But there’s one thing that’s always the same: once a film is finished, I only watch it once, and that’s it. I never see it again – I really don’t have the urge to do so.

What about the speech impediment of your character? How did you learn to do that? Did you do any research?

I met several people who stutter, and observing them was very important to me. There was one guy in particular I had been talking to, he stuttered, and I also started to stutter while I was talking to him. Then I shot a very important scene right away.

Are there any directors who have inspired you to become a filmmaker yourself?

There are film directors that I have worked with who have been instrumental in my work as an actress. It’s difficult to name a few, because it wouldn’t do justice to other important directors that I might overlook now, but I always thought very highly of many directors I have been able to work with up until now.

Sara Forestier, also at the Arras Film Festival in France, to introduce “M”. Photograph: Leo Verswijver

You had worked earlier with your cinematographer Guillaume Schiffman who was also nominated for an Academy Award for his work on “The Artist” [2011]. So you were familiar with him, is that why you asked him to shoot “M”?

We had worked on two films, but it wasn’t planned that he would do “M” as well. He was available, and after he had read the screenplay, he was very curious and wanted to know all about it. When we started talking about the project, I just knew he would be the perfect cinematographer. On the set of “M,” I wanted to shoot as much as I could – we had more than two hundred hours of rushes by the time we finished shooting. He wasn’t used to working like that, but he was very flexible. And then, when I started editing the film, the first thing I did was to keep ten hours of footage – this took me a very long time – and those were used to edit the scenes.

How did you manage to do all of that – writing, directing, acting, editing…?

I wasn’t thinking about it too much while I was shooting, I worked pretty instinctively, without being too much aware of it. But once you start editing, everything is so real, it all becomes so concrete: you have your movie, and there you see yourself right in front of you.

Was it easy to finance your film?

Yes. I didn’t have any problems with that. But at one point I had to put the project on hold because of the casting which took me much longer than I expected. Just to give you an example, I had cast an actress to play my character, but in the end she wasn’t available, so then I decided to play her myself. For the part of Mo, I had seen hundreds of actors, until Redouanne Harjane showed up during casting and pretty soon I realized how right he was for the part. So one day, the original financiers had left the project altogether, but I was fortunate to find other financiers. In all, I worked for four years on this film. That’s also why I didn’t act in too many films in recent years. I usually did three to sometimes four films a year, but because of writing the screenplay and preparing “M,” I had to reschedule my work entirely.

Festival International du Film Francophone de Namur, Namur (Belgium)
October 2, 2017

The theatrical trailer of “M” with Dutch-language subtitles

FILMS

LES FANTÔMES DE LOUBA (2001) DIR Martine Dugowson PROD Georges Benayoun SCR Martine Dugowson (adaptation by Gianguido Spinelli) CAM Dominique Chapuis ED Martine Barraqué MUS Peter Chase CAST Elsa Zylberstein, Camille Japy, Jean-Philippe Écoffy, Eric Defosse, Bertie Cortez, Jean Vergnet, Liliane Rovère, Sara Forestier (Fille 2)

LA GUERRE À PARIS, a.k.a. THE WAR IN PARIS (2002) DIR Yolande Zauberman PROD René Cleitman SCR Yolande Zauberman, Gérard Brach CAM Caroline Champetier ED Juliette Welfling MUS Jocelyn Pook CAST Élodie Bouchez, Jérémie Renier, Grégoire Colin, Julien Le Gallou, Jean-Pierre Léaud, Hélène Lapiower, Szymon Zaleski, Pascal Cervo, Sara Forestier

L’ESQUIVE, a.k.a. GAMES OF LOVE AND CHANCE (2003) DIR Abdellatif Kechiche PROD Jacques Ouaniche SCR Abdellatif Kechiche (adaptation by Abdellatif Kechiche, Ghalia Lacroix) CAM Lubomir Bakchev ED Ghalia Lacroix CAST Osman Elkharrez, Sara Forestier (Lydia), Sabrina Ouazini, Nanou Benhamou, Hafet Ben-Ahmed, Aurélie Ganito, Carole Franck, Hajar Hamlili

