Since the mid-1980s, Paris-born actress Judith Godréche has been acting primarily in French-language works, including Ridicule, L’auberge espagnole, Potiche, and as part of the all-star cast of 1998’s The Man in the Iron Mask. But in more recent years, she’s moved into more intriguing, English-language works (something that coincided with her permanent move to Los Angeles), including Chan-wook Park’s Stoker and Patrick Brice’s The Overnight.
Her latest work is the lighthearted but emotionally fragile Under the Eiffel Tower, concerning Stuart (Matt Walsh), who is a having a mid-life crisis, and in an act of desperation, proposes to the 26-year-old daughter (Dylan Gelula) of his best friend (David Wain) while under the Eiffel Tower on vacation. After this gross miscalculation, Stuart retreats via train to the Bordeaux region of France (along the way, he picks up a traveling companion in Reid Scott, playing a Scottish soccer player), where they meet Louise (Godrèche), who helps run a local vineyard with her very sick husband (Gary Cole), finding herself strangely attracted to Stuart’s kindness and humor.
So how did Godrèche become a part of a movie with three cast members from “Veep”? Only one way to find out. I had the chance to chat with her last week about how she, Walsh and writer/director Archie Borders reworked the screenplay to subvert expectations and stereotypes and make Under the Eiffel Tower a romantic-comedy for the current climate. (It should be noted that Godrèche was one of the original accusers of Harvey Weinstein in an earthshaking article in the New York Times back in October 2017. Her moment of misconduct occurred in 1996 at the Cannes Film Festival, and she managed to extricate herself from the situation as soon as he became inappropriate with her.)
Please enjoy our conversation. The film is currently playing at the AMC Rosemont 18.
I’ll admit, I didn’t know much about the film when I sat down to watch it. So how did you and a group of guys from “Veep” get together with the script? How did it all come together?
It’s a funny story. I was offered the film; it was charming; I wasn’t sure it would ever get made. And I happened to go to an escape room where I was invited with a bunch of friends, and Matt Walsh was there with his wife. I didn’t know him but I had heard he might be in the movie too, so I said “Are you going to be in this movie that’s probably not going to happen?” And he was like “Yeah, are you? Oh, you’re the French actress!” We started talking and got along great, and we thought “We should just make it happen.” It was almost like a challenge.
I’d never produced anything before [both Godrèche and Walsh are producers], and I had no intention of producing anything. I’ve wanted to write and direct, which I have done. I had this amazing relationship with The Orchard because of The Overnight—we got along so well, and I knew they wanted to work with me again on something. So I convinced them to become producers and financiers on this. So then I was a producer, and I re-wrote it with Matt Walsh, which was wonderful because we have the same sense of humor, we have the same tendency for absurdity, and we both wanted to break the cliches established in the first version of the script. So that’s what we tried to do. It was a very communal work. Michaela Watkins worked a lot on her character; David Wain came up with some super-funny ideas. It became almost like a writers’ room.
When you say you wanted to break the cliches, do you mean in romantic films in general or in films about American going abroad?
It was more that my character, a wonderful French woman, extremely knowledgeable about wine, an amazing cook. She was the perfect French woman, and I told the director “Why not make her someone who doesn’t cook, someone who doesn’t like to sell wine, someone who doesn’t smoke cigarettes? Why not go in the opposite direction, because right now she’s really a French woman seen by Americans.” There was a scene originally where she was changing clothes on the train, literally getting undressed in front of everyone. “I understand this is super sexy, but French women don’t do that.” [laughs]
Most women don’t do that.
Exactly. So it was about making her more real, bringing some edge to her. Matt and I worked on the relationships between the characters, the ending; it was a constant work in progress, and we never stopped writing until the movie was over.
It’s funny you mention her smoking because there’s that moment where Matt pulls out the cigarettes and says “I thought all French women smoked.”
I came up with that idea because I thought it was funny to have a guy say, “I’m finally with a French woman; I hope she’s going to smoke.” [laughs]
Did you discover what all the cliches about French women were when you moved to Los Angeles?
Moving to Los Angeles to me was such a crazy experience because I never had fully realized before how French women were perceived by Americans. I literally had to justify myself and explain to some women that French women don’t systematically cheat on their husbands. Someone asked me one day if cheating was allowed in France.
