Totems – “I found my own Cold War experience in the series”

Totems - cast interview
Stanislav Honzik

The actors of Totems tell the underside of the new French spy series from Prime Video.

While the new French series from Amazon Prime Video entitled Totems is released today on the platform, First met the team of this production signed Juliet Soubrier, Olivier Dujols (The Office of Legends) and Jerome Hall (The Odyssey). In the cast of this French spy series, Niels Schneider, Ana Girardot, Jose Garcia, Lambert Wilson and Vera Kolesnikova have confessed.

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First: Often, productions concerning the Cold War are reserved for the United States. With Totems, the viewer is immersed in this era but from a French point of view, which is not common. How did you go about reconstructing it?
Ana Girardot: This is the first thing I asked Jérôme Salle: ‘How was life in Paris with this threat?’ He explained to me that it didn’t feel at all, that it wasn’t in the culture unlike the United States or Russia.
Niels Schneider: Olivier Dujols was with us almost all the time. He was extremely knowledgeable, so we talked a lot, and we also watched documentaries, we read books, we were nourished by this atmosphere from outside sources. Moreover in the series we do not really feel the danger when we are in the French part.
Lambert Wilson: He could be called anytime when a historical area was in trouble. To memorize the text, the technical elements must be very clear, otherwise you won’t succeed. So I had a kind of hotline with him, and he told me about a historical figure who served as a model for my character Charles Contignet. It’s very well done, there’s really a concern for precision in the reconstruction, image work with, in particular, computer-generated images also for Berlin and Moscow.
Jose Garcia: Olivier is so well informed that we ourselves entered the world of espionage and counter-espionage.

What did you like about this project? Why did you accept it?
LW: I went there a bit backwards. I was very convinced by Jérôme Salle, with whom I had worked on The Odysseybut above all I was very taken by the whole series, everything that happened there.
JJ: I love my character, I was very touched to be offered this. I found him to be a very lonely character, with a lot of flaws. That’s what I like the most in terms of characters, especially in this era that tends to homogenize people. To have such a particular character was a kind of terrible priesthood, a quest. I think what’s great with period films like that is that we have time to rediscover actors in another universe, it allows us to strip away all the collective unconscious that we have been able to accumulate over the years. We were very spoiled on this series.
LW: There was also an emulation in the meeting with the Russian actors, they are very embodied by their theatrical career, and therefore they impose a level of play that you have to get used to and that you have to follow. It’s a little electric shock.
JJ: We were lucky enough to come face to face with actors who are passionate, with other actors who are also passionate, but with a different eye. It was jubilant.
LW: What is obvious is that José’s character is incredibly complex, and I was very jealous of his role.

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How did you build your characters, what did you draw inspiration from?
GA: My character is the same age as my grandmothers at the same time, so it was very interesting to put myself in their shoes, to ask myself what social situation they were in and what they were allowed to do. For example, even my skirts held back my steps. And all these scenes that I went through allowed me to realize the path traveled by women, to be able to live freely and make our own life choices. In particular the abortion scene, which touched me a lot since one of my grandmothers died of a clandestine abortion in 1965, or even the scene at the bank. It seemed very far away and suddenly it became very real and very concrete. In writing it seems a bit classic, but when you shoot them it makes them realistic, you can fully become aware of social progress. It allowed me to take all the more pleasure, as my character grows and takes his destiny into his own hands.
JJ: It’s complicated to get inspired, even if the passives of the heroes are reminiscent of those of the heroes of Peaky Blinders : we know that the characters come out of the war, that they have experienced atrocities, and that they have continued to vegetate in the atrocities of war and in a profession that they know how to do but which is very painful. Lambert’s character continued to struggle, he became responsible for one of the largest French intelligence services. My character is a man who has not always chosen the best sides, who found himself a little rejected but who nevertheless remained patriotic and who is a war worker, who lives in drama and in pain. . It’s a gray eminence.

Totems - Prime Video series
Stanislav Honzik

totems, it’s a spy story of course, but it’s also a women’s story and a love story. Isn’t it finally a story of adrenaline?
NS: Somewhere, yes. In any case, the character of Francis is a man who has a quiet life, he’s a very upright person, who lives a love without adrenaline, but that suits him, he doesn’t realize that he misses it. It is when he is going to be embarked on this story that he will realize it. If it’s a world that he doesn’t value at all at the start, he will eventually turn out to be quite talented, become a little addicted to this adrenaline and find himself stuck between his life and this need to keep coming back to it, in particular with Lyudmila.

We also feel a different form of love with your character, Vera Kolesnikova, since Lyudmila has a very strong love for her father. Is it something you have experienced?
Vera Kolesnikova: Yes, I have a rather complicated relationship with my father, but the series helped me a lot and I think I managed to heal them. The scenes with my father on screen really touched me.

Lambert Wilson and José Garcia, more than the other cast members, you grew up during the Cold War. Do you have any memories from that time that you used for your roles?
LW: I remember a thought that is still very present in my mind. I said to myself that it was completely crazy, when I looked at a map of the world, to imagine that this territory which corresponded to the USSR, was forbidden to me. That I could never go there freely. I could go everywhere, except there, and it was something very concrete until 1989. It existed in my adult life. And then, there was also the nuclear threat: with the events in Cuba, we felt a nuclear threat and a world war. We were demonstrating against it, and it really marked my youth.
JJ: Especially since a bomb was dropped on Hiroshima. From the moment a country had already used this bomb, it was very scary. For my part, I lived next to the Russian embassy, ​​and my family was very communist. Once, someone had come to the house with Russians, and it was crazy to see the difference and the anxiety that reigned, everyone was suspicious of everyone. There was a harshness in the communist bloc, it was very austere… You could see the harshness in the people, the way they even left the embassy. And it’s something that I found on the set.
LW: I shot in Poland during the Iron Curtain, and it’s as if I had been in East Germany. And there was this joke going around: people said there was only one communist in the country, but we didn’t know who it was. So we couldn’t talk about it, it was a state of permanent mistrust. And I think that’s extremely well represented in the series. For example, when the characters are in Berlin for the scientific congress, we understand that everyone is being watched. I remember being in hotels in Poland, with someone monitoring the comings and goings of each floor and each room. It was impossible to escape the constant gaze of the state.

Can we expect a sequel?
NS: We hope to be able to work on this series again, yes.

Totems is available on Prime Video. Its trailer:

Totems: Niels Schneider and Lambert Wilson in the new French series from Prime Video [bande-annonce]

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