LE COURAGE D’AIMER (2005) DIR – SCR Claude Lelouch EXEC PROD Jean-Paul De Vidas CAM Jean-Marie Dreujou ED Stéphane Mazalaigue MUS Francis Lai CAST Mathilde Seigner, Maïwenn, Massimo Ranieri, Michel Leeb, Arielle Dombasle, Line Renaud, Sara Forestier (Salomé), Claude Lelouch

UN FIL À LA PATTE, a.k.a. THE ART OF BREAKING UP (2005) DIR Michel Deville PROD Rosalinde Deville SCR (play by Georges Feydeau; adaptation by Rosalinde Deville) CAM Pierre-William Glenn ED Andrea Sedlácková CAST Emmanuelle Béart, Charles Berling, Dominique Blanc, Jacques Bonnaffé, Mathieu Demy, Julie Depardieu, Sara Forestier (Viviane), Stanislas Merhar

COMBIEN TU M’AIMES?, a.k.a. HOW MUCH DO YOU LOVE ME? (2005) DIR – SCR Bertrand Blier PROD Marc Missonnier, Olivier Delbosc CAM François Catonné ED Marion Monestier CAST Monica Bellucci, Gérard Depardieu, Bernard Campin, Jean-Pierre Darroussin, Farida Rahouadj, Sara Forestier (Muguet), Edouard Baer, Michel Vuillermoz, François Rollin, Bertrand Blier

HELL (2006) DIR Bruno Chiche PROD Yannick Bolloré, Wassim Béji SCR Bruno Chiche, Lolita Pille (novel by Lolita Pille) CAM Marie Spencer ED Isabelle Lorente MUS Cyrille Aufort CAST Sara Forestier (Hell), Nicolas Devauchelle, Didier Sandre, Christiane Millet, Anne-Marie Philipe, Louise Monot, May Alexandrov

ASTÉRIX ET LES VIKINGS, a.k.a. ASTERIX AND THE VIKINGS (animated, 2006) DIR Stefan Fjeldmark, Jesper Møller PROD Thomas Valentin SCR Jean-Luc Goossens (comic strip by René Goscinny, Albert Uderzo) CAM  ED Anders Hoffmann, Martin Wichmann  MUS Alexandre Azaria CAST (voice only) Roger Carel, Lorànt Deutsch, Sara Forestier (Abba), Jacques Frantz, Pierre Palmade, Pierre Tchernia, Bernard Alane

QUELQUES JOURS EN SEPTEMBRE, a.k.a. A FEW DAYS IN SEPTEMBER (2006) DIR – SCR Santiago Amigorena PROD Paolo Branco CAM Christophe Beaucarne ED Sarah Turoche MUS Laurent Martin CAST Juliette Binoche, John Torturro, Sara Forestier (Orlando), Nick Nolte, Tom Riley, Mathieu Demy, Saïd Amadis, Magne-Havard Brekke

PERFUME: THE STORY OF A MURDERER (2006) DIR Tom Tykwer PROD Bernd Eichinger SCR Tom Tykwer, Bernd Eichinger, Andrew Birkin (novel by Patrick Süskind) CAM Frank Griebe ED Alexander Berner MUS Tom Tykwer, Reinhold Heil, Johnny Klimek CAST Ben Whinshaw, Dustin Hoffman, Alan Rickman, Rachel Hurd-Wood, Karoline Herfurth, David Calder, Sara Forestier (Jeanne), John Hurt

JEAN DE LA FONTAINE: LE DÉFI (2007) DIR Daniel Vigne PROD Fabienne Servan-Schreiber SCR Jacques Forgeas CAM Flore Thulliez ED Thierry Simonnet MUS Michel Portal CAST Lorànt Deutsch, Philippe Torreton, Sara Forestier (Perrette), Jean-Claude Dreyfus, Julien Courbey, Élodie Quivrin

