Earlier this summer, Horrible Bosses showed what happened when three guys got sick of their abusive bosses and decided to do something about it. Now from France comes this far less comedic take on the same theme as the late Alain Corneau (Fear and Trembling) tackles a workplace thriller with Love Crime, a movie that pairs two generations of actress. Ludivine Sagnier has been acting since she was a teenager but she made a name for herself in 2000 when she teamed with François Ozon for some of his biggest movies; acclaimed British actress Kristin Scott Thomas has appeared in nearly as many French films as English ones over the course of her career.
In Love Crime, Sagnier plays Isabelle, an ambitious young woman trying to make her way through the ranks at an enormous corporation. Her boss Christine (Scott Thomas) sees a lot of potential in Isabelle, so she exploits her eagerness to please every chance she can, but one day, Christine goes to far, Isabelle cracks and things just go downhill from there. It’s a great look at how women interact in the workplace, and the premise is handled strong enough that no less than Brian De Palma has bought the rights to remake the movie into English.
ComingSoon.net spoke to Ms. Sagnier back in March when she was in New York for Lincoln Center’s annual “Rendezvous with French Cinema” where Love Crime had its New York debut.
ComingSoon.net: This is a pretty amazing role for you, because it allows you to do a lot of different things, so how did Alain contact you about doing it?
Ludivine Sagnier: Well, he just called me and said, “I have something for you” and I remember at that time I was a jury in an Asian film festival. We talked about Asian films for an hour before he could even think about pitching me the story. ‘Cause we really got along well and when I read the script, it was like reading a crime fiction novel, when you’re like on the beach in the summer and you’re just enjoying every page. It was really a page-turner to me this script, and I really got hooked on the story and I was really surprised by the twists at the end. I thought I wanted to be a part of it. I knew that Kristin Scott Thomas was attached to the project, so it was another argument that made me say “Yes.”
CS: If the script’s anything like the movie, I have to imagine as you read it, you were going, “Oh my God, what’s going on now?”
Sagnier: Yeah, yeah, yeah. It’s the kind of thing where you don’t know why, but human beings are attracted to that kind of fiction, maybe it’s about getting away with releasing tension and stress and all that, and maybe that’s a reason why people love crime-fiction and thrillers and stuff like that so much. I didn’t do it for moral reasons, I really did it because I wanted to be a part of this mechanism, because I thought it was so well linked and fluid, and well-written that I wanted to be one of its toes.
CS: How do you prepare for a role like this because she does have to go through so much? I imagine you never worked in an office so you never had to deal with office politics.
Sagnier: No, it was really exotic to me actually. Well, the thing is that my brother-in-law works in one of those towers in France, so I did some inquiries here and there. I snuck in and tried to see how the environment was and if the story was credible or not, because I wasn’t sure. So I did my own little process with my technical advisor, who was working in this tower, and so I did it. The other thing is that to me, the character of Isabelle is so far away from what I am. She’s so introverted and so not capable of expressing herself nor having normal human relationships. She doesn’t have friends, she’s completely obsessed with her work. She has no social life. She’s completely secluded in her own world of excellence and marketing strategy and all that, but she’s completely isolated from the reality. One of the things that I relied on throughout the shooting was actually the music, because Alain Corneau knew that he was going to use this tune from Pharoah Sander, who is a saxophone player. The tune is called “Kazuko” and it’s like free jazz improvisation and it’s very contemplative. I had it in my iPod all the way through, and when you listen to it, it puts you in a very cloudy atmosphere just like if you were under anti-depression medicines, so it was a bit floating with this music, but it really helped me to find the solitude of the character.
CS: It’s very different music from what you’d expect from a movie like this, because normally, a thriller would have strings and be more like Hitchcock, Bernard Hermann, etc.
Sagnier: Yeah, but I remember when he made me listen to this music for the first time, I thought, “Okay, now I see what you mean” and it was totally explicit to me, rather than words. Sometimes music is better than words.
CS: Did you see any parallels between the relationship Isabella has with Christine and being in the movie business? I’m not sure how it is in France, but I assume it’s as competitive as it is here?
Sagnier: Well, no, especially in France, but one of the references Alan Corneau made as a movie was “All About Eve,” because it was dealing with two women, one is admiring the other one, the other one is very successful and suddenly, the relationship reverses, and suddenly one is getting stronger than the other one. That was one of our main references and it was about show business, about cinema.
