An interview with actress Louise Bourgoin

French actress LOUISE BOURGOIN tells Pierre de Villiers about her British comedy heroes and English-speaking role in a new Riviera-set crime caper

Louise Bourgoin first fell in love with British comedy when she was just 11 years old. Sitting on a couch at the family home in Rennes, where she grew up, the versatile French actress would spend many hours in the company of one of the UK’s bawdiest comic stars. “I remember watching a lot of Benny Hill on TV with my father,” she says with a chuckle. “I just love the British sense of humour. I adore Monty Python and my favourite film of all time is A Fish Called Wanda [starring John Cleese]. I love how, in British comedies, they are not afraid to have these big performances.”

Given her attraction to madcap British comedy, it comes as no surprise that Bourgoin would sign up to director Joel Hopkins’ new film The Love Punch. A crime caper set mainly in Paris and Cannes, it stars Pierce Brosnan and Emma Thompson as a divorced couple who swear revenge on a ruthless French financier who siphons away their retirement nest egg. To get even, they travel to the French Riviera to steal a diamond that the crook has bought for his fiancée, played by Bourgoin. If running around in the Cannes sunshine wasn’t enough incentive for the actress to accept the English-speaking role, the film also allowed her to work with one of her idols.

“I have long admired Emma Thompson as an actress, because she does drama and comedy equally well,” Bourgoin enthuses. “Working with her was fantastic. She is so inventive as a comedienne, with the different facial expressions she comes up with. She has comedy in her veins and I learnt a lot watching her.” While Thompson made things look easy on set, Bourgoin had to work a bit harder to nail the rhythm of British comedy.

“What is amazing for me is the idea of the ‘stress word’,” she points out. “In English the important word in a sentence is stressed, but not in French, where things are more monotone. So getting that rhythm just right was really hard in the beginning.”

For Bourgoin, starring opposite two stalwarts of British cinema is the latest twist in what has been an interesting career path. Growing up in Brittany, she had no desire to be an actress and was hoping to make a living as an artist.

Change of direction

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“I was a huge fan of drawing and painting, so I decided to go to art school,” Bourgoin says. “At the end of my studies, when I was 22, I missed my exam to be an art teacher, so I completely changed my mind and asked myself ‘what do you really want to do?’ I wanted to be a painter, but I knew it was hard to be an artist and be well known and make money. So I decided to do something completely different and chose to work on a TV show.” The TV programme was Le Grand Journal, a daily mix of news and talk, on which Bourgoin was a huge hit as the weather girl. “Initially I thought, ‘They want me as a weather girl, this is very cheesy,’” she says. “They asked me just to be glamorous, but I wanted to do more.

I asked them if I could write my own sketches and I was then free to impersonate well-known figures such as Carla Bruni. The show was live every day in front of two million people, so I was nervous. These days I am less nervous in front of 500 people in a theatre presenting a movie because compared to being on TV it’s nothing. I am more self-confident now.”

Bourgoin crossed over to the big screen in 2008, when she landed a role – as a TV weather girl – in the thriller La Fille de Monaco. Her breakthrough arrived two years later when she had the title role in Luc Besson’s action/adventure Les Aventures Extraordinaires d’Adèle Blanc-Sec.

“That was a real learning process because I had so much to do,” she says. “I was in every shot and we were filming in Cairo, so it was a lot of new experiences. But Luc Besson was great; I felt like I was part of a family and he was my uncle.”

Since her big break, Bourgoin has shown her acting range, alternating between comedy (L’Amour Dure Trois Ans) and drama (La Religieuse). She was recently in the United States filming the thriller Mojave, an experience that has her buzzing. Not that the Paris-based star is ready to turn her back on France just yet.“It was amazing in America because things were different and people were more intense,” she explains. “But I like to be in French movies because there are many talented directors in this country. In France we make more movies than in England, so there are some great opportunities to make films. And we have many great facilities in France.”

The Love Punch is in cinemas from 18 April. See page 88 for Pierre’s review.