Most of the characters in the movie are broken in some way or just lonely. Was one of the things you set out to do is make a story about people in that condition finding solace and comfort in each other at this point in their lives?
Yeah, I think that traveling is something you do when you’re looking for something or when you’re looking to lose yourself or when you’re running away from something. I do believe that all sorts of things happen to us when we travel. Maybe not when we go to a five-star hotel on the beach, but when you really travel and explore. I like the poetic and a bit stereotypical idea of meeting someone on a train and following your instinct and saying “Let’s go on a ride,” which is what Matt Walsh’s character does. It’s one of those accidents in life when you randomly meet someone and ask yourself “Why not do this? Let’s be bold and not overthink things and go for it.” I think it’s properly romantic. I think Matt’s character is a great one and I love him because he’s got a lot of flaws and is very human; he’s not an idealized, cinematic version of a man.
I was going to say, you do something in this film I don’t think anyone has accomplished before: you make Matt Walsh into the sexy leading man.
I know! I was always saying that to him. “I’ll change your career forever.” Before the movie was out, he’s asking “So when is it happening? When do I feel this big change?” “Wait, it’s coming.”
The region of Bordeaux is fairly legendary, especially among wine enthusiasts. What would you say is so special about it?
This place is magical for us and for me as a producer because I completely, randomly called a friend of mine and was like “I am producing a movie. I don’t have enough money to make it. I need to rent a vineyard for three weeks. I don’t have a single dollar to pay for it.” And she said, “Why don’t you call the Château de Beauregard and talk to this person?” And I said, “Alright, give me the number.” And I called the owner and asked him if he would let me shoot a film in his vineyard for three weeks and told him I had no money, and he knew me as an actor but I had never produced before, and he was like “Yeah, no problem.” He totally trusted me. This movie would not have happened without him. The place is absolutely magical, but not because we filmed it. It is magical; it’s not tricked out in any way; this is exactly how it looks.
One of the things I did like about the film is that there are no bad guys. No one is painted as the villain. Was it nice to be a part of a story about a group of genuinely nice people?
Yeah, it was. I sometimes wonder if I’m the bad person in it.
I don’t think anyone is. That’s pretty rare.
Do you think that’s because it’s influenced by French cinema or that there’s a French-ness to it? Is it an American stereotype that it always needs to have a villain?
Oh, for sure. A lot of movies end up having the source of drama be someone on the outside, whereas here the drama comes from within.
Oh, absolutely. That’s an interesting perspective.
You mentioned earlier that this is your first time producing. You’ve also taken on writing and directing. Is this a direction in which you’d like to continue?
I think I like the idea of being a producer when it’s creative. I would absolutely love to produce and find financing for a young filmmaker. I like to bring people together; that’s super exciting. I think more than being a producer for myself for something that’s offered to me, I’d like to produce things I’m not in, but I’m a part of because I’m falling in love with the project. I do that all the time and maybe I don’t end up producing something officially, but putting people together and helping ideas become real is something that excites me and motivates me.
How long have you lived in the United States?
It’s been five years now.
So you’ve picked an interesting time in our history to be here, certainly as a woman. Do you have any regrets about it at this point?
Honestly, I don’t. But it has been an interesting journey for sure.
I remember seeing your name in some of the initial articles about Harvey Weinstein back at the end of 2017. In the time since you came forward, does anything feel different—better, worse, or is it too soon to make that call?
I think it’s going to be a long journey. Obviously, things are better, or maybe I wouldn’t use the word “better.” I’m happy that it happened and feel grateful to all the women who talked and everything that’s happened since because it has helped other women. Do I think things are different? I want to say yes, but I think there’s a lot of things that…it’s just the beginning. It’s not a miracle; it’s not magical. It’s going to take time.
What’s next for you?
I did this movie called The Climb, directed by Michael Covino, who had a short at Sundance [in 2018] called The Climb, and he and his writing partner, Kyle Marvin, developed a feature that has been produced by Topic Media. I shot that a few months ago in New York, and I just did a little guest appearance on a Netflix show, but I can’t announce it yet because the show hasn’t even been announced yet. It would break a big secret.
Judith, thank you so much. Best of luck with this.
You’re welcome. Thank you so much.
Did you enjoy this post? Please consider supporting Third Coast Review’s arts and culture coverage by becoming a patron. Choose the amount that works best for you, and know how much we appreciate your support!