• Emmanuelle Seigner at the 2016 Venice Film Festival (Photo: Camilla Morandi) (Getty Images)Source: Getty Images
French actress Emmanuelle Seigner talks about the challenge of playing a grieving mother in 'Heal the Living', currently screening at the French Film Festival.
4 Apr 2017 - 3:51 PM  UPDATED 4 Apr 2017 - 3:51 PM

Emmanuelle Seigner can be seen on local screens as part of the ensemble in Katell Quillévéré’s Heal The Livingwhere her character’s son is killed in a car crash and she and her husband (played by hip hop star Kool Shen) must decide whether to donate his organs. Tahar Rahim is the nurse trying to convince them.

The film was a standout of the Venice Film Festival, where Seigner and I met for an expansive interview. 

Married for 27 years, Seigner, 50, and her husband Roman Polanski, 83, are about to work together for the fifth time, with French actress Eva Green set to join them (in her native tongue) for the thriller, Based on a True Story, which harks back to Polanski’s early masterpieces, The Tenant and Rosemary’s Baby

In our interview, the feisty, opinionated Seigner makes plain her thoughts about Polanski's lengthy life of exile (Editor's note: In 1978 the director was charged with the rape of a 13-year-old girl and after a plea bargain, he pleaded guilty to a lesser charge of unlawful sexual intercourse. He fled to France before sentencing and is now a French citizen).

In recent years, Seigner has fronted a Blondie-style French band, but she's now back focusing on acting. She is currently taking the Gillian Anderson role in the French version of The Fall, and has appeared as the girlfriend of Stalin (Gérard Depardieu) in Fanny Ardant’s third directing effort, Rouge sont les rêves.

Heal the Living review: A graceful and compassionate drama about organ transplantation
The sudden death of a 17-year-old boy affects a network of family members, medical professionals and organ recipients in this beautiful and sensitive drama.

In Heal The Living there are so many well-known actors in smaller roles that are so well fleshed out.

It’s an ensemble film. Everyone has something to defend, which is nice. The lead in the movie is the heart. The mother is a beautiful part, even if she tragically loses her child.

Why did you decide to play the role?

It's a beautiful script but initially I felt the role was too painful. I really wanted to meet Katell because she’s so talented and when I met her I fell in love with her. She’s so human and honest and light and I trusted her, so I decided to do it even if it was not an easy thing to do.

What would you do if one of your relatives passed away and you had to make that decision?

Before I never asked myself the question, but now I’d be a donor because I think it’s a beautiful thing, and especially today when they can do the operation without destroying the body. It makes the parents more at peace knowing the heart is living somewhere.

In America you have to pay for that kind of care.

In America you have to pay for everything. I actually had a friend who was living in America and needed a liver transplant and he died because he couldn't write a cheque. So in France we are very lucky of course. I know Denmark and other countries have this too.

You are now working for the fifth time with your husband who is adapting Delphine de Vigan’s novel 'Based on a True Story' with Olivier Assayas. Are you both friends with Olivier?

No, but they've already finished the script and it’s great.

Do you immediately say yes when your husband offers you something?

Actually I found the book and I gave it to him because I thought he might like it. It’s very like his movies, The Tenant, Repulsion and Rosemary’s Baby. It’s about a woman being possessed by another woman, so it’s all his obsessions and I thought he might like it and he really loved it.

And there’s a great part for you?

Yes, that was the idea because we said it would be nice if we could do something together again. I play the victim, but they’re both [mimics a clenched fist] great women’s roles.



Now your daughter Morgane is following in the family tradition.

Yes, she’s in Vikings and now she’s directed a short film, which screened at the Los Angeles Film Festival. It will screen at other festivals and is up for awards like the BAFTAs.

That sound very precocious.

Yes, but she always wanted to direct. It's a seven-minute film (a UK suspense thriller called The Understudy) and it’s pretty good. In the beginning her (dry-witted) father said she’d have to try to film the family dog first so she was a bit upset. But then when she made the short film, he was so proud of her and now he’s giving her classes. Ha ha!  When the kids were little I really wanted to take care of them, which I did, and I’m happy I did it, but now it’s like my second life. I’m starting to work a lot and it’s cool.

A French remake of The Fall sounds exciting.

I’m doing six weeks, then I’m stopping to do my husband’s movie for ten weeks, then I’m going back to the TV show. I’m happy to play that role because the adaptation is very good. Gillian Anderson is one of my favourite actresses, so I hope I’m going be as good as she is, even if it’s going to be a different thing. It’s set in Lyon another regional city like Belfast.

Who plays the Jamie Dornan role?

Melvil Poupaud. He’s perfect for the part.

You’ve actually made an English-language film with Dornan called The Siege of Jadotville, about the Irish siege against French and Belgian mercenaries in 1961 in the Congo.

I play a Belgian widow living in the Congo and my part was more interesting before they had to cut it for some stupid reasons. But I didn't know I was doing The Fall then and I haven't seen Jamie since. I’d love to work more in English, but it’s easier to play in your own language because it's the language of your heart.

You’ve also worked with Fanny Ardant.

Yes it's a big role but let’s see what happens. It’s with Gérard Depardieu as Stalin and I play his mistress. [...] It’s about Stalin finding out she’s having an affair with a painter and sending her to the gulag.

Roman Polanski, Emmanuelle Seigner and Mathieu Amalric talk Venus in Fur
“It’s nice to do something like this, to take the woman’s side without it being about women’s lib,” says Polanski of his new adaptation on the work of Leopold Sacher-Masoch, the iconic namesake of S&M.

You have had such a happy marriage and a long one. Does it help that you work together?

Yes it’s very important. I mean it’s great because we have kids and we create something else with the work and it keeps our relationship going. We can’t make babies any more, so now we have a dog and it’s good too.

Your husband is getting on in years now, has he still got that energy and zest?

Yes, yes, he does. When I watch our 2013 movie Venus in Fur it’s like a young kid’s movie. He doesn't make cinema for old people. There’s something new about everything he does. He’s one of the greats.

How do you feel about this problem of his never being able to leave France (for fear of being extradited back to the US)? 

It’s horrible, it’s unfair, it’s stupid. What else can you say?

There’s no making movies in America and that's it.

Well maybe that's better. You know a lot of great directors get sucked in by the Hollywood machine and they lose their soul and identity. So maybe it prevented him from doing that. I think that he stays like Fellini and like the great European artists and not the big moneymakers. If you have a lot of money you can maybe have a better life, who knows?


Heal the Living is currently screening at the Alliance Française French Film Festival. 

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Place Vendôme (1988)

Director: Nicole Garcia
Starring: Catherine Deneuve, Jean-Pierre Bacri, Emmanuelle Seigner
What's it about?
Vincent Malivert is the head of a prestigious jewel broker’s firm on the exclusive Place Vendôme. Hampered by debt and implicated in trafficking of stolen jewels, he commits suicide, leaving his wife Marianne (Catherine Deneuve) to pick up the pieces.