March 24, 2011 / 9:28 PM / 8 years ago

Catherine Deneuve; timid wife to tigress in "Potiche"

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Catherine Deneuve may be 67 years-old, which is past retirement age for many people. But the legendary French actress shows no sign of slowing down after making well over 100 films, including “Potiche,” which debuts in major U.S. cities on Friday.

French actress Catherine Deneuve attends the German TV game show "Wetten Dass...?" (Bet it...?) in Augsburg, southern Germany, on March 19, 2011. REUTERS/Christof Stache/Pool

Set in the 1970s in a provincial French town, ‘Potiche’ is a frothy sex comedy that reunites Deneuve with Gerard Depardieu and her “8 Women” director Francois Ozon (“Swimming Pool”).

Deneuve plays Suzanne Pujol, the submissive, timid wife of a wealthy and tyrannical businessman who finds her inner tigress when her husband’s workers go on strike at his umbrella factory and take him hostage. Here, Deneuve talks about the true meaning of ‘Potiche,’ marriage and lesbian love scenes.

Q: ‘Potiche’ refers to your character, and it’s being translated as ‘trophy wife.’ But she’s not exactly a trophy.

A: “No, ‘Potiche’ actually translates more like a ‘useless decorative object,’ while a trophy wife is more like this very young woman, with a much older man, who’s very showy. The difference is, everyone can be a potiche once in a while.”

Q: I’m sure you’ve never been one.

A: “Yes, of course I’ve been one! For example, you go to an event and you’re bored and nothing happens and you’re there with someone — so you’re a potiche for a few hours. Even men can be a potiche! It’s a good word, no?”

Q: How much of you is there in your character, Suzanne?

A: “There’s always a little of you in every character. Maybe the fact that she tries to smooth out all the drama and make everything okay for everyone — that’s how I am. I don’t like drama. There’s enough in life already.”

Q: She starts off as this little mouse...

A: “Yes, and by the end she’s this big rat! It’s a bit like ‘Rocky,’ a success story against odds. I loved playing her.”

Q: This is your seventh film with Gerard Depardieu, who plays the communist mayor and your ex-lover. It must be like working with an old friend?

A: “Yes, it makes it all much easier, and he’s very warm and he loves actresses!”

Q: Does he ever surprise you after all this time?

A: “Always! He doesn’t like to rehearse much, he likes to do things fast. He’s very alive and witty, so it’s wonderful as he never does the same thing twice.”

Q: There’s a lot of comedy in the way that your character is always exercising and jogging, while he doesn’t seem to care about his weight at all.

A: “Yes, visually it’s very funny, but in real life (Gerard) is at a point where it’s a big problem for him now. It’s very tiring for him to just climb stairs, but he has a very complicated life, and his way of dealing with it is to have more projects, more restaurants, more everything! I think it’s too much. Happy is not a word I’d use for him, but that’s the way he’s managed to survive. I think it was very difficult to survive the loss of his son. Some people when they’re not too well get very skinny, but others become very big.”

Q: Compared with American films, European films are also obsessed with class.

A: “Yes, I agree. ‘Potiche’ is about class, all the small but important differences. It’s the same with a lot of British films, and Italian — and Indian and Chinese. But Americans are bigger-than-life! Everything is bigger, wider, taller, more over-the-top! Of course, there are some subtle directors, but it’s a totally different culture.”

Q: You were in ‘Nip/Tuck’ (TV show about plastic surgeons). Why do you think Americans are obsessed with plastic surgery?

A: “I think it’s more about youth. All the Hollywood actresses want to look young, because of the pressure on your physical appearance. It’s a trap you fall into.”

Q: Speaking of, is it true you called marriage a trap?

A: “No, I never said that! It’s not a trap. I was married to David Bailey, but I find it very difficult for a marriage to last. And I don’t think it’s a necessity to get married. And when I could have, the man I had my daughter with — Marcello Mastroianni — was already married, so it was very difficult and complicated. He never got divorced, but it was all right with me, as long as he could give his name to his daughter.”

Q: There’s been a lot of talk about “Black Swan’s” lesbian scene, but you did that in “The Hunger” with Susan Sarandon back in 1983. You were way ahead of the curve.

A: (Laughs) “Yes, it’s not so new! Everything’s been done before. It’s just the way you film it. And I think they were quite influenced by ‘Repulsion’ which I did with Polanski. But I enjoyed ‘Black Swan.’ It was fun.”

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