Catherine Deneuve on Returning to Work After Her Health Scare and Why Hollywood Never Came Calling

Catherine Deneuve has no regrets. Though the French icon has worked with everyone from Buñuel to Bjork, she doesn’t dwell on the decades she’s spent on screen. And, at 78, she’s certainly not thinking of retirement.

“I’m not at all ready to draw up a career assessment,” says Deneuve during an interview at the  sleek, four-star Hotel Gabriel in Paris’ Saint-Germain des Près — her go-to place for the rare interviews she gives. “I’m very focused on the present, a little on the past and even on the near-future.”

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But it’s her legacy of indelible performances that’s on the menu during the interview, which is being conducted as Deneuve prepares to be celebrated at the Venice Film Festival with a Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement. Sophisticated as ever and sporting a plunging neckline that exposes her black tulle lingerie, Deneuve feels conflicted about the honor.

“It’s like a double-edged sword: It’s recognition for work done throughout the years, but at the same time it’s often given too late. So it’s best that it’s being done now — I wouldn’t want to go to a festival if I couldn’t stand up, if I couldn’t walk up the stairs,” says Deneuve, who suffered a mild stroke in 2019 while filming a scene for Emmanuelle Bercot’s “Living.”

Although she’s notoriously guarded about her private life, Deneuve suggests that the past few years have shaken her.  “We live in a completely different era. The pandemic is something that marks us terribly, that we didn’t see coming in this shape,” she says. “All of a sudden, people started looking at the truth of life. When we face a crisis like this, we realize how we live and how people in different countries live — and cope with disease — and how some die because there is no other choice. It puts in perspective things that are very hard to see.” She adds, “A lot of people are anxious and depressed.”

Despite her health struggles, Deneuve was determined to finish Bercot’s drama, in which she plays a mother whose son (Benoit Magimel) is dying of cancer.  “After my accident, I simply went back on the shoot of Emmanuelle Bercot’s film because it was important for me to finish it; I thought it would bring me some satisfaction.” She adds, “But the ending was, for me, very difficult. I found the final result to be ambiguous.” Though Deneuve was on hand in Cannes this year to present the film in competition, she clearly wasn’t thrilled with the project that marked her third collaboration with Bercot, following “Standing Tall” and “On My Way.”

Before her stroke, Deneuve had a hectic shooting schedule. Now, she’s trying to slow down, with mixed success. She just wrapped the shoot of her first project in three years, Lea Domenach’s “La Tortue,” in which she stars as Bernadette Chirac, the widow of former French president Jacques Chirac. “It was hugely enjoyable. Even if the film is about political icons, it’s done with off-beat humor,” says Deneuve. “And it’s not a satire.”

When asked about re-teaming with famous directors she’s worked with before, she says, “There are a lot of people I’d like to work with, but I don’t think about it today; what matters to me are the scripts. That’s always been the case — even more so today.”

Deneuve says she binged “Yellowstone” during the pandemic and admits that she’s now open to working on a television series if the right project comes along.

The name of director Lars von Trier comes up in this context — he will also be at Venice to present his TV series “The Kingdom.” Deneuve says she got along very well with him on the tumultuous shoot of “Dancer in the Dark.”

“Lars’ problem was with Björk, who had decided she didn’t want to be in the film anymore,” says Deneuve. Björk had written all the music for the 2000 film, but she didn’t want to star in it. “Lars said, ‘OK, then I’m not doing it.’ Björk was devastated by the idea that what she had created wouldn’t exist, so she ended up doing the film. But it wasn’t her wish.” (In 2017, on Facebook, Björk accused a “Danish director” of sexual harassment on-set. She never named Von Trier.)

While she’s worked with some of the world’s leading auteurs, from Jacques Demy to Luis Buñuel to François Truffaut to François Ozon,  and been in a few American films, she never pursued a career in the U.S., even after being nominated for an Oscar for her role in Regis Wargnier’s 1992 “Indochine,” the last French film to have won a foreign-language Oscar.

“I didn’t get offered interesting parts, and I also probably didn’t have a good agent at the time,” she says. “Maybe some actresses would have accepted [the roles]. At the same time, I didn’t see myself going to live there and wait for parts.”

Decades ago, Deneuve was rumored to have been approached to star in the 1973 James Bond movie “Live and Let Die,” but she has no memory of her brush with 007.

“Play a Bond girl?” she says with a laugh, “It must have been a very long time ago!”

Deneuve admits that roles for women in Bond movies were not very interesting. “I probably read the script and the role was perhaps not compelling at all.” She adds, “James Bond movies are different today, and women play a more important role [in them].”

Deneuve is equally unvarnished in her assessment of fellow French actor Marion Cotillard, who won an Oscar for her role as Edith Piaf in “La Vie en Rose.” Deneuve falsely claims that disgraced mogul Harvey Weinstein had a lot to do with Cotillard’s victory, despite the fact that Picturehouse and not the Weinstein Co. distributed the film in the U.S. “It’s Weinstein who decided who he would campaign for,” says Deneuve. “Of course, she transformed herself for the film, but all the singing is dubbed. For a film about a singer … that’s an issue.”

Deneuve made headlines in 2018 for signing a public letter blaming the #MeToo movement for creating a “totalitarian” climate that unfairly punishes men for flirting, but apologized days later amid a massive backlash. She won’t say if she continues to have reservations about the movement. “I’m not talking about that anymore. There is so much media manipulation and frenzy around what we say, it’s frightening.”

Although she has admitted to never having been a feminist champion, she signed the Manifesto of the 343 Sluts, along with 342 other women, in support of reproductive rights in 1971.

“I would sign it again today,” she says. “ I am, like many Europeans, shocked by what happened in the U.S.  with Roe v. Wade. I can’t believe that these nine justices on the Supreme Court could overturn a constitutional right to an abortion.”

She thinks for a moment and then adds, “I’m not terribly optimistic, but I have faith that the U.S. will not accept this, and that people will protest in the way they did to fight racism.”

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