“The Artist” has always been the little, silent, black-and-white French film about the golden age of Hollywood that could, from its shift into competition a week before it bowed at Cannes to its subsequent wheelbarrow full of nominations and awards. By the time its ten Oscar nominations, including Best Picture, were announced, not even Hollywood royalty Kim Novak could derail “The Artist,” though she tried in a Variety interview comparing the film's Oscar-nominated score to "rape" and stating its lifted themes from Vertigo made her "feel as if my body – or at least my body of work – has been violated by the movie."
Whether you subscribe to the idea that Pitt and Clooney are splitting votes or old Hollywood just likes watching movies about, well, old Hollywood, it can't be denied that “The Artist” is rolling into the 84th Annual Academy Awards smelling like a winner. But before its awards juggernaut began, it was just another film on the slate of the 49th New York Film Festival this past fall. After the press screening in October, nine director chairs were placed on the Walter Reade stage and the writer and director, producer and cast of “The Artist” assembled to answer questions in the kickoff moment of their Oscar campaign. We've decided to round up these silent stars and give them a hundred words on the eve of what could very well be their Oscar triumph.
Best Writing and Directing nominee Michel Hazanavicius
Pre-Artist credits: two campy Bond spoofs that hit in his native France
"Even when I was just talking about making this movie, people were saying, 'Why do you want to make a silent movie?' The only answer was because I wanted to, but that was not enough. I had many options for the script. Well, not many. I had two, to be honest, but one of them was this one. I thought it was maybe easier for the audience to accept a silent movie if the subject was a silent movie, so we made the subject a silent movie actor and that made sense. Hollywood and making movies became the subject."
Best Supporting Actress nominee Bérénice Bejo
Pre-Artist credits: made her American debut in the 2001 Heath Leger flick “A Knight's Tale,” then married and bore two children for writer and director Michel Hazanavicius
"It was important for me to find a way to be an American actress, which I'm not. I'm from Argentina and live in France. I watched Marlene Dietrich, which is really not me. Marlene had something special. Every time she came into a frame, she was very animal and intense without doing anything. She moved very slowly. I love the way she holds her cigarette and winks. I looked at so many winks on the internet. I Googled her: ‘Marlene-plus-winks.’ And I watched her wink and wink and wink. That's the only thing I practiced: the wink and the whistle."
Best Actor nominee Jean Dujardin
Pre-Artist credits: BFF-status with Hazanavicius and leading roles in his two previous films
"Like Bérénice, my influences included F. W. Murnau, Vittorio Gassman, and Lassie. The dog in the film is very cute. It's my dog, Uggie. And Uggie watched Lassie too. But it's not just Uggie in this film, it's me too. It's Uggie and Jack. We're the same silhouette. It's instinctive. I like to keep my pleasure on the set, like a child."
Best Picture nominee producer Thomas Langmann
Pre-Artist credits: a triple-threat producer who also has acting and directing credits on his resume
"I had a lot of concerns, but I thought Michel was such a gifted director. At first, for a producer, silent and black and white is not what's really expected. But I thought if we could succeed in this love story and we set it in Hollywood, then it would look real. I thought Michel could make a very, very good movie. And I think he did."
Co-Star Penelope Ann Miller
Pre-Artist credits: everything from “Carlito's Way” to Donna Hanover in the Rudy Giuliani TV bio-pic, but contends her role as Edna Purviance in “Chaplin” gives her silent movie "veteran" status
"Michel pays so much attention to detail from the set design to props. And he would play music on the set to create a mood and that really helped us create our characters and be in the moment and feel the emotion. In the breakfast sequence, when Jean and I are across the table from one another and our marriage is slowly disintegrating, so were the flowers on the table. The paintings on the walls were getting more crooked. I guess it's just subtle things, but it was brilliant."
Co-Star Beth Grant
Pre-Artist credits: Give her a minute, she'll get to them
"I am certainly American, but no one's ever called me a Yankee! I've been so fortunate in my life as a supporting actress to be in so many great films, all decidedly American – “No Country for Old Men,” “Rain Man,” “Little Miss Sunshine” – but to me, this film is the pinnacle of my career. And I say that humbly. I am proud to be a small part of this film that's an homage to all Hollywood movies."
Co-Star James Cromwell
Pre-Artist credits: more than 150 acting gigs to his name, but Cromwell is probably best known as the "That'll do, pig, that'll do" farmer in the Babe franchise
"It was brilliantly cast, first of all. Basically all I had to do was watch the rest of the people I was working with because this type of acting is all about reaction. But it's profound in many ways; it's not only about film and the nature of our industry, but also the nature of being an audience and an actor in our own lives."