Alessandro Nivola: Anne must have seen me in an English movie, and she just called my agents up and said, "Does he speak French?" And they said yes, of course, even though I sort of barely did. And we had a phone conversation, where I had prepared some very specific statements that I could stumble through, and the next thing I knew, I was in Paris.
Q: What was the research process like?
AN: This role was so technically demanding, just in terms of the things this guy did well, which were old-fashioned Renaissance man skills that I just didn't have. I couldn't speak French like him, I couldn't play polo, I play some piano—but I couldn't just toss off Scott Joplin songs—and I can't dance. I couldn't really do any of the things that were required of me.
Q: Was there a language barrier?
AN: I remember sitting at lunch the first couple of weeks, and not understanding what people were saying, and the other actors were telling jokes and I was pretending to laugh and hoping no one was going to ask me to elaborate. It was really an awful, awful feeling. You lose your personality and your sense of humor, and your ease, and you find yourself rigid with fear. Then slowly, my French started coming on faster and faster, and that helped a lot.