The actress looks back on her grueling role in the breathtaking Until Custody and her work with director Xavier Legrand.
In February 2019, Lea Drucker won the César for best actress for Up to custody, also winner of the best film and the best original screenplay. In his strong speech, the actress obviously thanked the director Xavier Legrand and sent a message to women victims of violence.
We met her in February of the same year, during her release of this shocking film, which will be broadcast for the first time in the clear tonight, on France 2, followed by a report entitled Love to death. Flashback.
Custody: The Shocking Film of the Beginning of the Year [Critique]
In 2013, Léa Drucker toured festivals to defend Before losing everything, astonishing short film by an almost unknown, Xavier Legrand, portrait of a mother under the threat of a violent husband. Bitter, stretched like a bow, the short won a plethora of awards including the César for short film in 2014.
Five years later, Léa Drucker takes over the role of Miriam in Up to custody recounting the complicated divorce of a couple with the custody of their minor child at stake. The actress once again imposes her presence there as determined as fragile in the face of massive Denis Ménochet – which would tend to occupy the entire screen. Like their brutal confrontation, Up to custody is a cinematic uppercut, a film where the subject is perfectly aligned with the form and leaves you completely groggy.
When you shot the short film Before I lose it all in 2012, did you think that these characters, this story and this young director, Xavier Legrand, would carry you so long and so high?
I fell in love with Xavier from our first meeting where everything revolved around cinema. In particular, I spoke to him a lot about Cristian Mungiu, of this very spectacular, very tense and very familiar vein. He told me he loved it… We then had a lot of fun making the short film but we couldn’t imagine what happened next.
Did you have the guarantee of playing in the feature film?
It never works like that. We have the delicacy not to impose ourselves… I really wanted to and I would of course have been sad if the long was done without me. Xavier had also confided to me that he had written the short for me, which had never happened to me.
How had this character lived in you during these five years?
I hadn’t forgotten him, he was always in the back of my mind. Before the preparation, however, I had a little apprehension. It impressed me to keep Miriam alive for a long time. The court was so strong, I was afraid I wouldn’t be up to it. Then, when we got to the heart of the matter, it became very concrete and that question no longer arose. Besides, I was not alone. There was little Thomas Gioria and, above all, Denis Ménochet, whose role took on more importance. It changed the dynamic of my character: in Up to custody, Miriam is in a state of bewilderment, of observation, which she was not in Before I lose it all where she was acting. It was necessary to make her exist differently knowing that she is a woman in reconstruction.
The Tickles, Custody: the engaged speeches of the winners of the César 2019
The film is based on a permanent tension between your characters, with a blurred interpretation of each other’s intentions. How do you play mystery and ambiguity at this point?
It escapes us a little, us actors, and we have to assume it. As it was necessary to assume a certain harshness of the character in front of someone who appears threatening to him. This indeed creates confusion for the spectator who has not seen the short. The judge sums it up well: “Which of you two lies the most?” This ambiguity reinforces the dramatic tension.
Did you have to support a vaguely manipulative side of Miriam to mitigate the Manichean potential of Denis Ménochet’s character?
Sure. Denis, for his part, did a wonderful job on his character to give him more humanity. It is very disturbing by the way.
On the set, were you the type to mess around between takes with Denis or didn’t you make friend-friend to stay in the energy of your characters?
It depended on the catch in my case. I usually need to get into a daydreaming state. With Denis, whom I know very well, our relationship changed in the middle of the shoot. As the story was shot chronologically (to spare Thomas Gioria, who plays my son), the tension between our characters kept increasing and we felt that we both needed to take a little distance. It was instinctive.
How did you deal with the harshest scenes psychologically with Thomas Gioria?
I was helped by Xavier Legrand who perfectly prepared Thomas upstream by talking to him about domestic violence and making sure he wanted to play. There was also Amour, his coach (you can’t make it up), who protected him a lot. Between each take, we played Uno, Thomas was kicking the ball with Denis… It was both fun and professional. In the end, it was easy to play with him, he’s a real actor, he understood what this job required of himself. We never took things from him, he offered them.
Xavier Legrand told us that what fascinated him was directing actors but that he had no particular method. How would you define working with him?
There emanates from Xavier something very sensitive to which we cannot remain indifferent. He is very inspiring. He also chooses the casting carefully, which contributes to general emulation. The working framework is well defined, rigorous and, within that, it leaves us a lot of freedom.
Up to custody is a great staging film, very composed, with particular attention paid to ambient sounds, to voices as well. Does it participate in the direction of actors?
The psychology of the characters follows, indeed. You should know that this work on the sound was written in the script. I was particularly impressed by the description of the atmospheres in the car: the noise of the seat belts, the alarm, etc. Just reading it, I already felt oppressed. It is rather rare.
In the party scene, you talk to the other characters but the sound of your voice is covered by the music. Did you know that you would not be heard in the picture?
I thought it was likely (she smiles). The result is stunning.
How do you move on after such a film which certainly marks a date in your career?
It is indeed an important film for me but also because it marks the birth of a filmmaker. For now, I’m taking advantage. I’m very interested in talking about it.
Are you ready to speak out on behalf of women victims of domestic violence?
I can give my opinion, I have one, but I don’t want to be a spokesperson – I don’t think I’m asked. All the stories are so unique that it is difficult to consider oneself legitimate on the question.
The complete winners of the César 2019