- The Washington Times - Friday, November 13, 2015

If one word comes to mind to explain what has made Juliette Binoche’s film career so rich, it would have to be “empathy.” In a career spanning decades on both sides of the Atlantic, the French actress has continually played characters that grab audiences’ hearts, be it in her Oscar-winning role as the nurse Hannah in “The English Patient” or even the small-but-crucial role of the doomed Sandra Brody in last year’s “Godzilla.”

Friday, Miss Binoche can be seen in “The 33,” which tells the incredible true story of the Chilean miners trapped underground for 69 days. Miss Binoche co-stars alongside Antonio Banderas and Lou Diamond Phillips as Maria Segovia, whose brother is one of the trapped 33 miners.

“My great-grandmother was Brazilian and my father lived in Colombia and Mexico for 25 years, so I’ve been in touch with South American for a while,” Miss Binoche told The Washington Times of playing a person far removed from her Parisian roots. While at first she couldn’t quite imagine herself playing as Chilean, her agent nudged her by saying, “You can play anybody.”

Indeed, Miss Binoche has played both Frenchwomen and Americans as well as a Bosnian in “Breaking and Entering,” which she said was the role that caught the eye of “33” director Patricia Riggen.

Miss Binoche, who spends much of the film screaming at bureaucrats to work harder to free the men from beneath the earth, said she could relate to Maria’s “passion for justice [and] giving a voice [for] truth. So that’s why I said yes finally.”

While Maria spends the running time safely aboveground, Miss Binoche said she was drawn to the story’s claustrophobia and emotional rawness.

“That’s why I want to be an actor. Intensity of emotion allows you to prepare for your own in your life,” she said. “Because there are places in life that are not that easy. I never was frightened as a little girl [or] now to see intense films.”

Perhaps no roll in her career required as much emotional nakedness as Julie, the betrayed composer’s wife in “Blue,” the first in Polish director Krzysztof Kieslowski’s “Three Colors” trilogy. After losing her husband and son in a car crash, Julie learns of her husband’s infidelity while attempting to get his final composition completed by another musician.

“We had a very accomplished relationship,” she said of the late filmmaker, who died in 1996, shortly after completing the trilogy. “There was joy that we shared … and an ease of working together.

“As an actor you have to be responsible because you cannot do things halfway,” Miss Binoche said. “Going into that place it’s very demanding and draining sometimes, but that’s the price you have to pay.”

Incredibly, she feels it takes far more courage for someone to go to a desk on a daily basis than to make oneself so vulnerable on stage or in front of a camera.

“I wouldn’t like an office, and it takes a lot of courage to go there every day to do the same thing,” she said. “Acting, it makes sense to me because it puts me in relationship with my emotions, and I need to know them, I need to express them, I need to be able to recreate them.”

Furthermore, Miss Binoche believes that embracing one’s emotions, either in life or in acting, puts the actor better in touch with her soul and gets her to a place of self-realization. She feels too many people fear peering too deeply inward, pushing such knowledge down with distractions or alcohol.

“We want to escape what’s difficult. We want to make it easy,” she said. “But when you have the courage to go through with it, then you find a sort of freedom.”

Miss Binoche, 51, says that with age comes not only a realization that time is fleeting but also the importance of the ephemeral and the spiritual in her daily life.

“I think I’ve always been in relation with the invisible, with the above, with the somewhere else,” she said. “Faith creates spirituality, and you can really experience that in your everyday life.

“Nobody believed I could be an actor, nobody believed I could make it, and working at it day after day, I had a lot of moments of [feeling] like it’s not going to work. I don’t know what it is telling me it’s going to work. And until you have proof that it is happening without your will … you’re experiencing spirituality not through ideas of concept but through your own experience as a human being.”

When asked if there are roles she has yet to play but would wish to, Miss Binoche demurs, reiterating that to pine for what is not in the here and now would cause anxiety of being out of the present.

“Acting is very much about being present in the moment,” she said. “You’re so much into the instant [of] the eternal and the instant working together.”

To explicate, she points to her theater work, where a live audience gives an actor an in-the-moment reciprocity of experience that is not possible with film performance.

“Film can do it too, but in the theater … you don’t have a medium in between,” she said, adding that the audience and the actors enjoy a symbiotic relationship that enriches both in the moment. “You gain something even stronger as an audience.”

Despite waxing so philosophically on the eternal and the preciousness of living in the present, Miss Binoche still takes time out to enjoy a chuckle. In fact, when asked what types of comedy she enjoys, the actress smiles broadly and says only one word.

“Life,” she says before letting loose a delightfully boisterous laugh.

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