With Hereafter, director Clint Eastwood delves into the supernatural — including a huge special effects sequence early in the film. We talked to star Cécile De France about the most challenging parts of bringing Eastwood's other-worldly vision to life. Spoilers...
In Hereafter, de France plays Marie LeLay, a journalist who gets caught up in a tsunami and has a near-death experience, which transforms her from a cynical career woman into a more open-minded believer in a luminous afterlife. Her story parallels that of George (Matt Damon) a man who has the ability to communicate with the dead. We were lucky enough to speak with de France, along with a handful of other journalists, the other day, and here's what she told us.
That opening sequence, in which Marie LeLay gets caught up in the wave and nearly drowns, is huge and elaborate, and she explained to us how it was shot:
We shot it on one day, in the tank at Pinewood Studios in London. We prepared, with three days or four days of rehearsal — without Clint, just with the stuntman. I had already done two films with underwater scenes, so it was not the first time... but I was a bit scared, becuase the tank is very dark, and you have a lot of sticks of iron everywhere, and you see nothing. And with the oxygen, it's very scary, so I prefer to hold my breath. There was the part that was very dark, for the underwater scenes, and there was another part with the greenscreen, where my head is above the water, and there was a third part — we did it very quickly in the real ocean in Hawaii, with the big waves and the little girls. We shot it very quickly, and Clint Eastwood joined us. It was unbelievable. We were like that (Makes a sweeping motion with her hands) and we were trapped by the waves, and it was very crazy.
Given that her character has to believe in supernatural forces and make this believable to the audience, we were wondering how de France went about bringing some conviction to this unreal worldview. She said she mostly relied on the script by Peter Morgan (The Queen, Frost/Nixon) which was "very complete and very complex," and the movie in general sticks quite closely to Morgan's script. "Those characters are not superheroes, but normal people with their character defects and weaknesses."
She is not connected from what is happening in her heart, and she is missing out on daily simple pleasures, and this experience in the beginning messes up her life, and she is overwhelmed by this experience and it's very painful, because when she tries to talk aout her experience with someone else she loses her credibility as a woman at work... It is very difficult to find the words to describe the sensations she experiences during her near-death experience... It's very hard to find normal language to talk about that, because it's over normal language, so she's saying, "Okay, I'm crazy."
Once she realizes she's not crazy, and other people have had similar experiences, she becomes determined to talk about them. She's less afraid of death, and less concerned about her career.
She felt really happy with her character's subtle progression in the film, from single-minded career woman to more open-minded explorer of the possibility of an afterlife. "It's not like she's a bad person in the beginning, and then she's a good person," says de France. "We can see her fragility, her weakness, during her journey of discovery." She added:
For an actress, it's very interesting to play a character who changes, and she's getting more mature and she's more open minded after her journey, and she profits because a beautiful life is waiting for her at the end of this story and it's quite romantic at the end.
Clint Eastwood "is like God" as far as French people are concerned, because his films have moved people so deeply. "He chooses universal subjects, and he is inspired by real life." And audiences can identify with his characters and see themselves in his stories, because he keeps things simple, "instead of having pretentious direction. He loves to generate real emotion from real life, and it is very European, I think." Hereafter is unlike most other films, because it has a very fast-moving opening in which we confront death, and then the second half is slower and more meditative, "with silence, with breath, with pose." Says de France, "It's very brave."
Her first day of shooting, she and Eastwood were in Germany, shooting a scene that's supposed to take place in Switzerland, and de France says:
I was looking at him. I said to myself, "Oh my God, I really want to be in his skin. I really want to be him." Because very quickly, you see how he's found his inner peace. He is at complete peace with his ego... He's trusts everybody. He is completely confident, becuase he really lives his work in the simple joy of being in the present... He is completely connected with himself, and that's why he's so cool. And he emanates that. He emanates love, really.
She adds that Eastwood's attitude is "completely devoid of despotism" because he knows his crew very well, and he trusts them to get the job done.
Hereafter is in limited release right now, and opens wide on Friday.