In 1996, Olivier Assayas debuted his film “Irma Vep” at the Cannes Film Festival. 26 years later, the French filmmaker is back at the festival with the same project — but this time, revisited as a HBO series that stars Alicia Vikander.
Vikander plays the starring role of a disillusioned actress in the upcoming television show. But in real life, she is the rare star to reject the world of celebrity. In fact, Vikander reveals she doesn’t even have an assistant, in contrast to her “Irma Vep” character.
“I, myself, have never had an assistant who lived with me 24/7 or cook [or make] coffee for me, but I’ve always been quite intrigued by what that is because I’ve seen some people in my industry, or colleagues, who have that, and it’s just… that wouldn’t work for me, personally,” Vikander said at the Variety Studio presented by Campari at Cannes Film Festival in conversation with Assayas. “So, that was kind of interesting to tap into that and see what that dependent relationship looks like.”
The original “Irma Vep” starred Maggie Cheung, who played herself as an actress who starred in the silent film, “Les Vampires.” Unlike the first film, Vikander will not play herself and her character is not named Alicia. Instead, she will play Mira, an American movie star who is disillusioned by her career and her recent breakup, so she comes to France to star in a remake of the French silent classic.
“I’ve always been the foreign actress in America,” said Vikander, who also serves as an executive producer on the HBO series. “And now I get to be a bit lost in French-European cinema, which was a lot of fun for me to do.”
The Swedish actor, who won the best supporting actress Oscar for “The Danish Girl” in 2016, said there are some parallels between her new role and her own career, but there are actually very few similarities to the character she plays on-screen. In real life, Vikander — who attended Cannes with her husband, actor Michael Fassbender — is incredibly private and does not seek fame, like her character does in “Irma Vep.”
“I try to be quite detached from that,” Vikander said of celebrity culture. “I love talking about films and my work, so this is such an exciting time being in Cannes with it. But yes, no, I’m quite shy.”
Assayas chimed in, “I suppose that’s what we share.” The director said that the biggest difference with his update of “Irma Vep” is exploring the vast change the movie business is undergoing.
“I think it also has to do with the situation of chaos that film cinema is in right now,” Assayas said of his new series. “I think it was really interesting to make some sort of Polaroid of what’s going on right now where people don’t know if you’re shooting a series, a film, where it will be shown. Where does the financing come from? How it should be called? Should it be shown in film festival? Should it not be shown in film festivals?”
Asssayas continued, “Everything in the history of cinema seems to have just exploded, and you’re trying to understand what the new picture is.”
Noting that “Irma Vep” is about a silent film star, he added, “I think it’s an exciting moment to make a movie about cinema, and especially about going back to the basics.”
Vikander — who got her start on Swedish soap operas, but exploded in America with both award-worthy and blockbuster feature films — said she enjoys streaming from home, but also loves the theater-going experience.
“I think evolution just happens,” Vikander said of the changing state of the film industry. “I am a person who watches a lot of films now at home because they’re available, but it also doesn’t take away that I still absolutely love going to the cinema.”