CHACUN SON CINÉMA OU CE PETIT COUP AU COEUR QUAND LA LUMIÈRE S’ÉTEINT ET QUE LE FILM COMMENCE, a.k.a. TO EACH HIS OWN CINEMA (2007) DIR Theodoros Angelopoulos, Olivier Assayas, Billie August, Jane Campion, Youssef Chahine, Kaige Chen, Michael Cimino, Ethan Coen, Joel Coen, David Cronenberg, Jean-Pierre Dardenne, Luc Dardenne, Manoel de Oliviera, Raymond Depardon, Atom Egoyan, Amos Gitai, Hsiao-Hsien Hou, Alejandro G. Iñárritu, Aki Kaurismäki, Abbas Kiarostami, Takeshi Kitano, Andrey Konchalovskiy, Claude Lelouch, Ken Loach, David Lynch, Nanni Moretti, Roman Polanski, Raoul Ruiz, Walter Salles, Elia Suleiman, Ming-liang Tsai, Gus Van Sant, Lars von Trier, Wim Wenders, Kar-Wai Wong, Yimou Zhang PROD Denis Carot, Robert Benmussa, Sandrine Brauer, Laura Briand, Rachel Curl, Gilles Ciment, Sergei Davidoff, Gilles Jacob, Aki Kaurismäki, Takeshi Kitano, Serge Lalou, Marie Masmonteil, Masayuki Mori, Rebecca O’Brien, Jacky Yee Wah Pang, Roman Polanski, Katrine Sahlstrøm, Alain Sarde, Vincent Wang, Corinne Golden Weber, Kar-Wai Wong, Takio Yoshida SCR Jean-Pierre Dardenne, Luc Dardenne, Manoel de Oliviera, Atom Egoyan, Olivier Assayas, William Chang, Amos Gitai, Alejandro G. Iñárritu, Aki Kaurismäki, Andrey Konchalovskiy, Nanni Moretti, War-Wai Wong, Yimou Zhang, Jingzhi Zou CAM Marc-André Batigne, Jacques Bouquin, Inti Briones, Dirk Brüel, Nick de Pencier, Eric Alan Edwards, Greig Fraser, Francis Grumman, Pung-Leung Kwan, Steven Lubensky, Emmanuel Lubezki, Alain Marcoen, Ramses Marzouk, Francisco Olivera, Alessandro Pesci, Mauro Pinheiro Jr., Andreas Sinanos, Masha Solovyova, Shinzi Suzuki, Alberto Venzago, Xiaoding Zhao, Xiaoshi Zhao ED Luc Barnier, William Chang, Long Cheng, Alexandre de Franceschi, Marie-Hélène Dozo, Olga Grinshpun, François Gédigier, Takeshi Kitano, Bodil Kjærhauge, Véronique Lange, Giuseppe Leonetti, Valérie Loiseleux, Stephen Mirrione, Gabriel Reed, Susan Shipton, Yannis Tsitopoulos MUS Mark Bradshaw, Howard Shore, Mychael Danna, Eleni Karaindrou CAST Isabelle Adjani, Anouk Aimée, Josh Brolin, David Cronenberg, Émilie Dequenne, Jean-Claude Dreyfus, Sara Forestier (The Usherette [segment “Cinéma érotique”), Michael Lonsdale, Jeanne Moreau, Brooke Smith, Lars von Trier

SANDRINE NELLA PIOGGIA, a.k.a. SANDRINE IN THE RAIN (2008) DIR Tonino Zangardi PROD Pier Luigi Corvi-Mora SCR Tonino Zangardi, Angelo Orlando CAM Giovanni Mommolotti ED Osvaldo Bargero CAST Sara Forestier (Sandrine), Adriano Giannini, Goya Toledo, Luca Lionello, Monica Guerritore, Alessandro Haber

HUMAINS, a.k.a. HUMANS (2009) DIR Jacques-Olivier Molon, Pierre-Olivier Thevenin PROD Vérane Frédiani, Franck Ribière SCR Silvan Boris Schmid, Dominique Néraud, Frédérique Henri (original story by Silvan Boris Schmid, Dominique Néraud) CAM Aleksander Kaufmann ED Manuela De Sousa MUS Gast Waltzing CAST Sara Forestier (Nadia), Lorànt Deutsch, Dominique Pinon, Manon Tournier, Élise Otzenberger, Philippe Nahon, Christian Kmiotek, Marc Olinger

