In the retro comedy Populaire, a young French secretary becomes the fastest typist in the world motivated by her handsome boss. Belgian star Deborah Francois told RT about the challenges on set once she hears, ‘Lights, Camera, Action!’
“The difficulty was to get into the ambience of the 1950s, the period of time I obviously didn’t know. I had to find the right balance between a performance which would be modern these days and the signature style of the actors of the 1950s. I didn’t want to copy them, because their excessive style is not at all adapted to the style of today,” Deborah said.
In Populaire, Francois’ character, secretary Rose Pamphyle, resembles Grace Kelly.
“I adore the films of the 1950s. My favorite actress is Audrey Hepburn. I’m also a fan of Lauren Bacall. She is extremely classy. In my film character, there was a little of Marilyn Monroe too…the blond element,” she added.
She plays a charming young woman who works at her father’s grocery store but has ‘high expectations’.
She applies for a secretarial position at a neighboring insurance office run by the sexy Louis Echard (played by French star Romain Duris).
Impressed by her typing skills and adorable looks, he offers Rose a job and decides to train her for a big secretarial competition. She moves into his country house, burning the midnight oil getting ready for the event.
The actress says, the film’s shooting was exciting. “The director, although it’s his first film, managed to create a very pleasant atmosphere, cool and laid-back.”
“We got on very well with the director; we became friends. We talked about the film all the time discussing the characters. In the long run, we had a feeling that my character, Rose Pamphile, had become our friend. I think we resemble one another. We are both very awkward, and we often put one's foot in one's mouth. Both of us don’t have a filter when we talk. We say something and later realize, ‘Oops, I made a gaffe.’”
26-year-old Francois has earned a reputation as a dramatic actress after playing in the Brothers’ Dardennes social drama The Child.
“Yes, Populaire could be the most important role I played in the comedy genre. In the past I’ve appeared in very hard-hitting dramas in films about domestic violence and prostitution. It’s important for me to be able to work in different genres,” she says.
“At first I wanted to become a theater actress. Theater has always fascinated me. Its unique kinetic energy has attracted me since I was a little girl. But I’ve always felt at ease with the camera, since my first casting with the Dardennes brothers for the Child drama. The camera doesn’t bother me. What’s hard is to talk to the camera as if it’s a human being. It’s as if you’re talking to somebody who has dead eyes.”
What helps her build up self-confidence?
“I think it’s not about confidence, it’s rather the dare-devilry. You say to yourself, ‘Do it already, girl’, and just stop thinking! Yes, the camera can make you feel scared, as well as the actors with whom you play. When I play next to Vincent Cassel or Sophie Marceau, it’s impressive. When you hear their names, you think, what am I going to do next to them? But once the director says, Action, I try to forget about the person playing with me. I play as if my partner is a character, not this or that great actor. Once they say ‘Action’, I just forget!
This time around, her partner was one of France’s best-known actors, Romain Duris.
He describes shooting Populaire as “very playful and fun.”
“We had money to do the movie. It was like a dream…”
When asked about his character, Duris modestly remarks, “I don’t want to think too much about me, how I am and this or that character is. Actors think a lot about themselves. Sometimes it’s good to think about other stuff.”
Valeria Paikova, RT