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Hafsia Herzi

Shooting Star 2009 – France


Hafsia Herzi (21) was thrust to the forefront of the French film scene in Abdellatif Kechiche’s The Secret of the Grain [+see also:
film review
interview: Hafsia Herzi
film profile
, which earned her the Marcello Mastroianni Award for Best Emerging Actress at the 2007 Venice Film Festival and the 2008 Cesar for Best Female Newcomer.

This young Manosque-born woman has continued her rise to fame with roles in Souad El-Bouhati’s Française [+see also:
film profile
(“French”) and Francis Huster’s Un homme et son chien [+see also:
film profile
(“A Man and His Dog”).

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Cineuropa: With hindsight, what do you think you have gained from the popular and critical success of The Secret of the Grain and the awards you received for the film?
Hafsia Herzi: It was my debut film, the start of my career, and first of all it brought me work. Then we were lucky that the film attracted viewers and professional acclaim. The awards were an incredible joy, but what changed me most of all was the role I played in the film.

When and why did you decide to become an actress?
I’ve always wanted to do this, it really was my childhood dream. I tried my luck by working as an extra when I was very young. I lived in Marseilles and there wasn’t much of a film scene at the time.

A casting director who’d hired me as an extra three years previously called me about the role in The Secret of the Grain. I was also lucky that the director held major auditions in Paris, Marseilles and Sète. When I went along to the audition, I didn’t even know whether it was for a feature, an advert or a TV drama, and I didn’t know who the director was either.

You didn’t hesitate in gaining 15kg for Secret of the Grain. What is your method for preparing your roles?
It depends. Every actor makes a role their own and there’s always a bit of your own personality in there. For Française, I did a lot of sport because the character is dynamic and determined. When I made Iraqi director Abbas Fahdel’s Dawn of the World (to be released in 2009), in which I play a widow, I focused more on wisdom and gentleness.

In general, I don’t think about it too much in advance. I don’t improvise when the time comes, but I prepare myself three weeks before the film shoot, not six months. But if I’m playing a physical character – a dancer or sportswoman for example – I have to prepare intensively well in advance.

How do you choose your scripts? Do you prefer a particular style of film?
I really like auteur films. But it’s a whole package: an attractive role, the quality of the script and the director’s personality. Other than that, certain films appeal to me. I’m lucky that I speak Arabic, my parents’ language, and it’s a pleasure to make films in this language and show them to my mother. But the stereotypes of Arab women who are battered and forced into marriage don’t interest me.

Which directors would you like to work with? Are there any actors or actresses you consider professional role models?
I adore André Téchiné and I’d really like to work with him. As for role models, I don’t really have any, although I’m always rather impressed by other people’s talent.

What are your projects for 2009?
I’m going to appear on stage in César, Fanny, Marius, adapted from Marcel Pagnol’s work. At the end of 2008, I shot Tunisian director Raja Amari’s Anonymes (“Anonymous”) and Alain Guiraudie’s Le Roi de l'évasion (“The King of Escapism”). In May-June, I’m set to star alongside Emmanuelle Béart in Ma compagne de nuit (“My Night Companion”), the debut feature by Isabelle de Broca and Hélène Laurent.

What are your expectations for the Shooting Stars event in Berlin?
It’s really rather extraordinary to be able to represent France and Europe. I hope to meet people, in particular actors and actresses of my age. For everything interests me.

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