LES HERBES FOLLES, a.k.a. WILD GRASS (2009) DIR Alain Resnais PROD Jean-Louis Livi SCR Alain Resnais, Laurent Herbiet (novel by Christian Gailly) CAM Eric Gautier ED Hervé de Luze MUS Mark Snow CAST Sabine Azema, André Dussollier, Anne Consigny, Emmanuelle Devos, Mathieu Amalric, Michel Vuillermoz, Edouard Baer, Sara Forestier (Elodie), Nicolas Duvauchelle

VICTOR (2009) DIR Thomas Gilou PROD Farid Lahouassa SCR Thomas Gilou, Lisa Azuelos (novel by Michèle Fitoussi) CAM Jean-Marie Dreujou ED Joël Jacovella MUS Christophe Julien CAST Pierre Richard, Lambert Wilson, Clémentine Céralié, Antoine Duléry, Sara Forestier (Alice), Jean-Noël Martin

GAINSBOURG (VIE HÉROIQUE), a.k.a. GAINSBOURG: A HEROIC LIFE (2010) DIR – SCR Joann Sfar PROD Didier Lupfer, Marc Du Pontavice CAM Guillaume Schiffman ED Maryline Monthieux MUS Olivier Daviaud CAST Eric Elmosnino, Lucy Gordon, Laetitia Casta, Doug Jones, Anna Mouglalis, Mylène Jampanoï, Sara Forestier (France Gall), Razvan Vasilescu, Claude Chabrol, Yolande Moreau

LE NOM DES GENS, a.k.a. THE NAMES OF LOVE (2010) DIR Michel Leclerc PROD Fabrice Goldstein, Caroline Adrian, Antoine Rein SCR Michel Leclerc, Baya Kasmi CAM Vincent Mathias ED Nathalie Hubert MUS Jérôme Bensoussan, David Euverte CAST Jacques Gamblin, Sara Forestier (Bahia Benmahmoud), Zinedine Soualem, Carole Franck, Jacques Boudet, Michèle Moretti, Zakariya Gouram

HH, HITLER À HOLLYWOOD, a.k.a. HITLER IN HOLLYWOOD (2010) DIR Frédéric Sojcher PROD Hubert Toint, Jean-Jacques Neira, Mario Mazzarotto, Christophe Mazodier SCR Renaud Andris, Lionel Samain (adaptation by Frédéric Sojcher, Catherine Rihoit) CAM Carlo Varini ED Ewin Ryckaert MUS Vladimir Cosma CAST Maria de Medeiros, Micheline Presle, Wim Willaert, François Morel, Nathalie Baye, Michael Lonsdale, Tonie Marshall, Edouard Baer, Sara Forestier (Herself), Marisa Berenson, Volker Schlöndorff, Wim Wenders, Andrey Konchalovsky, Theodoros Angelopoulos

UNE NUIT (2012) DIR Philippe Lefebvre PROD Manuel Munz SCR Philippe Lefebvre, Philippe Isard (original story by Philippe Isard) CAM Jérôme Alméras ED Pascale Fenouillet MUS Olivier Florio CAST Roschdy Zem, Sara Forestier (Laurence Deray), Samuel Le Bihan, Grégory Fitoussi, Jean-Pierre Martins, Jean-Paul Muel

TÉLÉ GAUCHO, a.k.a. PIRATE TV (2012) DIR Michel Leclerc PROD Agnes Vallée, Emmanuel Barraux SCR Michel Leclerc, Thomas Lilti CAM Guillaume Deffonteines ED Annette Duterte MUS Jérôme Bensoussan CAST Félix Moati, Sara Forestier (Clara), Eric Elmosnino, Maïwenn, Emmanuelle Béart, Yannick, Zinedine Soualem

