Despite earning a literature degree at the Sorbonne, Tautou is not always religiously devoted to the books her film characters are adapted from as source material -- especially if she has the author on call. That was the case with "Delicacy," since author David Foenkinos was also the co-director (along with his brother Stéphane).
"I felt almost as if I had my father on the set," Tautou said. "It was nice to have this comfort, because nobody knows the characters better than him. That was the reason I only used the script to play Nathalie." Sometimes, the actress said, having a script based on a book provides a "richer story in terms of the content," but reading only the script allows her to keep her "first feeling" about a character, to "keep the spontaneity." "I might be distracted by too many tales," she explained. "I don't want the book to change my first impression from reading the script. But it depends on the project."
Part of the plot of "Delicacy" pivots on a surprise kiss between Nathalie and her co-worker Markus (Francois Damiens). Nathalie is in a daydream, and doesn't even realize she's planting one on Markus, who is astonished to find her lips on his for an extended period of time, when he's just come into her office to ask her a question. "It's kind of a crazy act when she does it in the moment," Tautou said. "It's like a fantasy." Though Damiens knew a kiss was coming, he didn't know when -- so the look on his face is real.
"Actually, while we were rehearsing the scene, we never rehearsed it with the kiss," Tautou said. "The kiss was not part of the rehearsal process. We rehearsed the scene quite a number of times, and when we had everything set up the way we thought it was going to be, we did what he thought was one last rehearsal. But in fact, it was what we actually shot, so at the point where I kissed him, he was so surprised! It was totally unexpected for him, and he blushed."
Tautou laughed off the possibility that she might try kissing co-workers to surprise them -- "I'm much too shy!" -- but she was happy that this one worked out.
Nathalie's kiss might be out-of-character for the actress, but otherwise, she's a lot like Tautou herself, in terms of how she relates to other people.
"In fact, I really tried to make her as close as possible to me," the actress said. "I wanted to keep a very natural way of being, of talking. I really wanted to not compose this part, because my first reaction when I read the script was that I could imagine myself in her. Not because she looks like me, not because she talks like me, but I wanted her character to really belong to me." (With one exception -- "I don't think I would be as brave as her," Tautou admitted.)
Likewise, Damiens is a lot like his character, Tautou said. "He's now a friend of mine," she said. "He's not as crazy, not as loony, but he's the same way: very kind, very attentive to people, very gentle, very clever, and very funny." His character Markus is not a typical romantic lead, but that's what makes him appealing, Tautou said. "She's attracted to his character, his poetry, his fantasy," she said. "He's really someone who helps her come out again, and she fills herself up again."
For "Delicacy," David Foenkinos lured her with his script. For his next project, "Mood Indigo" (also sometimes referred to as “The Foam Of The Days”) Michel Gondry lured her with an animated short he made just for her. "I was so surprised by that," Tautou said. "It was a wonderful gift."
Calling the short film "psychedelic," the actress said it was confusing at first. "I had no idea what he was driving at," she laughed. "It might have been there in black-and-white, but I didn't know. I knew he was asking me to do this part, but what does it mean? It was very personal, and very poetic, and very difficult to describe."
Tautou wants to be a master of death.
In "Delicacy," Tautou plays a young widow grieving the death of her husband. In an upcoming adaptation of François Mauriac's novel "Thérèse Desqueyroux," she plays a woman plotting the death of her husband. And in "Mood Indigo," she'll play a woman whose husband tries to stop her from dying from a strange ailment.
"What's interesting is that the three projects are such different universes," she said. "In 'Delicacy,' it's the first time I really dealt on an elemental level with the whole idea of death. In 'Thérèse,' it is the first time I play that psychological dimension of a character, where she is a witness to her own monstrosity. She's not nasty, she's not crazy, but she wants to make someone else disappear. And in 'Mood Indigo,' she's got a lily in her lung... perfect for Michel Gondry," she said with a mischievous smile.
What's with all these couples torn apart by death? Tautou laughed. "I want to become the specialist of the subject!" she said. "Wait, no, no, no -- don't say that. That would kill my grandmother!"
"Delicacy" opens up in limited release on March 14.