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The French Dispatch: Lyna Khoudri On Working With Wes Anderson & Timothée Chalamet (EXCLUSIVE)

We talked to the talented and radiant Lyna Khoudri, the rising star of French cinema. The young actress joins a five-star cast in The French Dispatch, Wes Anderson’s latest movie which premiered at the 2021 Cannes Film Festival. Lyna Khoudri portrays a young revolted student named Juliette, and stars alongside Timothée Chalamet, Bill Murray, Tilda Swinton, Adrien Brody, Frances McDormand, Owen Wilson, Elisabeth Moss, Benicio del Toro, Saoirse Ronan, to name a few. 

At just 29 years old, Lyna Khoudri has already won an Orizzonti award at the Venice Film Festival in 2017, for her role in The Blessed, and she was also sacred ‘’ Most Promising Actress’’ at the César Award ( the French equivalent of the Academy Awards Ceremony’’), for her role in Papicha in 2020.

You can watch the second part of this interview down below (don’t forget to click on the subtitles… unless you understand French!):

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How would you describe ‘’The French Dispatch’’ to someone who isn’t necessarily familiar with Wes Anderson?  

Lyna Khoudri: It’s the story of an American magazine, based in France, well not based in France. It started wrong already [laughing]. It’s an American magazine that sends reporters in France, and then through these journalists, we discover the stories they are telling, stories that take shape and life. So we have three different stories, they all take place in France. One takes place in prison, the second one is about students, and the last one tells the story of a Japanese chef cook. 

And then we just simply watch it. 

Lyna Khoudri: Exactly. You simply watch the movie, you don’t explain a Wes Anderson’s movie. [laughing]. It’s a universe, but above all, it’s an homage to journalists, to writers, and to France. Wes always said that he wanted to make a French movie, so that’s his French movie. And it’s beautiful because he’s been Parisian for years now, he has an immense love for France and French culture, so it’s beautiful to see his vision. 

Were you expecting this nine minutes-long standing ovation at the Cannes Film Festival? 

Lyna Khoudri: We never really expect this, one’s always scared to show a movie, because people might not like it. But we feel more confident when we introduce a movie by Wes Anderson because he’s so loved, he’s so unique, he’s a genius, there’s no one like him. He does cinema good. So we don’t really expect this to happen, but we are a lot more confident.

What inspired you to say yes to this script, and how did the casting process go for you?

Lyna Khoudri: We didn’t have the complete script right away, we just had our own parts. But I didn’t even have the script yet when Wes asked me to join this project. And I said ‘’yes’’ without even reading it [laughing]. I was asked to do a self-tape at first, in my room. Then I was asked to come to an audition in Paris. And 2 or 3 weeks later, they called me back to tell me that Wes had chosen me. Then we met, and we started working together. First, we worked on the costumes, and then on my character. We started filming pretty quickly after that.

How was it to work with Wes Anderson?

It’s absolutely wonderful because he knows what he wants, so he’ll do his best to guide us to his goal, his vision. In the meantime, he gives us the liberty to do whatever we want during certain scenes. He’ll be like ‘’Next take is yours, show me your vision‘’. So we can suggest something, and work on that with his own directions as well. It’s extremely enjoyable as an actor, to feel protected by a framework, and to be free at the same time. 

Did you feel close to Juliette? 

I felt close to her in her way of being determined, less in the way that she acts and does something without thinking first. She dives headfirst before thinking, and you can see it in the movie since at the end she apologizes because she was a bit mean. So I try to think a bit more now before I do something [laughing]. But yes, there’s a go-getter side to her that I recognize in myself.

How was the atmosphere in Angoulême? What did it mean to you to film this huge film in this French city with this international cast?

It was very special! It was special to see Bill walking down the streets of Angoulême to go buy some chocolat, and seeing fans running after him. He was very much okay with it, he was talking with them, signing autographs. But the people of Angoulême were very welcoming and not oppressing at all. They all knew where the hotel was situated, there aren’t that many hotels there. But this city is used to welcome big events. There is the Angoulême International Comics Festival , the Angoulême Francophone Film Festival. There are many famous people there. It’s a very cultural city, so we were very welcomed there. It was fun. 

What kind of research did you have to do? Did you read certain books, or were you inspired by movies or even documentaries? 

I did a lot of research about students in 1968 in France. I found a lot of articles, essays, manifestos. I actually found a manifesto that I sent to Wes because it really spoke to me. I need to find it in my emails. I read The DaDa manifesto as well, that really resonated with me when I was a teenager. So I took on these manifestos, where there’s a group of people that come together to defend a cause that they have in common. Wes also gave me references from French movies for my character. There were some movies by Renoir like ‘The Rules of the Game’, and a lot of movies from the New Wave. For Juliette, I used ‘The truth by Clouzot’, with Brigitte Bardot, who plays a revolted young woman, and ‘’Le Pont du Nord’’ by Jacques Rivette with Pascale Ogier. It’s also a very special atmosphere, I wasn’t familiar with Jacques Rivette. And Juliette’s helmet and scooter were inspired by ‘’Le Pont du Nord’’, clearly. Wes works with a lot of references. In the hall of our hotel, there was a table with a lot of movies that Wes put there. We could take them to watch them in our room and then we could talk about it with him. It was very cool. 

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