Cannes: Actors To Watch

This is the first in my annual Cannes ‘To Watch’ series of profiles which highlight talent, executives and companies who have skin in the game, and are expected to do interesting work on the Croisette, over the next 10 days. First up are Actors from around the world and across the various sections:

Denmark’s Sonja Richter first broke out at home in Open Hearts, Susanne Bier’s now classic 2002 Dogme movie that co-starred Mads Mikkelsen. She’ll be in Cannes this week with two films: Critics’ Week‘s When Animals Dream – opposite Mads’ older brother Lars Mikkelsen – and, in her first U.S. role, Tommy Lee Jones’ Competition pic The Homesman. Over the past 15 years Ricther has become quite well known at home working with such directors as Per Fly and Ole Bornedal and appearing in hit TV series The Killing. She was also in 2013’s biggest Danish movie The Keeper Of Lost Causes. But this Cannes double-whammy is new to the actress. “I’m excited and also a little nervous. I don’t know what I’m walking into,” she laughs. She’ll certainly be wearing two hats. In Jonas Alexander Arnby’s Danish werewolf pic When Animals Dream, Richter plays the protagonist’s mother, a woman who does not speak and barely moves. Richter was drawn to the challenge through the story. “That’s been for a long time something that helps me navigate whether to take a part: ‘What is this about?’ I’m not looking for ‘What is my job?’ It’s ‘What is our job, how can I help with telling this great story?’” Arnby calls her “one of the actresses in this region with the most depth… She doesn’t have one word in this film and that must be one of the most challenging things. (It takes) the scale of acting down to the minimal. Every element counts for ten times as much. She has that kind of feel and can adjust those smaller elements and still be what any excellent actress needs.”

In The Homesman, Richter also has a particular part – she plays one of the insane women escorted by Jones and Hilary Swank across the Nebraska Territories. “She’s sort of the violent and aggressive one, and crazy, although all three of them are really crazy.” When she heard Jones was interested in her, Richter says her first thought was “Why are they asking me? There are so many great actors in America.” The script did call for a Scandinavian she allows, but was flattered and surprised nevertheless. “Before that, I had only been working in Scandinavia. I never worked with American people before, certainly not the big people like Tommy. It was a lot of fun.” She’d love to continue the adventure (and is headed to LA to later this month to meet with her reps at ICM Partners). When I caught up with Richter the other day from Copenhagen, we talked about the disparity of roles for women over 40 in the U.S. compared to Europe. The 40-year-old said she feels there’s a lot of work to do in terms of creating strong female parts, but allowed, “There still are a lot of interesting parts, not as many anymore, but I’m not worried about myself. I don’t feel any anxiety about that.” She wouldn’t be interested in the parts being written for 20-year-olds anyway. “We all grow older and I want to see stuff that is about people my own age, or maybe older. I want to know about what are the problems we’re going to face and hear the stories about the people who are grown ups… Forty is the middle of your life, it’s not like it’s the end.” That wisdom comes with experience. “When I was 30 and looked at a part I would just be happy for anything new, because I hadn’t tried it before. Now I have tried so many things. You can only do things for the first time once.”

American-born actor Brady Corbet may be one of the busiest men in Cannes this year. He has three movies unspooling on the Croisette: Competition pics Clouds Of Sils Maria from Olivier Assayas, and Saint Laurent by Bertrand Bonello, along with Un Certain Regard title Tourist from Swedish director Ruben Ostlund. He’s also talking to buyers about his upcoming directorial debut The Childhood Of A Leader. The trifecta of Official Selection movies follows other years when Corbet has been in town with such pics as Lars von Trier’s Melancholia and Sean Durkin’s Martha Marcy May Marlene. Other credits include Michael Haneke’s remake of his own Funny Games, Catherine Hardwicke’s 13 and Noah Baumbach’s upcoming While We’re Young. A working actor since the early part of the millennium, Corbet says he’s “made a habit of only working as an actor for filmmakers that I like and who are friends.” In the movies he’s got in Cannes this year, he doesn’t have much screen time but each is a “very significant moment.” In the Bonnello film, he has the sole scene in English; in Ostlund’s movie he is playing “the quintessential American” and in Sils Maria he’s in the last 15 minutes as a young filmmaker who offers Juliette Binoche’s character a role. Binoche also stars in Corbet’s The Childhood Of A Leader in late fall with Robert Pattinson and Tim Roth. For Sils Maria, his interaction with the actress created “this kind of meta thing that Olivier appreciates,” he says of his friend.

