Heartbreaker, Pascal Chaumeil’s new action-packed romantic comedy with a French twist, pairs two of France’s biggest stars: Romain Duris, who played the charismatic concert pianist in The Beat that My Heart Skipped and Vanessa Paradis, the well-known singer, model, actress and long time leading lady of American actor Johnny Depp. A smash hit in France, Heartbreaker was also featured at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival.
We sat down with Romain Duris, Vanessa Paradis and director Pascal Chaumeil at a roundtable interview for their new film. Pascal talked to us about the American influences that inspired his feature directorial debut and why he feels love and laughter are universal languages. Romain discussed what it was like making the transition from darker roles as a French bad boy to playing a suave, roguish leading man in a romantic comedy. Vanessa described the fun they had working together on their Dirty Dancing routine and how she balances her multi-faceted career. Hit the jump to read what they had to say:
Here’s the synopsis:
Charming, funny and irresistibly cool, Alex (Duris) is a self-proclaimed expert in seduction who for a fee can make any woman fall under his spell and turn any husband, fiance or boyfriend into an ex. His objective? To make women in unfulfilling relationships release their true potential. But Alex has one ironclad rule which his latest job will put to the test. The target is Juliette (Paradis), a beautiful heiress who is set to marry the man of her dreams. Her father, however, thinks otherwise and retains Alex’s services. The professional heartbreaker soon discovers that when it comes to love, there is no such thing as a perfect plan.
Q: Heartbreaker has already opened in Europe and elsewhere with success. Do you feel confident that Americans will also enjoy it?
Pascal: Of course, but you are never completely confident. Any screening I’ve seen of this film, I’m always worried that the audience will not like it. I saw some screenings here and a few at the Tribeca Film Festival and we had a really good reaction, so we hope if we can find a way to let people here know about this film, it might work here.
Q: Have you noticed a difference between how French and American audiences react?
Pascal: Not too much. There may be one special moment, that Dirty Dancing moment with the two of them. Usually in France, people laugh quite loud when they see Romain start his solo dance in front of Juliette. They get caught up in something glamorous and emotional. When I saw it at Tribeca, people laughed during the love scenes because Dirty Dancing is probably bigger here than it is in France. But basically, it’s the same reaction. It looks like there’s something universal that everyone can understand in this movie.
Q: Vanessa, how was it rehearsing the Dirty Dancing routine? During the Dirty Dancing era, most girls in the world wanted their Johnny Castle moment, although you’ve got a better Johnny at home. Was it a fantasy of yours at some point over the years?
Vanessa: To do this particular routine? It was not, but reading the script for the first time and knowing that this would be in it without knowing how it would be, I knew we would have fun. It had to be fun because it really is not a type of dance that I know how to do. There would be rehearsing involved. I knew we would have fun and we did. It was great.
Q: How hard was it for the two of you to learn the routine and how many times did you fall?
Vanessa: (Laughs) There was a lot of foot stomping and crushing.
Romain: (to Vanessa) It was a way to meet you.
Vanessa: Exactly. It was nice. It was the best way to get to know each other. It was like “Hi, my name is Vanessa. My name is Romain. Okay, let’s go!” We started to dance so it was quite fun. But we did fall and we did laugh and we worked hard.
Q: How many takes was that particular scene, Pascal?
Pascal: Not that many. They were really working hard. I was not that involved in the rehearsal process. I selected my favorite moments in the Dirty Dancing scene, which is much longer in the movie, and I changed the order. I picked some moments and we worked with our choreographer and we tried to see how with all these different moments we could make something that would have logic. We really accomplished a lot. I didn’t see much of the rehearsal, but when they were on set, it worked very well. We didn’t do that much. Maybe they asked me for a few more takes because they just wanted to have a bit more fun. The challenge was to find a way for the characters to achieve a good balance in terms of how they should react to each other because they are not professional dancers and we did not want to make fun of it. We just wanted to find the right tone for the scene because the dance was perfect. It was more the mood of the characters in this particular scene that we worked on.
Q: You have so many American influences in this movie, Dirty Dancing being just one of them. Can you tell us a little bit about those influences in your work?
