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The accidental beauty

Joana Preiss interview

‘Actress-slash-model’ are words that strike fear into the hearts of movie lovers everywhere, but Joana Preiss is one multi-talented beauty who is breaking the mould. She talks to Matt Bochenski about film, fashion and travel

Joana Preiss has packed a lot into her 35 years – heck, she’s packed a lot into the past six months. This month sees the French actress (and model and mother and singer and dancer and globe-trotting traveller and – phew! – the list goes on) starring in Olivier Assayas’ Quartier des Enfants Rouges, the standout segment of Paris je t’aime, an ambitious ode to the City of Love. It’s a series of 18 short films, one for each of the city’s arrondissements, directed by the likes of the Coen brothers, Alfonso Cuarón, Gus Van Sant and many others.

In March, Die Unerzogenen (The Unpolished), the award-winning first film from German director Pia Marais, hit the screens. While in May Preiss could be seen in another Assayas movie, Boarding Gate, alongside Hollywood stars Michael Madsen and Michelle Yeoh, in the Official Selection at Cannes.

But for now Preiss is in London, at the sumptuous Claridge’s Hotel, to mark the release of Dans Paris, Christophe Honoré’s brilliant relationship drama. It has been wowing audiences across Europe and will be available on DVD in June.

In the film, Preiss and red-hot French pin-up Romain Duris play a couple in the middle of a bitter break-up. Although the tone of the movie is mostly light, her scenes are by far the most powerful, filled with the aggressive sexuality and subtle psychology of failed romance.

“Christophe doesn’t know my private life at all,” she says, “but it was like he wrote some of those sentences exactly for me. Just before shooting I separated from my boyfriend and I had all that feeling inside me. When I saw the movie, it was totally disturbing, especially because this girl is swearing so much and that’s not my way at all!”

On screen, Preiss has an angular intensity, but in person she’s different: softer and more feminine, graceful and quick to laugh. She worries about her accent, but that doesn’t stop her from being quite the chatterbox. “I love London,” she declares. “I really love the energy of the people. The only thing I have a problem with is the circulation [traffic]. It’s terrible for me, really! I feel totally lost. And it’s so expensive.”

Although she was born in Marseille, Preiss has lived in Paris most of her life, studying classical music at the Sorbonne before breaking into acting a decade ago. As a result she’s ideally placed to compare life in the two capitals. “Paris is totally different,” she reckons. “Not just the architecture; I feel something more direct from English people. I think I’m becoming a little bit tired of Paris now, but I love to travel.”

Her love of travel took Preiss to Berlin for much of last year while filming Die Unerzogenen. To her the city felt like a home from home. “It’s incredible,” she says, breaking into a huge smile. “The economy is so different, everything is really cheap and there’s a big mix between artists.” Whereas in Paris the theatre, cinema, fashion and music scenes are rigidly separated, in Berlin, says Preiss, “everybody is crossing everybody, so there’s a really good energy.”

If anyone in Paris successfully straddles the separate worlds of the arts, however, it’s Preiss. Whereas most actresses who have ‘model’ on their CV will have started out on the runway and will always carry the stigma of being considered – let’s face it – an airhead, Preiss did things differently. “For me, it’s just a question of passion,” she says. “I think I’m more an actress than a model or singer. But it’s because I’m an actress that I can be a singer and a model too. It’s like playing a game.”

It was only once she’d become established as a serious actress that the fashion industry came calling, more or less by chance. After meeting legendary designer Karl Lagerfeld at a Chanel show, he photographed her with Linda Evangelista for Interview magazine. Preiss was 29 years old: totally ancient by industry standards. “I’m not really a model,” she jokes. “I’m maybe the opposite of a model: I’m really small, I’m not blonde, I don’t have a small nose. But I think, for an actress, it’s important to have this experience.”

What attracted her to Lagerfeld? “He’s not normal,” she laughs, “but I love him. He has an incredible sense of humour… like… crazy. He knows everything about everything and his clothes are so elegant. Chanel is Paris, you know?” When asked which other designers are filling up her wardrobe, she doesn’t hesitate: “Balenciaga –

I love Nicolas Ghesquière.” Speaking about the label’s creative director, she admits: “We have this real friendship crush and we talk about music, politics, theatre and art. I did a lot of fashion shows for him.”