The WME-repeed Corbet tells me Childhood Of A Leader is about a little boy who relocates to France with his family in 1919. His father is a political advisor to Woodrow Wilson about seven months in the run up to the Treaty of Versailles. He calls it, “My version of a horror film. Instead of being possessed by a demon, the little boy is possessed by notions of the era.” Corbet’s “been a movie lover from the womb. I’m much more passionate about movies than performance necessarily. For me acting has always been a way that I could contribute to projects that I liked. It’s a very practical approach to acting and served as an education for me.” He hopes to do more directing of what he intends as “pretty radical films,” but says he doesn’t think he can “afford to give up acting.” He wouldn’t mind getting paid for a superhero movie either. “I don’t try to make a point of indie films, but most filmmakers that have the most freedom are making indies.” Still, he allows, “As I get older, I think that I’m a lot less precious than I used to be. For me it’s also about the experience… People think I got lost in some European backlot, like I just wandered into one movie and then to another.”

French actress Anaïs Demoustier is a Cannes veteran at the ripe old age of 26. She’s already been to the festival five times including with 2012’s closing night film Thérèse by the late Claude Miller, Robert Guédiguian’s 2011 The Snows Of Kilimanjaro and Michael Haneke’s Time Of The Wolf in 2003. Speaking of Haneke, a French distributor calls Demoustier the “Isabelle Huppert of her generation.” This year in Cannes she’s starring with Josh Charles in Pascale Ferran’s Un Certain Regard title Bird People. The film has been a long time coming, but was worth the wait, Demoustier says. After reading the script, “it was very important for me to do this film. I thought I really had my place. It really spoke to me.” She plays a young chambermaid who has a life-altering supernatural experience. For the role, she did an internship as a maid at the airport hotel where the movie was shot, and filmed from April through the summer of 2012. There were some stops and starts due to the use of real, trained birds in the film, and Ferran is known for her meticulous editing process. But all’s well that ends well. “The film is so good and I am really curious to see the reaction and if it speaks to people like it speaks to me,” Demoustier says.

Cannes will be a zen experience this year, however. The veteran recalls she was 13 the first time and “I didn’t understand what was happening to me. Now, it’s different and I go with a lot of serenity.” Since that first time in Cannes, Demoustier has barely taken a breath out from working, and admits the rhythm is “intense.” But she’d be eager to make a film abroad. “People are contacting my agency” off the back of Bird People, she says. Her latest film to shoot was François Ozon’s Une Nouvelle Amie with Romain Duris. The actress has worked with some of the most renowned French directors and says what makes them so good is “the necessity that they have to do a film. It’s not like a break for them. It’s their life.” Sounds like it’s hers too.

Ben Schnetzer’s star is rising fast. The U.S. born, UK educated actor has had just a handful of roles in his burgeoning career, but he’s one of the buzzed about names in Directors’ Fortnight closing film, Pride, an ensemble based on the true story of a group of gay and lesbian activists who decide to raise money to support the families of striking miners in 1984 Britain. The 24-year-old is also currently filming Legendary and Universal Pictures’ video game adaptation Warcraft with director Duncan Jones. The shoot will keep him off the Croisette this week, but from LA he says he’ll definitely be here “in spirit.” Schnetzer grew up around the business, his parents are actors and he did a lot of school plays. But his first thoughts about college were to study foreign languages. Before committing, he took a gap year to travel and realized that “a lot of the actors I was looking up to at the time were British and Australian so I looked into UK and Australian drama schools.” He attended the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London for three years where he was the only American in his class. Since leaving school, a lot of his work has been in the UK, or with UK and Aussie actors with whom he’s developed a sort of shorthand. That comes, he says, “especially if you’ve gone to drama school. It’s a similar experience. We know a lot of same teachers and people and probably have worked with the same directors. I’m plugged into a different community.”

