French actress Clémence Poésy enjoys international success for roles in both her native language and English.
With a clutch of high-profile films to her name, she joined Colin Farrell and Ralph Fiennes in the multi-award winning thriller, In Bruges, and is also in the Harry Potter series. The latest film, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, is released on November 24. But, as she tells The Connexion, things could have been different without her languages
How did you become fluent in English?
My parents made the choice to put my sister and I in what is called a European school, where we were taught English earlier. Nowadays, I think people are taught English from quite a young age, but it used to be that you only started at 11. We began at seven with English and American teachers.
I went on an exchange in Toronto for a month when I was 14 and went back when I was 16. I was in a family and had to go to school and take all the classes in English, so that really helped.
I thought I could detect a bit of an accent…
When I’m in America, people usually say, “You have a bit of a British accent”. I’ve just been in New York for a month. It depends where I last spent time and what I listen to the most.
Do you speak any other languages?
I speak Italian. That was just something that I picked up from spending holidays in Italy. I have a good group of friends there.
The process of learning a language is quite painful, but I’m not afraid of making mistakes. It would be great to learn another language.
I used to speak Spanish, but lost it when I started speaking Italian. I was in Spain to do some film promotion and could understand all the questions, but couldn’t answer them. I’ve done interviews for Italian newspapers, though.
Were you always destined for the stage?
I was interested in anything with words – drama and languages. I think the love for languages is something that also comes from a very deep love for words and how to express yourself. My mum is a literature teacher and she gave me a love of books.
What is your favourite book?
It’s hard to just pick one… Les Contemplations, a collection of poems by Victor Hugo, perhaps? Just because it’s something that you can go back to.
When did you start looking for acting work outside France?
A director called Gillies MacKinnon was looking for someone to play Mary Stuart for a BBC drama. He thought that using a French actress would help explain why she felt so lost when she arrived in Scotland from France.
I did that first job without a voice coach. It was hard being surrounded by people with heavy Scottish accents. I can understand almost any accent without much difficulty now.
It required a lot of concentration, but it is good to know that you are able to do something on your own.
Then I started getting other jobs in England and America, and working more on the language. It’s amazing the amount of work you can put into improving accent and pronunciation. I don’t think of myself as acting in English now.
Were you already a fan of Harry Potter before being cast as Fleur Delacour?
My mum knew about the books before Harry Potter became so famous because she has students and is always really interested in what’s going on with children’s literature. She told me to read them before they became bestsellers.
What was it like to film?
It was interesting to see something that big being made. It’s a scale that you are rarely used to in France.
I think it’s made by people who have a very deep respect for the work itself, the books and the people they work with. They are the opposite of what you would expect from a big blockbuster. They made the feeling on set very human, which is remarkable.
What impression did you get of England?
I spent almost eight months in London shooting the first film and, since then, I’ve been working in England quite often. I think I have almost as many friends there now as I have in France!
I don’t know England very well; I just know London and the Isle of Man. I love London. I think it’s a very vibrant city and I miss it when I’m away for too long. I’ve been to most of the museums and galleries. You have the most amazing exhibitions and modern art scene, but I haven’t seen any of the touristy things.
Did you make any new friends in your co-stars Emma Watson or Daniel Radcliffe?
I tend to keep long-lasting friendships with one or two people on each film I make, so I do still have friends from those films.
Are there any bilingual actresses that you admire?
I think Kristin Scott Thomas does an amazing job, Jodie Foster as well. Juliette Binoche has done theatre in America and England, films in both French and English. She has had a great career, too.
What English-speaking role would you still like to land?
I would like to play someone like a musician, a photographer, a painter or a singer – someone who creates something, who is involved in art in some way.
Do you get recognised in the street?
Very little in London: it’s always nice. A little bit more in France; it depends where I am. There are a few areas of Paris where people know who you are. It’s probably just from magazines. Apart from that, I have a very normal life.
How important are languages to you?
I would have a completely different life if I had not had the luck of speaking English so young. Half of the films I’ve done are in English. It makes me feel freer, like when you wear a mask – you allow yourself to do things that you wouldn’t normally do.
It’s the same thing with languages, you have that language that isn’t yours and it allows you to express emotions in a different way.
I’ve learnt so much from working in another country, with people who were trained differently. When you interact with others, you start to understand more about your identity.
You learn so much about your own country when you are away.
How I got here
Clémence Poesy, 27, is the daughter of theatre director Etienne Guichard and he was the first to give her a drama role, with a couple of sentences in one of his productions when she was just 14.
She studied at different drama schools in the 1990s before joining the Conservatoire National Supérieur d’Art Dramatique in 2004 after appearing in several TV shows.
Her first films were in France but she was asked to take the lead in the 2002 German film Olga’s Summer before playing Mary Queen of Scots in the BBC production of Gunpowder, Treason and Plot in 2004.
The next year she was cast as Fleur Delacour in her first Harry Potter, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.
A role in the Oscar-nominated In Bruges followed in 2008, where she appeared alongside Colin Farrell and fellow Harry Potter stars Ralph Fiennes and Brendan Gleeson.
She has also since done Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 and, next year, Part 2. Her links with French directors led to her appearing in Le Grande Meaulnes with Jean-Daniel Verhaeghe in 2006, a role that won her a best actress award at the Festival de Cabourg.