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Mélanie Laurent’s Grand Performance

Mélanie Laurent’s Grand Performance (photo)

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Christoph Waltz may have won the Oscar and Michael Fassbender may have nailed the dry British accent, but to many, the true breakthrough performance of last year’s “Inglourious Basterds” belonged to Mélanie Laurent, who as the beautiful but deadly Shosanna Dreyfus held that film’s revenge narrative together with her hypnotically vengeful blue eyes. Now, the 27-year-old French actress is back in Radu Mihaileanu’s “The Concert,” a César winner in her home country.

Following a group of has-been Russian musicians who travel to Paris posing as the Bolshoi Orchestra, this heartwarming fish-out-of-water comedy is a far cry from the stylized scalpings and revenge-drenched delirium of Tarantino’s film. But again, Laurent becomes the center around which the narrative turns — this time, she plays a world famous violinist who has to be persuaded to play with our heroes, and who in turn discovers some hidden truths about herself. It’s also, in some senses, a part quite close to her heart, as Laurent is also an accomplished musician herself, and currently at work on her first album, to be released next year. We recently spoke to Laurent about her new film, how Quentin Tarantino changed her life, and her music.

So, how much violin do you actually play? Because this film makes you look like pretty much the greatest violin player in the world.

I hate having to tell people how we did it. My left hand is fake, but my right hand is real. My left hand is a special effect. My right hand is on the violin, and it has to be in the right places, and it has to hit the right notes. I had to learn how to play these pieces, but in two months you can’t learn to play them with both hands. So I only learned the one hand. I do play the piano quite well. But trust me, it’s very different.

07292010_MelanieLaurentTheConcert3.jpgYour parents are also in the arts. Your mother was a ballerina, and your father is a vocal artist who is the voice of Ned Flanders on the French version of “The Simpsons.”

Yes, my mother was a ballerina, and then she was a teacher. And I grew up with a father who always did lots of cartoons, so I would turn on the TV and I’d say, “Oh, it’s my dad!” And when he read me stories, he used to make different voices. So I had a very amazing and funny childhood, thanks to them.

Did they have anything to do with your choosing to become an actor?

It wasn’t so much their influence. When I was 14 years old, I visited a movie set with a friend at that time whose father was a technician. The movie was “Asterix and Obelix,” and Gérard Depardieu was the star. Depardieu came and asked me if I wanted to be in a movie. That’s how it began. My parents always supported me after that, but they never pushed me into acting, or anything like that.

Your performance in “The Concert” is quite interesting, because it involves relatively little dialogue. You’re mostly reacting — reacting to the stories the film’s lead character tells you, reacting to the music. And, during the climactic concert scene, you have to react while playing the violin to a message you hear, literally, through the music. It seems like it must have been a challenge to do so much emoting without the benefit of dialogue.

For that final scene, I was so moved to be on stage. Everybody had waited so long for that scene, which was the last two weeks of shooting. We had shot the movie, and we just had the concert. I had two months of preparation for playing the violin. So I was focused on my playing. It was easy to just react to the Maestro and what he said.

07292010_MelanieLaurentTheConcert4.jpgFor me, the hard part was the violin. All that sort of thing, when it’s a good script, and it’s a good story, it’s not that difficult. It’s more difficult when it’s not a good script and you have to have a lot of stupid reactions. But when you have a good script and you’re in this beautiful theater and you have an orchestra behind you – it’s easy to be moved.

Your character also has to undergo a pretty striking change, from very severe to total emotional openness.

That was the most difficult part for me, to be strict and focused as a character. I always wanted to be nice, but the director wanted this character to be a certain way. So it was a little bit painful for me. I think that’s also why the concert parts were easier for me. There I could open up.

What is Radu Mihaileanu like as a director?

