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Juliette Binoche lets intuition drive her diverse acting career

Prolific performer Juliette Binoche is best known for her roles in movies such as “The English Patient” and “Chocolat.” But she’s also remained a dedicated theater actor, recently wrapping up a tour of “Antigone” that took her around Europe and the U.S. She speaks to Jeffrey Brown about what has moved and motivated her throughout her career, and what she’s still learning.

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  • GWEN IFILL:

    She’s one of the most well-known French actresses of her generation, and she has carved an unusual and distinct career path.

    Juliette Binoche has appeared in more than 40 feature films, the latest of which, “The 33,” opens tomorrow. It’s about the 33 Chilean miners who were trapped underground for 69 days in 2010.

    At the same time, Binoche is focused on new stage work, taking on the role of a classical heroine in a Greek tragedy.

    She sat down recently with Jeffrey Brown.

  • ACTOR:

    If a man puts family or friends ahead of fatherland, I count him absolutely good for nothing.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    A political leader, King Creon, declares that the security of the state must take precedence over individual need, and orders that the body of a slain rebel not be given burial rites.

  • ACTOR:

    You dare to disobey the law?

  • JULIETTE BINOCHE, “Antigone”:

    What they call law didn’t begin today or yesterday. When they say law, they do not mean a statute of today.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    The rebel’s sister, named Antigone, and played here by Juliette Binoche, defies that order and buries her brother, leading to her own death.

  • JULIETTE BINOCHE:

    She has this need of remembering where we come from, the origin of where we come from, and where we’re going back to.

    So the play is an immense — is reaching immense subjects of what we go through.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    The playwright Sophocles wrote Antigone in Athens, Greece, some 2,500 years ago, and it has resonated with audiences and actors ever since, including Binoche, one of today’s leading international actresses.

    At the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., she recently wrapped up a tour of the play that took her to cities around Europe and the U.S.

    So what is the attraction for you to do an ancient play like this?

  • JULIETTE BINOCHE:

    Well, because the myths put you into a teaching of what is — what are we doing here on this Earth? It’s about transformation

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    That’s a big question.

  • JULIETTE BINOCHE:

    It’s a big question, but we here, all — all of us, we’re trying to find out. And, of course, the outside world wants us to go here and there and spread ourselves.

    But somehow we have to make a relationship within ourselves. And plays and art are helping to make this link, to think, to feel, to reconnect.

  • ACTOR:

    You’re in love with him aren’t you?

  • JULIETTE BINOCHE:

    I’m not in love with him. I am in love with ghosts. It’s so easy. He’s another ghost.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    Binoche, now 51, is best known for her Oscar-winning supporting actress role in the 1996 film “The English Patient.”

  • JULIETTE BINOCHE:

    And these are for your husband, and refined cacao nibs from Guatemala to awaken the passion.

  • ACTRESS:

    You have obviously never met my husband.

  • JULIETTE BINOCHE:

    You have obviously never tried these.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    And an Oscar-nominated best actress performance in the 2000 comedy “Chocolat.”

    She’s had a prolific movie career, from big budget hits to obscure art house films, that continues, as strong as ever, to this day. But she’s also regularly gone back to the theater.

  • JULIETTE BINOCHE:

    It’s true. Sometimes, I say yes to a project, and I don’t really know why I said yes. But the intuition tells you.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    Really? You don’t know why?

  • JULIETTE BINOCHE:

    No. The intuition tells you, so that the intuition brings you into this unknown. But yet, as you’re going and you’re discovering what you’re doing, this is it. This is why I said yes to it. And it suddenly becomes very meaningful.

    Look at what is happening to me, and look at the men who are doing it.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    The production of “Antigone” directed by Ivo van Hove was a spare one in its language, its movement, its set.

    I asked Binoche if she liked the quiet of this onstage world as a contrast to the noise of much of today’s entertainment.

  • JULIETTE BINOCHE:

    I love everything.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    You love everything?

  • JULIETTE BINOCHE:

    I don’t put things aside. No, I think it’s another — it’s like painting. You know, you love different styles, because it shows someone’s need to express something. If I feel the need, that’s beyond style. I don’t care where it comes from, which country, what period, because it has truth.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    The reference to painting is a personal one. Binoche did her own paintings for a film in which she played an artist, and has even had exhibitions of her work.

    Curious or restless, she’s thrown herself into all kinds of things, including performing on stage in contemporary dance.

  • JULIETTE BINOCHE:

    I like to confront myself with new perspectives and possibilities, because I think, we’re alive, so let’s do it now. And we have so many possibilities. So, I don’t like to stay in one comfortable place.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    There is much discussion, again, about — especially about women actresses aging, not getting as many good roles, what happens to them. Do you even think about that?

  • JULIETTE BINOCHE:

    I think if you keep yourself creative — I mean, I have aged, you know? I have had experience. And so it’s not as if I’m not facing it.

    But it’s not a fear, because time is a tool to grow. If you don’t have that tool, how can you grow? How can you transform? So you have to believe that time is your best friend. Imagine if you have to die when you’re young. You feel like, wow. What I have learned with time is amazing.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    All right, Juliette Binoche, thank you so much.

  • JULIETTE BINOCHE:

    Thank you.

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