Pascal: It’s really the influence of a spectator. I like to watch American movies. I’m French but I prefer English or American rock music and I usually prefer American films, so it’s the kind of film that I like to watch. I was not saying “I’ll do like the Americans do,” but it’s just my background. We had a lot of different influences in terms of the way the movie was shot and the way we told the story. If you want to know who the major influences were, they would be classic American directors like Billy Wilder, Ernst Lubitsch or George Cukor. These directors were so great in their time. You have to make it modern now in the film but all the basics are inspired by these old movies.
Q: Could you also talk about the music that you brought into the film? I was tapping my toes the whole time and I love the fantastic closing song that you chose.
Pascal: I like the idea of having a film that is choreographic in all its aspects, not only in the dancing scenes, but also in the way the camera and the characters move in order to have that feeling that it’s always musical and it’s all new.
Q: Romain, this is the first time that you’ve done a romantic comedy and it’s a whole new kind of persona for you too. We’re used to seeing you in darker roles but in this you’re playing the suave leading man.
Romain: (Laughs) Like in my life.
Q: What attracted you to this particular role and how did you develop the character of Alex?
Romain: I liked the whole process. I read the script. I was afraid of some parts so I had to speak to Pascal to understand what kind of movie he wanted to make. And especially, for my character, I was afraid to do someone too cold and too confident who can pretend to seduce anyone, kind of like a James Bond of seduction. I was afraid of that. I liked the way we collaborated and I liked how Pascal listened to us, not just me. I liked the fact that the script was not closed and we could add some fragility and humanity for this character to make him more human and moving in that way. When you read a script like this, it can become something very rigid and formatted and that’s it — the script is like that and the film is going to be like this. However, Pascal is a very clever director and I felt free.
Pascal: Both Romain and Vanessa and also Julie Ferrier and Francois Damiens brought a lot of humanity to their characters. The Juliette character, for example, could have been a bit boring, but Vanessa, without changing anything in the script, brought something more tender and sweet and mysterious with a bit of sadness to her character that was a good balance because she is also tough. It’s good to have a script that’s really well written and to start with something that already has a strong structure. Then, you can think about how you’re going to create the funny bits and the whole thing. But then, when you are filming, you have to let the thing really open so you can bring more life and details into it and even look for some kind of imperfection. It’s good to have a good script but then you must make a mess out of it, I think.
Q: Is this based on some personal experience in terms of wanting to break up a particular couple? Are there people that you’ve known that you didn’t think belonged together?
Pascal: Yes, I think you see a lot of these. In my close family, I have someone. His wife just left him and we all knew this would happen. It’s always difficult to tell someone when they’re still in love with someone that I think they’re going in the wrong way. I think all of us have seen that so that’s probably what also makes the movie fun. Even if it’s a fantasy, we can all relate to it.
Q: What made you decide on Monaco as a location for this film?
Pascal: Well I can’t take credit for Monaco. That was in the original script when I read it. For a French audience, it means romance. It’s just like the Riviera. It’s a fairytale place. Monaco is like that. It’s not a real place. It’s an unusual place. It provides a very good background for this kind of story.
Romain: Good light.
Pascal: Yes, the light is beautiful and then you have Thierry Arbogast (the film’s cinematographer). I wanted the film to be quite elegant and to have something bright and sparkling about it. Somebody said this movie is like a glass of champagne.
Q: Vanessa, can you tell us a little bit about your character, Juliette? When we first see her on screen, she seems rather cold but then she warms up. What was it like playing her?
Vanessa: That was my fear for the movie because I was acting in front of three crazy, very fantastic characters between Romain, Julie and Francois. I thought “Oh, okay, they need a boring one so that’s me.” It fell on me. She’s not boring but she’s so uptight and so rigid. But, I know the end of the movie and I know she’s going to turn around. I know her wild side, and her soft side is going to come out, so you keep acting like the uptight one knowing that you’re going to win the sympathy of the audience at one point and it’s okay. It was always tough, especially in a comedy where less is better when you act. Trying to do the less for the better in a character like Juliette who is very much like this, I thought “Oh my God, am I doing enough and what am I doing and am I doing any good to the character?” So it was all about trust, you know, the vision of Pascal, and doing a minimum of face slapping.
