When you meet Catherine Deneuve, there is a moment of silence, a stunned awe as you absorb her alluring beauty that simultaneously is so perfect and so mysterious. I was interviewing her for a newspaper and she greeted me with a practiced smile. To shake things up, I offered to speak in French instead of English.
The actress clearly likes surprises. Very few Americans, she said, her eyebrow arching with intrigue, ever speak French. “Mais oui, je parle français,” I replied.
“Non,” she said, flicking her hand nonchalantly, “let’s speak in English.”
Pouring some tea, she offered me a cup along with a biscuit. Observing my hesitation, she said, “When you get older, you have to make a choice. If you lose too much weight, your face gets too thin. You either worry about ze hips or ze face.”
Clearly, ze face is très important.
Dressed in Yves St. Laurent, Deneuve sipped her tea as we discussed her films and favorite quotes. Is it true that she thinks love is overrated?
“Love is suffering. One side always loves more.”
Well, what love never disappointed?
“Paris. It’s so special and there is no city like it in the world.”
And what else?
Hmm. Human nature? Or nature as in the pink sunsets on the Seine or the golden sunrises touching the cerulean St. Tropez sea? Naturellement, Madame Deneuve—who has cryptically pointed out in interviews that her gift is not telling everything, because an actress must “express a lot of things, a lot of action without speaking”—was staying on script. Ah, I thought, mystery leaves you wanting more. The finesse of when to hold on and when to let go, that tug, was permeating the interview. I think she appreciated my restraint, and perhaps this was why she shared some bons mots and advice after I asked her the following question.
What do you think is the difference between American and French women?
“In New York, women feel guilty if they’re not working on some project,” she said, shaking her head with obvious disapproval. “I have never felt guilty for spending an afternoon in my garden with friends having tea.”
In fact, Deneuve, the mother of two adult children, works only a few months a year, something she considers both a privilege and a necessity.
“I’ve always been able to decide what was more important at different points in my life,” she said. “But I never gave up personal things to work, never.”
Quelle bon avis.
Check out this Huffington Post story on the best Catherine Deneuve movies, by our friend John Farr.