MES SCÉANCES DE LUTTE, a.k.a. LOVE BATTLES (2013) DIR – SCR Jacques Doillon PROD Jacques Doillon, Daniel Marquant CAM Laurent Chalet, Laurent Fenart ED Marie Da Costa CAST Sara Forestier (Elle [She]), James Thiérée, Louise Szpindel, Mahault Mollaret, Bill Leyshon

SUZANNE (2013) DIR Katell Quillévéré PROD Bruno Levy, Gaëtan David SCR Katell Quillévéré, Mariette Désert CAM Tom Harari ED Thomas Marchand CAST Sara Forestier (Suzanne Merevsky), François Damiens, Adèle Haenel, Paul Hamy, Lola Dueñas, Corrine Masiero, Anne Le Ny, Karim Leklou

L’AMOUR EST UN CRIME PARFAIT, a.k.a. LOVE IS THE PERFECT CRIME (2013) DIR Arnaud Larrieu, Jean-Marie Larrieu PROD Francis Boespflug SCR Arnaud Larrieu, Jean-Marie Larrieu (novel by Philippe Djian) CAM Guillaume Deffontaines ED Annette Duterte MUS Caravaggio CAST Mathieu Amalric, Karin Viard, Maïwenn, Sara Forestier (Annie), Denis Podalydès, Marion Duval

GUS: PETIT OISEAU, GRAND VOYAGE, a.k.a. YELLOWBIRD (animated, 2014) DIR Christian De Vita PROD Caroline Benjo, Carole Scotta SCR Antoine Barraud CAM Laurent Fleutot MUS Christopher Willis, Stephen Warbeck CAST (voice only) Arthur Dupont, Sara Forestier (Delf), Bruno Salomone, Pierre Richard, Isabelle Renauld, Nathalie Boutefeu

LA TÊTE HAUTE, a.k.a. STANDING TALL (2015) DIR Emmanuelle Bercot PROD François Kraus, Denis Pineau-Valencienne SCR Emmanuelle Bercot, Marcia Romano CAM Guillaume Schiffman ED Julien Leloup MUS Éric Neveux CAST Catherine Deneuve, Rod Paradot, Benoît Magimel, Sara Forestier (Séverine Ferrandot), Diane Rouxel, Elisabeth Mazev, Anne Suarez, Christophe Meynet

PRIMAIRE, a.k.a. ELEMENTARY (2016) DIR Hélène Angel PROD Hélène Cases SCR Hélène Angel, Yann Coridian (original idea and adaptation by Hélène Angel) CAM Yves Angelo ED Sylvie Lager, Christophe Pinel MUS Philippe Miller CAST Sara Forestier (Florence Mautret), Vincent Elbaz, Patrick d’Assumçao, Guilaine Londez, Olivia Côte, Lucie Desclozeaux, Denis Sebbah, Albert Cousi, Ghillas Bendjoudi

M (2017) DIR – SCR Sara Forestier PROD Denis Freyd, Vincent Mazel, Hugo Sélignac CAM Guillaume Schiffman CAST Sara Forestier (Lila), Redouanne Harjane, Jean-Pierre Léaud, Sarah Aj, Liv Andren, Kader Bouallaga, Isabelle Caillat

TV MOVIES

QUELQUES JOURS ENTRE NOUS (2003) DIR – SCR Virginie Sauveur PROD David Kodsi CAM Chicca Ungaro [Kika Ungaro] ED Anne Aravecchi MUS Thierry Meyer, Anne-Olga De Pass, Lorraine Garnier CAST Sara Forestier (Alice), Cyrille Thouvenin, Ludovic Bergery, Alessandra Martines, Louise Szpindel, Jackie Berroyer

À CRAN, DEUX ANS APRÈS (2004) DIR Alain Tasma PROD Jérôme Minet SCR Gérard Carré, Marie Montarnal CAM Dominique Bouilleret ED Marie-Sophie Dubus MUS Alain Le Douarin, Bertrand Lajudie CAST Daniel Russo, Sara Forestier (Marion), Jérémie Renier, Jérôme Anger, Julie Bataille, Charley Fouquet, Gérard Rinaldi