know that people don't approach me easily. Now I am thinking, 'it must
be me'. It's true that I
must have something that doesn' t
....well, step outside a force field. People are very nice with me ; almost
too nice. They want to let me be praivate all the time.
They always say, 'no, I don't want to disturb you'. People are very shy
around me". The unassuming young woman speaking
these words sits in the bar of a Left Bank Hotel, drinking Evian, smoking
Marlboro Lights. She'sinconspicuously dressed in flares
and a jamper, Burberry trench tossed casually over the back of her in
chair. But she is alert, Poised and owns a very individual
beauty. Half of her life has been spent reluctantly in the focus of the
public eye; since her birth 30 years ago, Charlotte
Gainsbourg has been courted by a celebrity she never really asked for.
She's shy and closed fretting about these aspects of
her personality, qustioning the commonly received notion of how gorgeous
she is even as photographers queue to take her
picture and directors beg her to be in their filmes.
Well, it's all in the eye of the beholder anyway and today willowy Charlotte
is a long way from our first impressions of her,
as a tousled tomboy guesting on her father's records, the insouci-ant
teenager whose films spoke to an adolescent audience
who weren't bothered with the stanard youth-culture preoccupations. She's
won the Cesar twice for these; British viewers
ignorant of these achievements know her best for her performance in "The
Cement Garden" her uncle ANdrew Birkin's 1993
adaptation of the lan McEwan novel. SHe made her role-that of a girl whose
parents have abandeoned their children, who
falls into an incestuous relationship with her brother- harrowingly real,
as if pretend family romance was the only way to
Glimpses of teenaged Charlotte remain as her neck arches to catch fleeting
words in her mouth. "This idea of my shyness
and caution is exaggerated but it's true, when I was 14 or 15, I remember
people were placed in a very difficult position whenever
they spoke to me, because I would hardly answer questions beyond 'yes'or'no'.
They were very embarrassed, but I was just
uncomfortable and wasn't being difficult on purpose", she laghs gently.
"Now , it's easier to talk" She smiles and lights another cigarette.
It's tempting to opine that Charlotte Gainsbourg's greatest
achievement is to live a private and insular life when all around it seems
that the childeren of the prominent adopt ana unattractive
'look at me!' approach to living. Her parents, Serge Gainsbourg and Jane
Birkin, Lived life in full view of the glare of publicity and
the gaze of the press, thriving on it; Charlotte, offered opportunities
to act or sing, accepted the work but not the peripherals.
"My parents took their public life very easily. There was no separation
with praivate life because they loved it, loved it all. My
father liked to be in magazine, to know that people were talking about
him. He thought it was good. I didn't feel the same way-
I was much more shy about it".
Ｄｅｓｐｉｔｅ the way the word unfurls the red carpet for her, Chalrotte remains
diffident in an 'it's not you, it's me' relationship to
public life. Although she's recently accepted work as a model, and serves
as muse for Balenciaga designer Nicholas Ghesquiere,
she's hyper-critical of her looks and nonchalant about this new line of
work. "I've always had problems with what I look like.
Even doing films is weird because I hate watching myself. It's very difficult
to accept yourself and feel natural about what
you show and what comes across. I started at 12 and I can't say it's gotten
much easier. I can't get use to it". she concedes.
"Well, a bit. But when I watch my own films I see all the wrong
things. I just can't be happy about myself, thinking everything
is perfect. I've never been totally happy about what I do I hope it's
perfectionism rather than being.... really bad. But every actor
is insecure. I wouldn't like being happy about everything. It's just like
my looks that I'm not happy about either, but the problem
is not what it was".
For Charlotte, the modeling she does is really just a pleasnt distraction,
which is as it should be. "I don't want to think of myself
as a model-it's just for fun! Films come first. Before I met an agent
who was happy to advise me, I never knew what to do, what
magazines to do it for, which photographers were interesting. She counseled
me about the choices and yeah, I take a lot of pleasure
in doing it because it helps me not to hate having my picture taken so
As to Nicholas Ghesquiere, he's become a friend. Charlotte, though friendly
and polite, has only a few of those.
"I don't know what's Nicholas'head really, how he thinks of me, so
I don't know whether he considers me to be...his muse. We didn't
talk about that. I haven't known him that long, just about a year. He's
someone I like. I love his work, I love his personality and it's
true that for the first time I've felt close to his fashion. But fashion
is not something I am very implicated into. I don't know that
much about it".
Implicated is a word Charlotte comes to in a recurrent way, in the halting,
delicate English that sounds uncannily like her
mather's voice. As if she worries that involvement will tangle her in
a spider's web of responsibility for the actions of
associates andcolleagues-but maybe that's what it's like to have the public
aware of your existence, your whole family romance,
before you've even spoken your first words. Imagine if your parents were
never completely away from the publiceye; you'd never
want to feel like you too were being watched. Look further than the surface
for the truth, however, and it's revealed that Serge
Gainsbourg was in reality a very divided personality, reconcilling himself
with his public face through a device he called Gainsbarre;
the name he gave to the roguishness he showed the public. It was Gainsbarre
who propsitioned Whitney Houston live on French
television. It was Gainsbarre who courted controversy with Bardot, Jane
Birkin, and France Gall, using highly sexualised, provocative
records which now have a place in the pop-cult mainstream a decade after
Serge Gainsbourg's death. But Gainsbourg pere was born
into a different world than his daughter, a world where it was neccessary
to modify his name to sound less Jewish, to avoid a
particular kind of French stick prevalent in post- war times. There was
a bit of him that was forever Lucien Ginsburg, protected
from the slings and arrows of public opinion by his outrageous, fearless
alter-ego. "Of his bravado was a kind of mask. That was
just his way. My way was to put up a barrier because otherwise I wouldn't
have known how to cope. I wanted to be discreet.
