CS Interview: Jean Reno on harrowing WWII drama Waiting for Anya
ComingSoon.net got the opportunity to chat with Jean Reno (The Da Vinci Code) on his role in the World War II-drama Waiting For Anya, based on the novel of the same name, and bringing the harrowing story to life and the timeliness of its themes.
Adapted from the novel by the author of War Horse, Waiting for Anya follows Jo Lalande (Noah Schnapp), a thirteen-year-old shepherd boy, and reclusive widow Horcada (Anjelica Huston), who come together with their village to help smuggle Jewish children into Spain during the harrows of WWII.
The film, written and directed by Ben Cookson (Almost Married), features an ensemble cast led by Schnapp (Stranger Things) that also includes Reno, Anjelica Huston (John Wick: Chapter 3 — Parabellum), Thomas Kretschman (Avengers: Age of Ultron), Frederick Schmidt (Mission: Impossible — Fallout) and Tómas Lemarquis (Blade Runner 2049).
Waiting for Anya is currently in select theaters and on VOD and Digital HD!
Prior to signing on for the film, Reno had not read the novel “having discovered the story through the script” but noting that he was “very happy” to learn about the history behind the project and that the story is what drew him to join the project.
“I know that a lot of people were crossing the border between France and Spain, I also know that a lot of people in France have been hiding Jewish kids in France and little towns, but I didn’t know that a lot of French people had been helping kids to cross the border,” Reno said. “I thought it was interesting to do a movie about that and not to forget that people have been helping people for a long time.”
One of Reno’s favorite elements of the film came in the form of the character development, in which audiences watch as “they don’t speak about themselves, they do things,” choosing to let the story play out with little narration and a better sense of character agency. The 71-year-old star also enjoyed returning to the mountainous areas between France and Spain and learning of the local cultures.
“If you discover that you’re doing something good, that’s okay, if you do not discover they’re doing something good for them, it is their life and they will continue,” Reno described. “They’re not making noise about their own life and I like that, because today you can see people do very few things and put what they’ve done all over their life. When you look at it, it is really small, what they’re doing, and it’s the opposite of those kind of people, living in the country and just watching the crowds following the seasons. I didn’t know those places and it is unbelievable because it is completely authentic.”
This authenticity helped Reno feel closer to the material whenever he would head onto set, with the more he would travel from the hotel into the countryside, the more he would “forget” the outside world and connect to his character, which he relates to family members such as grandparents and even his own father.
“I remember my father, he came from the south of Spain, my mother too, so in getting into my character, I thought don’t talk,” Reno said. “Just let the life come and follow your life, you live there and you follow the seasons. Tomorrow, it will rain and the day after, you will have the sun and that’s it. It’s going to be very simple, what you do, it’s not exceptional for them, they live, they do what they think and it is simple.”
With a big cast that includes Schnapp, Huston and Krestchmann, Reno found himself to be amongst good company while performing each scene, finding the 15-year-old breakout from the Netflix hit to be his favorite to work with on the film.
“Schnapp is nice, I liked the boy,” Reno recalled. “I liked Anjelica because for me, she’s kind of a legend. But I like Noah because he was listening to everybody and was patient and I liked that. I hope he will take and keep this for a long time, just to watch and to follow orders, because he was good at that and I believe in what he was doing, I believe in him.”
Reno will continue with the American film world as his next project is the Spike Lee Netflix war drama Da 5 Bloods, in which he will star alongside Chadwick Boseman (Black Panther), Paul Walter Hauser (Richard Jewell), Norm Lewis (Winter’s Tale), Delroy Lindo (The Good Fight) and Giancarlo Esposito (Dear White People), amongst others. The French star actually found himself “surprised” when Lee reached out to offer him a role in the film.
“When he called me, I was very happy to meet him, he has a class not far from my apartment at NYU,” Reno said. “He’s teaching cinema here, so I met him in NYU in his office and we discussed the character and about the place over there. I had a very good time with him because he knows exactly what he wants and he was very, very nice with me and I was very proud to be with him. I like him very much, I like his movies, his work and I like the guy, too.”