Lucie Zhang, the Bright Star of Jacques Audiard’s Latest Film
Lucie Zhang had always wanted to act but didn’t dare tell her parents - until Jacques Audiard cast her in his latest project.
Photography by Andrea Montano
Les Olympiades is your first major film role. How did you get involved in the film?
I saw an ad on Instagram that excited me right away. I didn’t have much hope of success but a very strong conviction that I had to try. I didn’t know Jacques Audiard, nor [casting director] Christel Barras. After searching online, I saw that they wanted a bilingual character of Chinese origin, and I said to myself:, “I have to do this film, I have to embody it.”
After a first round of casting, Christel Barras was very happy, then after a second one, she told me that I was too young for the role, not mature enough. Finally, she called me at the end of the lockdown., I met Jacques, and, after a workshop session, I got the part.
Then began a relatively long period of preparation followed by a quick and intense shooting. I worked with three coaches – for body, voice and acting – and I learned a lot, both about myself and about life. The body expression sessions allowed me to connect with myself and others. At the time of the castings, I was still in my second year of studies at Paris-Dauphine University.
Did you know Jacques Audiard’s cinema before?
No, not really. To be totally honest, I haven’’t seen many films, and I feel a little bit cinematographically uneducated. The good side of that is that it gives me a huge motivation and a real desire to feed myself with cinema. I can spend a whole day watching movies. It makes me feel like I’m not myself anymore. I forget myself.
What is he like on a shoot?
He’s a very intelligent person, very receptive. It’s crazy to see how he thinks about things that are so subtle, so out of the ordinary. I could listen to him talk for hours. He is also gentle, kind, patient, even if I know that, deep down, he wants to go fast, that he is tense. One day on the set, he said to me, “What’’s happening is that you are afraid and you need to be reassured, and I would really like to reverse that in our relationship.” He knows very well that being in doubt or fear is very bad for actors who are fragile and vulnerable on set, and he makes sure to embrace them, not to damage them. He is very strong. [Laughs].
Did you always plan to be an actress?
I think I always wanted to be an actress, but I repressed this desire, so nothing happened. I didn’t talk about it, and I didn’t do anything for it. My parents did everything to keep me from this idea because, for them, it was inconceivable. They would have preferred that I be a doctor, an accountant or a banker. It was important to them that I did well in school.
Did they accept your decision easily?
No, no. But in the end, this project made them change their mind, and they are now very supportive. Before, they didn’t know, and they had their own ideas, and now they think it’s all very good, and they think I’ve become a star – when I haven’t. [Laughs]. It’s great.
French was, for me, an intellectual language, cold, for my public life, and Chinese was the language of intimacy, emotions, love. Lucie Zhang
In the film, there are scenes that you perform in Chinese. Why?
Some scenes were too distant from me, because of my lack of life experience. Jacques Audiard told me that I was two different people in Chinese and French, so he advised me to perform in Chinese, or to translate the text to Chinese in my head before acting, to keep the feeling, and when it came to the point of speaking, to switch into French.
Do you feel close to the character Émilie, whom you play in Les Olympiades?
Her thirst for freedom is mine. She moves forward without worry;, she wants to live her life. She has a fire burning inside, and I love the way she lets it out. She does it with so much ease and carelessness. I’’m so worried about how other people will look at me. She is outgoing, I am introverted. She is sociable, I am shy.
The other thing we have in common is that we both want to break away from our families, even though I am very gentle with mine. Otherwise, I am very far from her, even if I was born in the 13th arrondissement, where the film was shot.
Les Olympiades is about today’s world and, in particular, the sexuality of young people. How do you view this subject?
I think about it a lot. We all have values and ideas. Sexuality must be something totally free, and the film agrees with what I think. When we identify desires within us, it’’s best not to crush them. Freud spoke about impulses that we cannot face. However, in the film, it is the opposite that plays out. Les Olympiades is closer to the reality of our desires, in my opinion: sometimes we want more than one person, sometimes we want sex without waiting…… It’’s not so much that people have changed over time and become more open;, it’’s just that we used to repress more things. In the film, the expression and realization of desires areis natural.
This interview has been translated from the French. Lucie wears clothing by Dior and jewelry by Tiffany & Co. Fashion by Tess Pisani. Hair by Andrea Idini. Makeup by Fay Bio-Toura. Manicure by Marie Rosa. Videography by Johan Leclaire-Bottarelli. Special thanks to Valérie Bouba at Paris Dauphine University.