Q: What about when she finally breaks free, lets down her hair, jumps into that car, and takes off with Alex?
Vanessa: Yes. That was my goal. That’s what I was looking at.
Pascal: In the script, the Juliette character left the wedding scene more like “Okay, I don’t want this life.” I think Vanessa really wanted something more and she was right. “It’s not that I don’t want this life; it’s that I want the other life. I’m going toward something which I really love.” I think she brought something very deep and nice to her character. When she runs to him, she’s running barefoot under the sun for 20 kilometers and she’s still smiling. (Laughs)
Q: That’s because she’s running downhill.
Pascal: Yes, she’s running downhill. She did the most difficult part, yes. With these actors, both of them, I could give you many examples. They all bring something additional in terms of the way they feel about the part. That’s what makes the part interesting – all the change we did during the filming to make the character more real and more likeable.
Vanessa: That’s the most difficult thing because at first we all liked mostly the whole script even though there were parts that were scaring Romain and parts that were scaring me too. But what we all agreed on is that this is a comedy and it’s going to be a romantic comedy. We know the end. We know how it works and we know all the gags and the funny parts and everything. How do we bring real romance and real humanity to this? And so, with everything that was pretty much written, everything that was set up, we always, all of us, acted with a view towards what is it that’s going to give us goose bumps rather than just a laugh. We knew there was going to be laughter because that’s how it was written, but the difficult part was to make people [enjoy the process]. Even though you sit in the seat and you know what’s going to happen in the end, it doesn’t matter where you go, it’s how you get there. So, that was the tricky part. But we all worked in the same direction. That’s why I think it works.
Q: Vanessa, you’ve done voice for an animated film, A Monster in Paris, you’ve got a singing career, you model and you act. How do you approach the work disciplines for each one of those and how do you balance it all?
Vanessa: As long as you’re fully present in what you’re doing at the moment, you’re doing it. It’s true, it would be really difficult to try on the same day to do this and this and this, which happens sometimes unfortunately because this is the way life works. But just be 100% there when you do what you do. We’re so lucky to do jobs that fulfill us and make us happy. We don’t go to work thinking okay, we’re working to put food in the fridge. We are doing that too, but we’re working because we love what we do in all those disciplines. So, it’s not a burden to go to work whether it’s hard work, whether it’s super early work, whatever. We’re so lucky to get to do this job and all those different aspects of it. So, I go there because I want to be there. I want to do this. That helps a lot.
Q: What would be the downside of doing that, especially when sometimes everything come together at the same time?
Vanessa: The downside? You lose your mind, you lose hair and you just go crazy. But you look at the mountain and go “I’m going to do it!” and at the end of the day, you do it. Women are the real superheroes because they’re not just working. They have a life and everything. I’m super lucky because I come home and I don’t have to run errands and clean the house and do all that. Some women have all of this to do, too. And they manage and they live longer. How we do that, I don’t know.
Q: Were there any behind the scenes moments during the filming of the movie that you care to talk about that were particularly funny?
Pascal: They had a lot of fun. It was like having a bunch of kids on the set. Some scenes were pretty hard to achieve because they were laughing too much – like this scene when Juliette’s friend, Sophie (Helena Noguerra), puts a fork in Romain’s leg. Vanessa couldn’t stop laughing, which didn’t work in that scene so we had to do it several times. I think Romain took that fork a lot of times. So, they had a lot of fun. There’s not one particular moment. It’s just that we were working very fast but in a very good mood. Romain had this dancing scene with Francois Damiens, who plays Marc, Alex’s brother-in-law, and when he practiced the Dirty Dancing routine, that was hard to do. If you look carefully, you can see that he doesn’t really look him in the eyes because he can’t stand it. Francois is so funny. The other thing we can talk about Francois a bit is I’m not sure if he read the script. I think he did the film because he liked us, he liked me, and he liked to work with Romain and Vanessa. He read it but I don’t know if he learned his lines. Most of the time, on the first take, he forgot his lines completely. But he’s so good with improvisation that he brings new lines that are so much better than what you have written. It was incredible. Most of his lines were not in the script. They were invented by him on the set. I think it just came to him like that.