CS: One of the things about this role is that at least at the beginning, it’s not as glamorous as many of the roles you’ve done. The line where Kristen tells you to put down your hair and put it up again is very funny…
Sagnier: Yeah, because suddenly she’s like (makes a sound effect noise like a bomb dropping) and yes, it’s true. I wasn’t really okay for that, but I was convinced by the director that it was important that Isabelle hadn’t blossomed and she wasn’t confident at all with what she looked like and what she thinks she was. It was important to dim her sex appeal a little.
CS: Is that fun to do when you don’t have to get all done up and can just have your hair simply tied up?
Sagnier: Yeah, and especially because I had just done a movie with Diane Kruger where we play two sisters in the countryside. I had just finished this and I was walking all the way barefoot in the country with my wild hair, and it was such a contrast doing this. You know, it’s like getting dressed up. I have no frustration not being glamorous, because it’s my job to be it.
CS: What about Kristen? Did you get to spend a lot of time before you started shooting?
Sagnier: She’s amazing, but no not really. We had two or three lunches but didn’t really rehearse. It just happened this way, but we knew each other for long and we wanted to work together for a while, so it really went naturally. We actually had a lot of fun, because she was pretending she was the Wicked Queen in “Snow White” and she was selling me the poisoned apple.
CS: She’s worked in France quite a bit in the last few years but does she have a very different discipline from other French actresses you’ve worked with like Catherine Deneuve?
Sagnier: She might have a British way of playing, because I worked with another British actress, Charlotte Rampling, in “Swimming Pool,” and I say that they have something in common, because it’s always very subtle and at the same time, very explicit. In some sense, it’s just about the movement of an eyelid or lashes, it’s always ever so subtle, but still, it says a lot, and I really like this subtlety. I also think that Kristen Scott Thomas, she’s like an animal. She has this physicality that is really impressive and she knows herself very well, and I think that’s one of the privileges of aging, because you know yourself better and better. She’s absolutely in control and I really like it.
CS: You’ve had a lot of good luck with thrillers. You mentioned “Swimming Pool” and also the Chabrol film. Is that a genre you tend to like yourself? If you were going to the movies, would that be the type of movie you might go see?
Sagnier: Yeah, well I like all types of genre actually, but usually, thrillers allow you to sync with an environment that you’re not particularly familiar with, so it’s usually a good promise to escape oneself from reality, so that’s why I do them.
CS: Was Alain able to shoot this in any kind of order? You must have known what was going to happen because you read the entire script, but it seems there’s so much going on that you’d have to shoot in a way that it makes sense.
Sagnier: But I’ve never been so close to the continuity girl on a shoot than this one, because it was very difficult to put the pieces back together, because the whole movie was shot in a very un-chronological way, and it was really terrible for me. For example, the scene where she completely bursts into tears in the elevator and in the parking lot, it maybe took us seven days to do it, one day here, one day there. “Next week, we’re going to shoot the next shot.” It was really difficult to stay focused and keep the pieces of the puzzle together.
CS: That’s amazing because as I watched this, it really seems like every scene you have a different demeanor…
Sagnier: Yes, because she’s always pretending something, so the game is very precise and I really had to focus on the continuity in order to make everything credible.
CS: That’s what’s amazing about this role is that it’s not just you playing a character, but it’s you playing a character who is also an actress in your own sense and trying to keep track of all that.
Sagnier: Yeah, definitely, and actually, we don’t really see the real Isabelle that much. Maybe once in jail when she’s completely cracking up, because she thinks she cannot cope with this terrible secret, and she’s not be able to hold it through the end, but otherwise, we never really see what she is for real.
CS: I don’t want to spoil the movie, but Christine is pretty vicious to Isabelle but do you think her reaction is too extreme or was it warranted? If it was you, do you think you’d ever react to that extreme?
Sagnier: No, because me, I’m much more mature than she is. To me, Isabelle is the kind of woman who has been studying all the time, and it seems like she hasn’t had time to enjoy life, and she doesn’t know much about life, so she gets propelled to a very high responsibility job and all she knows is how to set up strategies, how to be efficient, how to make money, and otherwise, she’s completely immature with human relationships. That’s why she falls in the trap of Christine, because she has no weapons, she has no experience of life and that is why when she gets this trauma, which is humiliation, she can’t stand up and fight because she doesn’t know anything, and the only thing she can do is what she’s able to do, which is set up a strategy.
