Judith Godrèche has appeared in more than 30 films since beginning her acting career at just 14 in France. Along with her many roles in French films, she became familiar to American audiences in the film The Man in the Iron Mask, Stoker and The Overnight. But since 2010, she’s started focusing on opportunities behind the scenes as a director and now, writer-producer of Under the Eiffel Tower. Co-writing the film with director Archie Borders and David Henry, Godrèche also co-starred and co-produced the film with Veep’s Matt Walsh (the film also features his Veep costars Reid Scott and Gary Cole, along with Michaela Watkins and David Wain). In the film, Walsh plays a washed-up liquor promoter who falls in love with a winery owner (Godrèche) during a trip to France. This isn’t the first time Godrèche plays the French object of affection, but she also wanted to take it upon herself to avoid the typical stereotypes.
Lesley Coffin: How did you get involved in the film as a co-writer?
Judith Godrèche: I didn’t come up with the concept, the original script came to me. But then when Matt Walsh and I got involved and I started producing it, Archie generously offered us the opportunity to work on the script with him. That’s when I became one of the co-writers. But the bones of the story were always there. The original script leaned more towards the buddy comedy, and Matt and I really saw it more as a romantic comedy. We wanted it to be less of a dude film and make the women less of a stereotype. I was lucky that Archie really wanted my take on the character and encouraged me to reverse some of the clichés Americans might have about French women.
Lesley Coffin: When you got the script and saw some of those stereotypes were present, did you feel comfortable discussing your concerns with him, before deciding to be one of the writers?
Judith Godrèche Oh yes. They clearly had an idealized version of French women, which I understand because I’ve experienced that since moving to America. A lot of films do that. But there was literally a scene where my character was changing her clothes on a train car. She literally got down to her panties. And I had to say, this might be funny, but it doesn’t feel real. But I think it came from a good place of them seeing French women as open-minded and sophisticated. And when I voiced my opinions they were interested in hearing my thoughts and wanted to collaborate.
Lesley Coffin: Besides the way your character was written, did you bring up changes that could be made to the male characters?
Judith Godrèche: Matt and I kind of became the characters. We rewrote the roles by improvising the scenes, trying to ground the scenes. We developed a real friendship throughout this process and the humanity which comes out of those characters came from that experience. The white middle-aged crisis has been seen in many movies before, but we didn’t want him to be a stereotype either. He’s a man who’s been shutting himself off but he’s actually a sophisticated and curious person. France offers him a new beginning, which is why I really liked the story. I love films about new beginnings, we all want the possibility of a second chance.
Lesley Coffin: How do you feel about the way France has been used in films, especially in romantic comedies?
Judith Godrèche: It certainly has been done well in some films and it’s interesting that in so many films, we often see a foreigner falling in love with a French person and the country itself. But what happens is, because of that love they want to show the things that made them love that country, so we see a very idealized version of Paris, and we start to see the same things repeatedly. It’s important to remember that an American director making a film in France isn’t a French film. It’s something else.
Lesley Coffin: Matt’s well known for his supporting roles in comedies, but this is a new opportunity for him to be a leading man and play a character who’s a little more serious.
Judith Godrèche: I’d just worked with Jason Schwartzman and Adam Scott on The Overnight and Matt and Reid are a lot like them. They’re both naturally funny, great improvisers, but also really collaborative actors. Matt offers this freedom to me as his costar, because he’s so great at improv. I was kind of bragging that I was going to make him a leading man.
Lesley Coffin: It sounds like collaboration is essentially part of your work. Was that always something you looked for or has that come out of experiences?
Judith Godrèche: After moving to America, I saw that there were expectations about the types of roles I could have. People didn’t think of me as funny, they thought of me as someone who could play glamorous women, the European girl. And I wanted to be known for more than just that. So, I had to kind of force myself into the room and I get along best with people who allow me to do that?
Lesley Coffin: Were you looking for opportunities to produce at the time?
Judith Godrèche: Absolutely not. I’ve directed a movie in France, but I’d never thought of producing films. I didn’t really know what I was doing but once I attached myself to it I wouldn’t let it go. I’m a single mom and my kids were living out of an empty fridge for a year. I was constantly stressed. It wasn’t a vacation for them.
Lesley Coffin: Was there a point in your career that you developed an interest in directing and writing, doing things in film besides acting?
Judith Godrèche: I don’t know when it exactly happened, but I do feel that directing and writing are even more satisfying to me at this point in my career.
(C) Lesley Coffin (3/6/19) FF2 Media
Photo Credit: Noëmie Lekehal