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Martyrs Interview

The provocative French horror film Martyrs, directed by Pascal Laugier, was one of the most talked about films at the 2008 Cannes Film Festival, no doubt thanks to its shocking and disturbingly violent scenes. The two stars, Morjana Alaoui and Mylene Jampanoi, were recently in London promoting the film, and took a few minutes to talk to View London’s Matthew Turner about shaved heads, screaming and crying on camera and the loneliness of making Martyrs.

How did you both get involved in the film?
Mylene Jampanoi (MJ): For me it was just a traditional casting through my agent. First the director gave me the script and I read it. It was interesting and a different story, a different script. And when I met the director I knew that we should do something together. From the beginning, I believed in him, I wanted to be confident and trust in him.

Morjana Alaoui (MA): For me it was different, because there was another actress who was supposed to do the role, but at the last minute she got afraid because she had a son, she didn't want him to see such violent images, so she changed her mind. So Pascal was back looking for an actress and he saw my first movie, so we had lunch. And then this was quite strange because I didn't do any screen tests or anything, he just said it was going to be me.

It's an extremely intense, emotionally draining film. How did you prepare for the scenes?
MA: You know it's a very hard question because we did a lot of preparation but how are you going to prepare, you know, screaming or – so we were really focussed and we worked a lot. It was a chaotic shoot. And the make-up and everything, all this helped me be in my character and I couldn't cheat on any emotions, Pascal wouldn't allow us to cheat, so just on set, they were just coming up.

Can you say a little about Pascal's directing style?
MA: Pascal had two different ways of directing.
MJ: It was not easy. We weren't fighting, but we didn't speak so much, so I was a little bit lost on the set and I didn't know what I would do. I don't have a lot of experience as an actress, so I counted on him a lot, but we didn't find so much of a connection. So I was on a horror movie and I was totally lost, really alone and in another country, so it was really difficult for me. And I spent a lot of energy off the set and I realise now that if I make another horror movie, I will do the opposite. I wasted a lot of energy on unimportant things, you know? But yes, it was a good experience, Pascal is a good director. But a lot of confusion for me.

Did you find that that actually worked for your character?
MJ: Yes, you know, unconsciously, we do some things and realise later and I think that my attitude was close to the character that I wanted to show. You know, she was conflicted and I was a bit like that myself and maybe a little bit autistic. Yeah, it was interesting.

You said two different styles?
MA: Yeah, for me, I think as my character is more responsible and she's here to really take care of Lucie and so on, Pascal had a smoother relationship with me, not trying to, like, push on some neurotic buttons because I had to play the opposite. But it's true that sometimes I felt, like Mylene, very, very lonely, I mean, what experience did I have? I had done one film and here I was, screaming and crying and being the saddest I ever was in my life and in front of a camera, so sometimes you need a director to say, ‘Yeah, it's good, no, it's not good, let's do this this way,’ and Pascal really let me be this responsible individual actress, just like my character.

You mentioned the make-up – how long did it take to get it all right?
MA: It took a lot of time. We used to wake up at like 3am to start shooting at 7am, so it was quite intense, as well. But I had never realised there was such a different world, so it was very interesting.

And Pascal told me that you allowed them to actually cut off your hair in the film?
MA: Yeah. And have my head shaved. It was cool because I always wanted to see what it looked like, but afterwards – it was two years ago, so I've been struggling to get my hair back. I'm happier this way.

What was the hardest scene to film?
MJ: Everything was difficult, every day. To keep the same emotion every day was difficult. To be connected with the character was difficult. But when I kill the mother and I torture her, every day I was hitting her, so it's never easy. Every day, the movie was difficult.

What are your next projects?
MA: I just finished a German movie called The Room, with Nikolai Kinski.
MJ: I'm shooting the Serge Gainsbourg movie, a biopic about Serge Gainsbourg and I play his last wife. And after that, I'm doing a movie with a French director, his name is Xavier Gens, he made Frontiers. It's not a horror movie though. I play a journalist, but it's a nice one. And maybe a comedy, but we don't have enough money for that yet.

Do you have any films or directors that have particularly influenced you or that you especially want to work with?
MJ: I like Festen and the films of the bardennes Brothers. Realistic movies, you know? As an actress, I'm dying to play this kind of character. I would love to work with the Dardennes brothers.
MA: I love melodramas. I'd love to be in that kind of genre. That's the kind of film I like to watch the most.

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Content updated: 21/11/2018 20:15

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