It’s hard to imagine the likes of Kate Moss or Lily Cole discussing the finer points of world affairs in between jet-set parties in St Tropez and St Barts, but then, for all her love of travelling, Preiss has her feet firmly on the ground.

She has a son, Lou Rambert-Preiss, who also appears in Dans Paris. And it’s not the first time he’s acted alongside his mum. He accompanied her on the set of Ma Mère, taking an uncredited role. More importantly, says Preiss, he provided her with an escape from the pressures of an emotionally difficult shoot. Like any proud mother, Preiss goes gooey at the mere mention of his name. “It was great having him around. He was really joking and playing with Romain all the time.”

Lou wants to be a filmmaker himself one day, but Preiss has the same concerns as any other parent: “I don’t want my son to be an actor at his age, but Dans Paris was different. It’s Christophe, we knew him, and Lou loves to be backstage.

He was so great, he was so happy to be there.”

FR » Sous le signe de la beauté

La belle actrice française Joana Preiss est mannequin, actrice, mère, danseuse, chanteuse et globe trotteuse. Ce mois-ci, elle joue dans Paris Je T’Aime, et se retrouve à Londres pour le lancement du DVD du film Dans Paris où elle interprète la partenaire d’un couple en phase de rupture amère.

“Je me suis séparée de mon ami juste avant le tournage, j’étais donc encore toute imprégnée de ce sentiment. Lorsque j’ai vu le film, c’était très troublant,” confiet-elle, depuis sa suite de l’hôtel Claridges.

Joana est une personne douce et féminine, toujours souriante. Née à Marseille, elle vit à Paris mais elle adore Londres, “J’y apprécie tellement l’énergie des gens,” déclare-t-elle, “je crois que je me lasse un peu de Paris en ce moment mais j’adore voyager.”

Berlin est son autre ville favorite. “C’est incroyable,” dit-elle, “tout est réellement bon marché et il y règne une énergie fantastique.”

Joana côtoie de nombreuses cours artistiques à Paris – théâtre, danse, musique et film – mais comment y arrive-t-elle? “C’est une question de passion.” Et de chance. Après une rencontre avec Karl Lagerfeld à un défilé (“Chanel, c’est Paris!” dit-elle), elle devient mannequin à l’âge de 29 ans. “Je ne suis pas vraiment mannequin,” souligne-elle en souriant, “je serais peut-être même l’opposé!”

C’est peut-être Lou Rambert-Preiss, son fils, qui garde Joana bien campée sur terre. Il a participé au tournage de Dans Paris et plus tard, il rêverait d’être réalisateur. “Il était génial,” sourit-elle, “et tellement heureux d’être là.”

NL » Mooi toeval

De Franse schone Joana Preiss is fotomodel, actrice, moeder, danseres, zangeres én globetrotter. Deze maand is ze te bewonderen in de film Paris je t’aime, maar we troffen haar in Londen voor de DVD-release van Dans Paris, een film over stukgelopen relaties.

“Net voor de opnames brak ik met mijn vriend, dus al die gevoelens zaten in me. Het zien van de film was erg aangrijpend”, zegt ze vanuit haar suite in het Claridges Hotel.

In werkelijkheid is Joanna zacht, vrouwelijk en goedlachs. Ze is geboren in Marseille en woont in Parijs, maar ze is ook gek op Londen. “Ik hou van de energie van de mensen hier”, verklaart ze. “Nu ben ik even uitgekeken op Parijs, maar ik ben dol op reizen.”

Haar andere favoriete stad is Berlijn. “Ongelofelijk hoe goedkoop alles er is en hoe positief de energie er is.”

Joana is in Parijs actief in allerlei kunstvormen zoals theater, dans, muziek en film. Hoe ze daarin slaagt? “Gewoon een kwestie van passie”, verklaart ze. En geluk. Pas op haar 29e werd ze model, na een ontmoeting met Karl Lagerfeld tijdens een modeshow (“Chanel is Parijs”, zegt ze). “Ik ben niet echt een model”, grapt ze. “Wie weet ben ik wel een antimodel!”

Misschien houdt haar zoon, Lou Rambert-Preiss, haar met beide voeten op de grond. Hij werkte mee aan Dans Paris en wil ooit regisseur worden. “Hij was zo fantastisch en zo blij om erbij te zijn”, glimlacht ze nog.

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