He focuses you. He knows what he wants. He doesn’t trust you all the time, which can be difficult. He’s a very clever and very amazing director, but he’s not that easy to communicate with. He was not a hard director, so it wasn’t painful working with him or anything like that. It’s just that sometimes a director and an actor don’t always understand each other. I wasn’t surprised or anything. You’re on set, you know why you’re on set, you know why you’re on set with that guy — even though it’s not that easy to talk to him sometimes. I will do my stuff, and he will direct me. I like him as a human being, so it’s strange for me. And I’m very proud of the movie, and that’s what’s important.

He sounds very different from Quentin Tarantino.

Quentin is an amazing person. I just loved working with him. He also knows exactly what he wants, but he’s very clear. He’ll come to you and say one word — and that word will change the whole sequence. He’s so clear. He’s crazy, too, but I loved that kind of craziness. The best example was during my big scene at the beginning of the movie, where I’m running away from the Nazis. He had prepared the traveling shot to follow me when I’m running. And he yelled action, and he ran along with me. I thought that was wonderful.

07292010_MelanieLaurentTheConcert5.jpgMaybe it’s because he too is an actor, so he understands what actors want and need?

Yes. And I loved him as an actor. [Laughs]

Although they’re obviously very different films, “Inglourious Basterds” and “The Concert” do have some strange similarities – both follow these groups of misfits as they prepare for a climactic event, which then becomes the big, final act of the film. And they both involve issues of anti-Semitism.

Last year was so special for me. I did “The Concert,” I did “Inglourious Basterds,” and after that I did this movie called “The Round-Up,” which is about the Second World War, and about the deportation of young children. So it was kind of a strange year, to do these strong and powerful movies. They’re very different, obviously, but they’re about these heavy and important subjects.

You’ve also done some directing. How have these experiences on these big films changed you as a director?

Ask me the question in one year, because I’m going to direct a new movie in five months. But I did observe a lot of Quentin’s work. I didn’t want to go back to my trailer, so I would sit in the corner and observe. It was kind of like having a great teacher in a university. So I took a lot of notes. I learned from him that you need to be a real captain if you want to make a movie — it doesn’t matter if it’s a big movie or a small independent movie. You have to be a leader.

I remember him giving us a debriefing every morning, and telling everybody, “Okay, we’ll do it like this, and this, and this…” He would share his ideas with all this crew. So everybody would feel that they were a part of this movie, that it was something special.

07292010_InglouriousBasterds.jpgWhen you have somebody open up like that, it stops being just another movie for the people working on it. So, now, I think I can be a little bit crazy like him. When he talks, it’s very visual. It’s so passionate. I just discovered that I now talk a lot like him, almost like a child. So this will be a big step to direct my movie after watching him work.

Were you at all prepared for success of “Inglourious Basterds”?

No. Every time I play in a movie, I never expect that it’ll be huge. I don’t like thinking about that, because it’s so scary. I did a big tour with everybody from “Inglourious Basterds,” which was really amazing. We went everywhere, around the world. That was great to be able to stand in front of everybody and talk about this movie. But after that I came back to France, and I just wanted to work on small projects. It was a way of protecting myself, in a way.

So, what can you tell me about this album you’re working on?

I’m working with Damien Rice, and we’re almost done. We’ve been working for the last year. We’ll be mixing it in September. I think it’ll be released next year, and I’ll go on tour with it. It’s funny – the lyrics are French, but the music is pop, rock, so it sounds like English music. I can’t think of anyone to compare it to, though.

“The Concert” is now open in New York and Los Angeles.

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WTF Films

Artfully Off

Celebrity All-Star by Sisters Weekend is available now on IFC's Comedy Crib.

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Sisters Weekend isn’t like other comedy groups. It’s filmmaking collaboration between besties Angelo Balassone, Michael Fails and Kat Tadesco, self-described lace-front addicts with great legs who write, direct, design and produce video sketches and cinematic shorts that are so surreally hilarious that they defy categorization. One such short film, Celebrity All-Star, is the newest addition to IFC’s Comedy Crib. Here’s what they had to say about it in a very personal email interview…

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IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Celebrity All-Star is a short film about an overworked reality TV coordinator struggling to save her one night off after the cast of C-List celebrities she wrangles gets locked out of their hotel rooms.

IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Sisters Weekend: It’s this short we made for IFC where a talent coordinator named Karen babysits a bunch of weird c-list celebs who are stuck in a hotel bar. It’s everyone you hate from reality TV under one roof – and that roof leaks because it’s a 2-star hotel. There’s a magician, sexy cowboys, and a guy wearing a belt that sucks up his farts.

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IFC: What was the genesis of Celebrity All-Star?

Celebrity All-Star was born from our love of embarrassing celebrities. We love a good c-lister in need of a paycheck! We were really interested in the canned politeness people give off when forced to mingle with strangers. The backstory we created is that the cast of this reality show called “Celebrity All-Star” is in the middle of a mandatory round of “get to know each other” drinks in the hotel bar when the room keys stop working. Shows like Celebrity Ghost Hunters and of course The Surreal Life were of inspo, but we thought it
was funny to keep it really vague what kind of show they’re on, and just focus on everyone’s diva antics after the cameras stop rolling.

IFC: Every celebrity in Celebrity All-Star seems familiar. What real-life pop personalities did you look to for inspiration?

Sisters Weekend: Anyone who is trying to plug their branded merch that no one asked for. We love low-rent celebrity. We did, however, directly reference Kylie Jenner’s turd-raison lip color for our fictional teen celebutante Gibby Kyle (played by Mary Houlihan).

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IFC: Celebrity seems disgusting yet desirable. What’s your POV? Do you crave it, hate it, or both?

Sisters Weekend: A lot of people chase fame. If you’re practical, you’ll likely switch to chasing success and if you’re smart, you’ll hopefully switch to chasing happiness. But also, “We need money. We need hits. Hits bring money, money bring power, power bring fame, fame change the game,” Young Thug.

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IFC: Who are your comedy idols?

Sisters Weekend: Mike grew up renting “Monty Python” tapes from the library and staying up late to watch 2000’s SNL, Kat was super into Andy Kaufman and “Kids In The Hall” in high school, and Angelo was heavily influenced by “Strangers With Candy” and Anna Faris in the Scary Movie franchise, so, our comedy heroes mesh from all over. But, also we idolize a lot of the people we work with in NY-  Lorelei Ramirez, Erin Markey, Mary Houlihan, who are all in the film, Amy Zimmer, Ana Fabrega, Patti Harrison, Sam Taggart. Geniuses! All of Em!

IFC: What’s your favorite moment from the film?

Sisters Weekend: I mean…seeing Mary Houlihan scream at an insane Pomeranian on an iPad is pretty great.

See Sisters Weekend right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib

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Reality? Check.

Baroness For Life

Baroness von Sketch Show is available for immediate consumption.

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Baroness von Sketch Show is snowballing as people have taken note of its subtle and not-so-subtle skewering of everyday life. The New York Times, W Magazine, and Vogue have heaped on the praise, but IFC had a few more probing questions…

IFC: To varying degrees, your sketches are simply scripted examples of things that actually happen. What makes real life so messed up?

Aurora: Hubris, Ego and Selfish Desires and lack of empathy.

Carolyn: That we’re trapped together in the 3rd Dimension.

Jenn: 1. Other people 2. Other people’s problems 3. Probably something I did.

IFC: A lot of people I know have watched this show and realized, “Dear god, that’s me.” or “Dear god, that’s true.” Why do people have their blinders on?

Aurora: Because most people when you’re in the middle of a situation, you don’t have the perspective to step back and see yourself because you’re caught up in the moment. That’s the job of comedians is to step back and have a self-awareness about these things, not only saying “You’re doing this,” but also, “You’re not the only one doing this.” It’s a delicate balance of making people feel uncomfortable and comforting them at the same time.

