Although actor Suzanne Clément is from Quebec, she jokes that she's "from the other part of the world".
In a Skype call to the Georgia Straight from Paris (where she has been busy shooting two films: Audrey Estrougo's Taularde and Bouli Lanners' Les premiers, les derniers), Clément points out that we, as Canadians, are actually closer than we think.
We're slowly getting closer. Cinematic collaborations between anglophone and francophone Canada have sometimes been few and far between. The 2006 box office hit Bon Cop Bad Cop, starring Patrick Huard and Colm Feore, was a notable exception. More recently, Quebec actor Karine Vanasse starred in the 2013 ensemble dramedy All the Wrong Reasons and Denys Arcand's 2014 drama An Eye for Beauty focuses on a married Québecois architect (Éric Bruneau) who has an affair with an anglophone Toronto woman (Melanie Merkosky).
The latest crossover star is Suzanne Clément, who has appeared in numerous Quebec films including It's Not Me, I Swear (C'est pas moi, je le jure!) and I Killed My Mother (J'ai tué ma mère).
When she portrayed the titular character in Vancouver director Ana Valine's Sitting on the Edge of Marlene, it was her first time shooting in our West Coast city.
"I just loved the scenery," she gushes. "The air is so good!"
After Marlene, Terrance Odette's Fall, about a Niagara Falls priest accused of sexual misconduct, was her second film in English. Her character Catherine, the wife of the man who accuses the priest, challenges main character played by Michael Murphy.
Adding to her English-language resumé, she also stars in the Montreal-shot Rest Home by Michael Rowe, about a man whose wife has cheated on him. She describes the Canadian-Australian coproduction as a subtle, intense, story without much dialogue in which she plays a Russian woman living with Quebecois guy. Accordingly, she had to not only speak English but with a Russian accent.
Speaking of accents, Clément says she was glad Valine accepted and integrated her French Canadian background into the character for Marlene.
"It was difficult because I would have liked my English to have less of an accent but at the time I started working on the project….and you can't actually want to change your accent and do a character at the same time," she said. "She needed to be very alive and real, and as real as I could make her."
What's more, Clément demonstrated her acting range by shifting from the shy, nervous Kyla (for which she received a nomination for best supporting actress at the Canadian Screen Awards) in Xavier Dolan's Mommy to the extroverted, brash Marlene. But she said that each role tested her abilities in their own ways.
"Neither one is just easy to do," she pointed out. "Maybe both are destructive. Even if Kyla doesn't seem to be, I think she is. She's so introverted, she's almost schizophrenic. She disappears sometimes in her head. It's hard to tell where she's going. And Marlene is basically on drugs. She's not in her own state of mind most of the time so it's challenging."
What sparked Clément's expansion beyond the Francophone film industry was when she went on a sabbatical and started traveling. She said she was enjoying it so much that she had no plans to return to her former life—until Dolan offered a role in Laurence Anyways.
Her portrayal of Fred Belair, a woman who falls in love with a man who becomes a woman, in that film brought her international acclaim and attention. Her best actress win at Cannes in 2012 (not to mention her Genie Award nomination) led to her aquiring an agent in France as well as Toronto.
After working on films with Dolan, she had much to say about the internationally fêted filmmaking star.
"Xavier…has always surprised me as to how he evolves, how he uses the information as he's going along in life," she said. "Even with the success and the notoriety he's had…the creative gem is alive.…Sometimes success can make people too cautious because they don't want to make mistakes and Xavier is not like that. Success hasn't changed him in any way. It's made him more powerful, more focused, more energized, more curious, more happy. So I just hope he keeps being like this and reminds everybody around that creativity is something happy and ludicrous as well."
Meanwhile, what makes Clément pleased at the moment is the release of Marlene (February 27).
"It's been a very important project for me," she said.
Whether in French or English (or even some other language), we can only hope that Clément, too, enjoys more happy and ludicrous experiences of creativity.