So I protected my private life and I was very happy that way. If it makes
to seek that attention, then why not?
I don't judge them. But I hope the people from Hello!
never disturb me".
Although her own
tastes lean toward the classical, music keeps Charlotte alive. "It's
very jouissant. I love Chopin from trying to
play it in lessens and I'm always listening to old stuff; Dylan, film
music, and musicals like West Side Story and My Fair Lady.
I do write down what I like in a book but I've left that at home today.
And Beck....I love Beck, but he daesn't know it".
And she's just as reverent about her father's place in the pop lexicon
as even the most enthsiastic of his fans.
"I love it! The fact that Serge Gainsbourg is alive in so many people's
heads in an artistic way is great. I'm really proud of that.
When he was alive, he was very well-known here but for the past ten years
he has crossed borders. He would have been so,
so happy about that". She beams with pride. "He always wanted
to be recognised as an artist in England and America and now
he's getting there. For me, it's wonderful. And you know, I'd love to
make music again. There was one album I made with my father,
becauseof his words and music. When he died I thought I'd never do it
again. It would be nice but it doesn't consume me, so maybe
it won't happen. It would be all about meeting the right person".
It's true that when most of her contemporaries wished only to belong to
a group of close friends, Charlotte was more insular. She
still is. "I don't have lots of friends now. I prefer relationships
between two people; I'm very one-on-one. A lot of my friends have a
wide circle but I just can't have alot of relationships like that",
"I didn't miss much. I had this great thing where I had a normal
life as a child, but at the same time, being with crazy parents who
were always, you know, having a go? I didn't have very many friends but
I was being protective of myself. I changed schools every
year because that was the way I wanted it. I don't know why-maybe it was
for the clean page?
At the same time, though, I never met people . But I wanted a very strict
life so I went to bording school. Then I went some place
where I could do Russian. Next I wanted to do Italian. They let me change;
they couldn't say no because I was a good student and
I never misbehaved. It's true; I don't like loud things or crowds. I have
tired! Sometimes I do go out, but it isn't really my thing. I
like being secretive. Of course, sometimes it was a trap being a really
timid, quiet girl. People sometime don't approach me for
projects because they think I'll say no, so they just don't bother. I
hear this so often now and I have to tell people,
'yes I was free and why on earth did you not tell me you needed me?'
Sometimes the choices are made even harder because
I'm known for saying no to the things I know I don't want to do. I think
too much about 'is it really good enough?' and 'do I
really want to do this?' when it's best for an actor to just work. And
I'm not working enough".
It seems strange, then, that this shy child should open up to being an
actress, but Charlotte likes to hide in roles if she's to be
in public at all. "I didn't consider it work, I wasn't exactly looking
for work.... and it's not necessary for me to work to live. I can't
remember what I was thinking at the time, but my mother told me they were
looking for a girl of my age for a film and if I wanted
to go to the audition, here was the actress. I didn't learn how to act
by watching my mother-and her mother, Judy Campbell, is
still a working actress too- but I did watch her on sets when I was younger,
so those are my memories. We never discussed
the way she worked, So I went to the audition, but it was months later
that they told me I got the part. Then I went back to bording
school and didn't bother about it. I'd act in films in the summer holidays
but when I was 19, I had to make a choice. I'd gotten my
Baccalaureate and had done a year's foundation for the Beaux-Arts. But
after that, I really had to choose whether I wanted to go
on being an actress or whether I wanted to study. Until then I would say
I'm okay to shoot, but only in the summer holidays. Being
19, I couldn't just go on ssaying that! So I had to say that it was my
choice to go on acting full-time".
It proved to be a wise choice. A year later, in1990, she met her partner
Yvan Attal on the set of Autobus, a film they'd both been
picked to star in. They've been together ever since; their child Ben is
four and goes to nursey just down the road. A few short weeks
ago, Yvan and Charlotte were in Toronto for the city's film festival,
promoting their fourth film together , Ma Femme est une actrice,
when they were stranded by the aftermath of the World Trade Center disaster.
"Of course they stopped everything for two days, but
we showed the film after that. People had very nice responses to it; maybe
they were happy to have something else in their minds
for a couple of hours. But it felt like such a strange situation in which
to be talking about flms, so superfluous. I never looked at
the news as much as I do now; all that I was thinking about was the separation
from my child and getting back here to Paris to be
with him". Nevertheless, she's proud of the film, wistful even. "I've
never been so implicated in a film as this one. Yvan was more than
capable of getting it made without my help. The script-about a man who
marries an actress and gets jealous when she has a crush
on her co-star-is his and the money was together before I agreed to do
it. But I love to work with him".
Part of Charlotte's careful but uncalculating personality is, through
working on new things, starting to blossom outside of the confines
she's kept it in for so long. When she takes on work, she's intererted
most in the personality of her collaborator.
"Not much of what I do is self-determined. I meet with the personality
of whoever I work with but I don't intend to show my own.
People try to see me the way they think I am and I'm happy for them to
do that. All the things about sensibility, and sharing that
with someone are down to personality. A good actress is not like marble,
because that's very hard. You need to be more like clay,
so people can mould you into what they'd like. It's an image I keep returning
to,". she suggests.
I know how lucky I am. I'm not obligated to work. It's all right for me
because people really
really love my parents, what they
represented, who they were. And that is why people are
so generous with me".