Among his credits are last year’s The Book Thief with Geoffrey Rush and Emily Watson, Pride and Lone Scherfig’s upcoming The Riot Club (formerly known as Posh) about students who join Oxford University’s Riot Club. It was while he was shooting that film in London that Pride came about. “The script was circulating so I put myself on tape for it and Skyped with (director) Matthew (Warchus) and (writer) Stephen (Beresford) and they said they’d get back. At the weekend, I went back into my cave and started plotting and decided I didn’t want to wait and if they weren’t convinced, I wanted to kick it into gear. I was relentless in my pursuit… Any project you feel is worth doing is worth fighting for,” he says. Warchus calls Schnetzer a “rigorous actor” for the amount of research that he did into playing the real Mark Ashton. He’s the lone American in a British cast, but it doesn’t show at all says Warchus. “It is a wonderfully constructive performance,” says the director who is primarily associated with the theater. “I had more rehearsal than for anything else… When we wrapped we all felt like a big theater troupe,” Schnetzer says. After finishing Pride he went on to Warcraft where he’s been “riding horses and casting spells.” He calls the movie “a trip, it’s unlike anything I’ve ever done before and is an amazingly fun learning experience.” Will he keep testing those different avenues? “The very helpful thing about going straight into work from school is I never had an opportunity to take off my student hat. Every job I’ve looked at as an extension of school. Each is like a three month workshop.” Right now, though, “just getting the job is a really big draw. It’s not necessarily a conscious decision to get as eclectic a resumé as possible. It’s more been, ‘this is a real quality project that I’m excited about.’”

When I first met Belgian actor Jérémie Renier about 13 years ago, he was a relative newcomer and starring in Brotherhood Of The Wolf, a film that was considered part of an ambitious New, New Wave of French cinema that aimed to resemble studio produced thrillers. I asked the then 20-year-old if he had any ambitions himself to work in Hollywood and he flatly said “No.” This week, I reminded him of that conversation and he laughed, then added, “What I said at the time is not as false as all that.” Renier has indeed had roles in English-language movies and is on Hollywood’s radar. He says, “I’m not closing the door but it’s not the same kind of optic that certain actors have, that desire to go there and make themselves.” Still, his praise of American indie cinema couldn’t be higher. “Unfortunately, or fortunately, for me, the best independent film in the world is being made in the U.S. The roles are really interesting… and the directors have real proposals that are not the basic order of the day.” An industry insider who has observed Renier over the years and thinks he has potential across the Atlantic, says, “He’s here to stay. He’s in Cannes every other year. I don’t know any other francophone actor who can do movies by the Dardenne brothers, then a thriller, then a Bertrand Bonello. He has a track record and an eye for reading scripts. Even though he’s been around for a while, men’s careers are a slower burn.” Potentially burning up the Competition this year, Renier plays Pierre Bergé, the longtime partner of Yves Saint Laurent in director Bertrand Bonello’s Competition Title Saint Laurent. The film itself comes with a bit of history given it was one of two biopics this year about the legendary designer, and anticipation is high.

This is the second time in recent years Renier has played a real person – his portrayal of 1970s music icon Claude François in 2012’s Cloclo was met with a lot of awards attention in France. He says taking on such roles is “a real bet. What can make you scared is that you have a lot of material at your disposal so you can lean on that too much and ask yourself, ‘Am I too close to reality? Or Enough?’” Renier came to Cannes for the first time when he was 15 and starring in La Promesse by Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne with whom he has steadily worked since. Back then, it was “madness. Cell phones didn’t exist and there were still Hot d’Or starlets on the beach. It was crazy but it was also official cinema.” He told me he was recently reflecting on the importance of the event and the “luck we have to have such an amazing festival… I owe it a lot.” Coming up the actor has South Africa-set drama Ladygrey with Emily Mortimer, Peter Sarsgaard and Claude Rich; Pieter Van Hees’ thriller Waste Land; and Sarah Petit’s Le Grand Homme (Qui Ne Voulait Pas Mourir). He’s also directing his first feature with his brother. The pair have been writing the story about two sisters for five years and are finally in the home stretch.

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