meet our new favorite french it girl.

by rebecca willa davis

Watching movies is part of the gig as an editor, so it goes without saying that I see a lot of fresh-faced actors in a lot of films. Some leave lasting impressions, while others seemingly disappear as quickly as it took for them to arrive. But the moment she appears onscreen in Renoir, the new film opening tomorrow about the French impressionist painter in the final years of his life, Christa Theret steals the show. It's hard not to see why the titular character would find such inspiration in his new muse Andree Heuschling; she's smart, she's beautiful, she's confident, and she's charming enough to get just about anyone to do just about anything. The same could be said about Theret; just barely into her twenties, she's got that je ne sais quoi that has propelled women like Marion Cotillard and Melanie Laurent into Hollywood. Will Theret be next? We sat down with the French stunner--and aspiring filmmaker--to find out.

When you first read the script for Renoir did you have a sense that Andree was this dynamic, central figure in the story?

When I read the screenplay for the first time, i thought that she was a very interesting character but i couldn't really project myself into it because at the time i had blonde hair, i was thinner, I didn't really feel a physical connection with her on the body level. Yet there was something about her that really touched me on an emotional level. [The director] was doing a casting and I did some tests with him, and then he called and told me it was me, so I tried to then begin the process of putting myself into the character. I gained some weight, which helped me because it became not my body but her body, and that was something that really helped me. She's a character that encompasses so many things: She's very modern, considering the time. She's a bit of an avant-gardist, she doesn't accept her societal role. She comes and she's very clear about pointing out that she's the model, she's not the maid, and she has no intention of becoming a maid. And so in that sense she has that refusal to accept her social status for what she was born into. She was just a very interesting character to play.

As soon as the movie was over, I went about Googling who this woman was; did you do a lot of research about her beforehand or did you want to have your own vision of who this woman was?

I went to the book department, trying to find just some documentation about who she was, and except for a few references maybe in a biography about Jean Renoir or Auguste Renoir, there was nothing written about her! So there really wasn't that aspect of preparation that would have filled me in on what her character was. I went to see some of the early films of Jean Renoir; I saw Nana, La Fille de l'eau, The Little Match Girl, and so even though they were silent films, I was able to get a sense of what her energy was like and see how she moved and what she was like as a person. But I think it was important to keep a distance from her, and not to over intellectualize who she was as a person because she's someone who was very spontaneous, she had this energy, she reacted, and in a way it sort of complements how I am myself. So I thought on that level it was important to keep it that way.

Coming from an artistic family, did that seem to feed into at all they way that you approached the character?

It's true that what I lived certainly did play an influence, most specifically in the idea that I have of the relationship between an artist and a model, because my father was a painter and my mother was an artist's model. This sort of abstract relationship that can be almost sublime, this sort of silent conversation that goes on between them, and so that was a help to me in understanding the role that Andrea played as a model. It's also, in a way, a reflection of the same kind of relationship that directors have with their actresses. That carried over into that as well; I think it helped me to understand it on that level, but of course her story is something that is very different from mine.

So far, you've only been in French films. Do you see yourself making the transition to Hollywood?

Yeah, I would like to grow up with an American director, or Norwegian, or Swedish, but no, I don't have any plans. Because, you know, it's a job, you never have security. I'm very young--I'm 22 years old--and I'm not sure what will go on in 10 years. I can't believe what's happened to me, so I have to live for the moment. I'm not dreaming [that] in 15 years I want to be here and here, because sometimes I can be disappointed by what's happened. But I would like to be a director, I'm writing my first short movie. I'm looking for financing, and the [role] options have expanded, but I have to be careful not to accept everything.

What are you looking for, then?

I want to be touched by the character. I would like to play someone who's not that far from who I am; I think I'm not that much of a professional to really incarnate a totally different character! But I would like to play more trash movies. I did a lot of movies about a girl who was very smart, sensitive, very sweet, well behaved--it was very cool, but I would rather play someone who is, like, whoa, bad girl.

Having been born and raised in Paris, is there anywhere else you see yourself living?

I would like to live in Berlin. I go spend time there every two months. I love the city and the simplicity of the people. This is actually my first time in the New York City, and I like it! I've never been before so I'm very struck by it--it's amazing.

Not to be creepy, but what perfume are you wearing? It smells so good!

I'm wearing La Nuit De L'homme by Yves Saint Laurent--it's a men's perfume!