CS: How about Kristin’s character Christine? Do you think she’s somewhat psychotic or is that just part of being in the business world where you have to act that way?
Sagnier: She seems normal to me. Multinational corporations have been pushing the individual so much to efficiency and to competition that you have no choice. Either you fight or you die, so Christine is one of those robots who knows that killing everyone around her is the only way to take yourself up to the top.
CS: I guess so. I imagine some bosses are able to succeed while being nice to people.
Sagnier: I’m sure they can. (Laughs) But I’d say she’s a b*tch.
CS: I guess it would be a very different movie if she was nice to Isabelle.
Sagnier: Yeah, definitely.
CS: By the way, is it true that this movie is already being remade into English?
Sagnier: Yes, it’s going to be remade by Brian De Palma. He bought the rights a month ago.
CS: Do you think you’d be in that version?
Sagnier: I’d love to work with Brian De Palma, but maybe redo this one, I’m not sure.
CS: The big tragedy is that Alain passed away shortly after the movie came out in France. Were you able to spend some time with him and was he able to go out and so some promotion for it or was he already too sick?
Sagnier: No, because he found out he was sick while editing the movie, and he got Chemo, and he couldn’t do anything. He passed away on the week we released the movie.
CS: Oh, it was that soon afterwards?
Sagnier: Yes, he had the box office numbers for the first week and he was very happy, and then…
CS: That’s so sad. You’ve been taking time off to have another baby, but I know you have “Devil’s Double,” which I missed at Sundance. Not sure if you went…
Sagnier: Yes, I did.
CS: And you’re working with Catherine Deneuve again?
Sagnier: Yeah, we did a musical?
CS: Another musical?
Sagnier: With Christophe Honoré, who I had done “Love Songs” with, which was a musical that went to Cannes in 2007, so it’s approximately the same crew, like Chiara Mastroianni, who is Catherine Deneuve’s daughter and Louis Garrel, and we sing and dance, and it’s going to be quite delightful.
CS: Were you originally going to play Catherine’s daughter in “Potiche”?
Sagnier: No, there was a rumor on the internet, but me and Francois (Ozon), we didn’t really respond to the rumors, so you know how those get spread. No, I was actually shooting “Love Crime” while he was shooting “Potiche.”
CS: I met him for the first time earlier this week and last time I spoke to you, I asked about the two of you working together. Are you still in touch with each other about doing something in the future?
Sagnier: Mmm… I don’t know. We’ve done three movies together that are already good.
CS: Sure, but you’ve now matured and you might be interested in doing something now that you’re older.
Sagnier: Yeah, but I don’t know. We try but we argue a lot. We’re like cats and dogs.
CS: You’ve known each other for so long.
Sagnier: Yeah, and we’re always arguing for some reason, and we never agree. Sometimes, I want to do the film, he doesn’t want to do it; sometimes he wants me to do it, but I don’t, so we always have reason to argue so I’m thinking maybe it won’t happen again.
CS: Or maybe you can keep us suspense for a few more years.
Sagnier: Yeah, yeah… I’m not in a hurry.
CS: What else are you doing? Do you have anything else lined up? “Devil’s Double” is an American movie.
Sagnier: Yeah, European production. There might be some American money but it’s mostly a Belgian production actually. I can’t tell too much more at the moment about what’s following.
CS: Since the last time we spoke, I’ve seen “Mesrine” and the publicist can attest that I’ve seen it three times.
Sagnier: Oh, yeah? Both episodes? Three times? Wow!
CS: It was crazy because I saw it at Toronto and then it was at “Rendezvous” and then it finally came out. That’s a really cool movie.
Sagnier: Yeah, it’s great.
CS: It looks like it was a lot of fun to make, too.
Sagnier: Oh, yeah. I enjoyed working with Vincent Cassel too much. I love this guy. He’s a very good friend of mine.
CS: Do you think you might do something else in the future?
Sagnier: Well, he’s actually producing my husband’s next movie. I’m not going to be in it, but we have some plans with Jean-François Richet, he’s writing a very huge project so it’s not going to be finished until next year or in two years.
CS: Bigger than “Mesrine”?
Sagnier: It might be another two-part movie with Vincent also.
CS: Vincent was also in your husband’s other movie “Sheitan” so do you think you’ll do a movie with him?
Sagnier: I don’t know, but Vincent introduced me to my husband so I owe him that for life.
Love Crime opens in New York and Los Angeles on Friday.