Romain: It’s great to play with someone like that because he’s always different.
Pascal: Francois keeps the other actors awake because you have to be ready to react to anything he does.
Q: Pascal, can you expand upon the rest of the supporting cast?
Pascal: When you read the script, you could see that the really comic moments were based more on the character played by Marc. So, when you look for the actor to play that, I think it’s good to have someone with a very strong personality that is not just bringing the funny bits to the film. You look for someone who will bring something more personal to the way they play the part and so Francois and Julie and Helena were absolutely perfect. They are actors but they also have very strong personalities. In their lives, they do acting but they also do other things and they have a lot of talent.
Q: Romain, how was it to create all these different characters in one film with all these different women and how much is Alex like you?
Romain: It was great because actors love that. What was fun for us was we could do a lot with the costumes and playing with different accents, and each time [I created a different character], I missed the guy [after he was gone] because it was very quick. We did these scenes at the end of the shoot with a small unit and I had to kiss at least three girls a day. Again, we did it very fast.
Q: Did they give you extra pay for that very dangerous job of kissing all these women?
Romain: They should have.
Pascal: What was funny about it was we did not really discuss how Romain would play these different characters. He found it on the set. He had the costumes and then there was the guy with the very strange accent. I don’t know exactly what accent that was. (Laughs) It was funny because I saw him inventing his character like with the gospel singer. He acted like he had just seen God. “It’s a ghost!”
Romain: Yes. It was really great to play that. It’s dangerous. You can’t stay at this level. You have to come down.
Q: Did you have a favorite character among all those characters?
Romain: The guy who works in the Japanese restaurant. I thought he was quite funny. The gospel character was great too because of the music. The singers were amazing.
Romain: Yes, but it was not professional.
Q: I understand you were studying art at one point and learning to paint, how did you get into acting?
Romain: Yes, one day I met a casting director in the streets who was looking at faces. Strange faces, maybe? So, I was afraid once again but I think I got lucky. This person was casting for someone very interesting, Cedric Klapisch, a famous French director, with whom I’ve now done six movies. It was my good fortune to be at that spot at that moment and for this director, and not just for doing a movie but because he was a real person who inspired me and gave me the ambition to continue. On the first occasion, I fell into a good situation. I encountered the right person and it was the right connection.
Q; Did you have an instant love for acting since it wasn’t something you did by choice?
Romain: Yes, I used to love cinema and to watch the actors. But I didn’t tell myself I’m going to do that later. I was just a spectator. But, of course, I think I was sensitive to actors. I think, to be honest, I was an actor already when I was a kid in school. Now I can tell you. I was crazy
Q: You had two dance partners in Heartbreaker. Who was the better dancer?
Romain: (Laughs) They were both very different, so…
Q: You are being very diplomatic.
Q: Is this exactly the same cut of the film that was seen in Europe or was there anything that was added or deleted?
Pascal: No, it’s exactly the same cut.
Q: Do you have deleted scenes or any extras for the DVD?
Pascal: We have a few deleted scenes. We have extra scenes on the DVD such as at the beginning of the film when you see Alex’s routine of seducing all the different girls. We shot the entire scene with every girl. We shot the whole process and then in the editing we mixed it up. That’s all. But the DVD will have all of the scenes.
Q: Can all of you talk about what you have coming up next?
Pascal: Nothing is really certain but I’ve been writing with Laurent Zeitoun, one of the writers for Heartbreaker. We are writing a new comedy. It’s different, not a romantic comedy. We try to go further away in the funny thing now. I don’t know exactly when we’re going to shoot it – so far nothing is absolutely sure now.
Vanessa: I’m going to be part of the next Jean-Marc Vallee movie. It’s called Café de Flore and it shoots partly in Paris.
Romain: I’m doing some theater with Patrice Chereau who is a famous director in France.
Heartbreaker opens in theaters on September 10th.