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IFC: Unlike a lot of popular sketch comedy, your sketches often focus more on group dynamics vs iconic individual characters. Why do you think that is and why is it important?

Meredith: We consider the show to be more based around human dynamics, not so much characters. If anything we’re more attracted to the energy created by people interacting.

Jenn: So much of life is spent trying to work it out with other people, whether it’s at work, at home, trying to commute to work, or even on Facebook it’s pretty hard to escape the group.

IFC: Are there any comedians out there that you feel are just nailing it?

Aurora: I love Key and Peele. I know that their show is done and I’m in denial about it, but they are amazing because there were many times that I would imagine that Keegan Michael Key was in the scene while writing. If I could picture him saying it, I knew it would work. I also kind of have a crush on Jordan Peele and his performance in Big Mouth. Maya Rudolph also just makes everything amazing. Her puberty demon on Big Mouth is flawless. She did an ad for 7th generation tampons that my son, my husband and myself were singing around the house for weeks. If I could even get anything close to her career, I would be happy. I’m also back in love with Rick and Morty. I don’t know if I have a crush on Justin Roiland, I just really love Rick (maybe even more than Morty). I don’t have a crush on Jerry, the dad, but I have a crush on Chris Parnell because he’s so good at being Jerry.

Jenn: I LOVE ISSA RAE!

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IFC: If you could go back in time and cast yourselves in any sitcom, which would it be and how would it change?

Carolyn: I’d go back in time and cast us in The Partridge Family.  We’d make an excellent family band. We’d have a laugh, break into song and wear ruffled blouses with velvet jackets.  And of course travel to all our gigs on a Mondrian bus. I feel really confident about this choice.

Meredith: Electric Mayhem from The Muppet Show. It wouldn’t change, they were simply perfect, except… maybe a few more vaginas in the band.

Binge the entire first and second seasons of Baroness von Sketch Show now on IFC.com and the IFC app.

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G.I. Jeez

Stomach Bugs and Prom Dates

E.Coli High is in your gut and on IFC's Comedy Crib.

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Brothers-in-law Kevin Barker and Ben Miller have just made the mother of all Comedy Crib series, in the sense that their Comedy Crib series is a big deal and features a hot mom. Animated, funny, and full of horrible bacteria, the series juxtaposes timeless teen dilemmas and gut-busting GI infections to create a bite-sized narrative that’s both sketchy and captivating. The two sat down, possibly in the same house, to answer some questions for us about the series. Let’s dig in….

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IFC: How would you describe E.Coli High to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

BEN: Hi ummm uhh hi ok well its like umm (gets really nervous and blows it)…

KB: It’s like the Super Bowl meets the Oscars.

IFC: How would you describe E.Coli High to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

BEN: Oh wow, she’s really cute isn’t she? I’d definitely blow that too.

KB: It’s a cartoon that is happening inside your stomach RIGHT NOW, that’s why you feel like you need to throw up.

IFC: What was the genesis of E.Coli High?

KB: I had the idea for years, and when Ben (my brother-in-law, who is a special needs teacher in Philly) began drawing hilarious comics, I recruited him to design characters, animate the series, and do some writing. I’m glad I did, because Ben rules!

BEN: Kevin told me about it in a park and I was like yeah that’s a pretty good idea, but I was just being nice. I thought it was dumb at the time.

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IFC: What makes going to proms and dating moms such timeless and oddly-relatable subject matter?

BEN: Since the dawn of time everyone has had at least one friend with a hot mom. It is physically impossible to not at least make a comment about that hot mom.

KB: Who among us hasn’t dated their friend’s mom and levitated tables at a prom?

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

BEN: There’s a lot of content now. I don’t think anyone will even notice, but it’d be cool if they did.

KB: A show about talking food poisoning bacteria is basically the same as just watching the news these days TBH.

Watch E.Coli High below and discover more NYTVF selections from years past on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

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