When you are gifted a tailor-made lead in a feature film by an exciting indie filmmaker, “you just have to do it”. This is even more so when French Canadian wunderkind Xavier Dolan is behind the lenses, fresh from his bruising debut I Killed My Mother (2009).

Quebec actress Monia Chokri is in London this week for the UK launch of her debut in Heartbeats (2010), released today. She talks candidly to Gutter about what drives her combative character, and how a local girl came to court worldwide media attention.

How would you describe your character Marie?
She has the personality of a girl in her mid 20s, when she’s in the crossroads of naïveté and the beginning of [the] realisation that life can be painful. She is very vulnerable at the same time, very fragile and she fights a lot as a defensive mechanism, with her irony as a shield.

What attracted you to the role?
It was written especially for me by Xavier and like an attractive present, you just have to do it!

Marie has a distinct fifties fashion sense, how did this come about, and what do you think it contributes to the character?
It was because Xavier wanted to give this idea that love is universal. It is to give the idea that [the] feeling of love… the story could be set in any time in the period, a timeless quality for the story about love. It wasn’t a fashion show and [it] is not at all about the looks.

Heartbeats is an international success, is this surprising, and has it opened any doors for you?
The success is always surprising; you just never know how a movie can be received. We just made a movie in our local neighbourhood and a year later, I am answering your questions. As for opening doors – oh for sure it has been very helpful.

Some people call you Dolan’s muse, how is this reflected in your relationship with him, and how did you meet him?
We met when he was 17 and he showed me the script for his first movie and I found it incredibly insightful and intelligent as a movie. I think that we actually influence each other in our work as normal friends do; it’s a very artistic relationship.

What is Dolan’s filmmaking style, and what have been the challenges and benefits of him holding down numerous roles as screenwriter/director/actor?
For Xavier, doing all those things, it always surprises me that “why do you also do the costumes?” But he always says that “if I say oh I would like to have high heels for Monia etc. the person would go buy some high heels and then I would have to say no and then the person had to go buy another pair. So it’s easier for me to do it all myself so that it’s done in one go”. Xavier is very precise and he knows exactly what he wants so for him to do everything himself makes things easier, more straightforward and saves time too. Also, it gives Xavier much more freedom in his working and creative process. As for Xavier’s style… I have heard it described as “The Other Wave” as opposed to “The New Wave” as it is [a] mixture of 60s Quebec cinema and other styles. But it is really in the style of our generation, very precisely our generation.

I understand there were difficulties in securing funding for the film during production, did you question if it would be completed at any time?
Oh yeah, of course. One week and a half before we started, we didn’t know if we would ever start! We were not sure at all. We had to stop during shooting for two weeks due to funding problems. It happens a lot in shooting a film in Quebec, it happens in France too often.

Your first lead role in a feature film has involved your real life friends Dolan and Schneider, what were the challenges and benefits of this?
It is absolutely great to work with your friends, and such close friends. The challenge really is just that we all made each other laugh so much and it was difficult to get a shoot done in one or two [takes] as we all tend to just laugh so much.

Heartbeats has an artistic flair and poetic story that you simply don’t see in Hollywood, is the Canadian film industry more open to alternative filmmaking, and why do you think this is?
First of all, it’s Quebecois and not Canadian – it’s not a political thing but it is purely just [a] very different industry. To be honest, I think that it is such a well-written movie with such a great subject (a matter of love) that it could be done anywhere, including Hollywood.

Can you tell us about any new projects you are involved in including Dolan’s Laurence Anyways?
I am also writing my own script for a feature film and there are some other projects in the air. Xavier is going to co-direct with me.

Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
I hope that in 5 years, my first movie would be done, and that I would manage to have directed my very own first movie.

Read our review of Heartbeats here.

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