Actress CLÉMENCE POÉSY tells Pierre de Villiers why she feels so at home appearing in the new Anglo-French TV thriller The Tunnel
By rights Clémence Poésy should be a ball of nerves when we meet for an interview at the headquarters of TV channel Canal+ in Paris. Not only is the French star treading the boards in Je Dance Toujours at the Théâtre La Pepinière, but she also has crime drama series The Tunnel hitting British television screens.
Yet as the 31-year-old sits down, there are no signs of sleepless nights, just bristling excitement that she is being challenged as an actress in so many ways.
“This job shakes you up and forces you to learn things,” Poésy explains. “I was the most careful little girl; I would have stayed home and been scared of the world, had it not been for acting. It has made me braver and more adventurous.”
Poésy is certainly outside her comfort zone when it comes to The Tunnel, based on the Scandinavian TV series The Bridge. Portraying a police officer for the first time, she plays Élise Wassermann, who is called in when a body is found in the Channel Tunnel halfway between England and France. She joins forces with British detective Karl Roebuck (Stephen Dillane, pictured above with Poésy) to track down the murderer.
“She is someone who never lies, which makes her social life a bit complicated,” Poésy says about her character. “She is completely direct and it is never about politeness; it is always about the facts and not being scared of the truth. That makes her a wonderful, focused police officer. It allows her to assess situations without emotions that would get in the way.”
For Poésy, the role meant she could work in a structure that has long fascinated her. “Filming in the Channel Tunnel was great,” she enthuses. “Whenever I am in the [Eurostar] train I feel like I’m home. I remember as a kid being told there was going to be a tunnel between France and England, and I thought we were going to see fish. I thought, surely that is a joke, but there it is. It is also a beautiful set. There are two tunnels where trains go in and out, and there is a service tunnel where you can walk and drive, which is where we filmed.”
While making The Tunnel pushed the actress, Poésy admits that nothing is more challenging than appearing on stage. “Doing a play in New York last year (a Broadway production of Cyrano de Bergerac) I realised how important it was to get back to the theatre once in a while as an actor, because it does give you strength,” she says.
“It’s like exercising your muscles so you can do whatever you want with them. You are working your instrument in a deeper way. I think stage and screen balance each other. I have been filming for six months, so it is nice to do a play now.”
Je Dance Toujours marks the first time that she has worked with her father Étienne, a theatre director and actor who, along with his wife Danièle, played a big part in Poésy’s choice of profession. “My mother is a French teacher, so she raised both my sister Maëlle and me with a love of books, stories and words that probably has driven both of us to become actresses. And my dad is an actor and we saw him in the theatre growing up.”
Poésy’s father organised small parts for her in plays when she was a teenager. Her big break arrived in 2004 when, aged 21, she was cast as Mary, Queen of Scots in the BBC’s Gunpowder, Treason and Plot. She caught the eye as a French exchange student in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire and more recently co-starred with Eddie Redmayne in the BBC adaptation of Sebastian Faulks’s World War I novel Birdsong.
One of the reasons Poésy has been able to play different nationalities so successfully is that she has only a very mild French accent, the result of attending bilingual school La Source near Paris. “I think my accent helps with clarity,” she says. “When I did the play in New York I got very scared in rehearsals. I thought, ‘God, I can’t do another take if it is not clear enough.’ The rest of the cast were British and American, and I had this massive fear of ruining it for everyone. But the fact that the accent isn’t too strong and that I can push it in one direction or another makes it easier.”
I ask her if being this busy doesn’t get tiring. “No, I love it,” she says. “When you have a family it is a bit harder, although I hope that if I have a family, I will be able to take them everywhere. But you know it might not be possible to do all the travelling, so you have to enjoy it while you can.”
The Tunnel is now showing on Sky Atlantic and will be released on DVD on 13 January 2014.