Juliette Binoche, 28, is Hollywood’s sad girl

Looking back on her 20s, Juliette Binoche calls her character the "sad sister." Consumed by darkness, they are often shaped by tragedy - from her breakthrough role in 1988's The Unbearable Lightness of Being , to the blind painter in The Bridge , to 1992's The Damage alongside The woman whose father-in-law was having an affair. That's not even taking into account the grieving widow in "Three Colors: Blue," for which she won France's top acting prize.

She said her own life was "very painful" at the time. "When you start choosing roles early in your career, you usually choose the ones that resonate with you," Binoche tells Bustle over Zoom from her home in France.

Still, more than thirty years later, her work is still full of dowdy ladies. In her latest project, the Apple TV+ historical drama The New Look , she plays Coco Chanel, a French designer who sympathized with the Nazis of World War II. But there are some light-hearted transitions, too, from 2000's "Chocolate" to the heartwarming romantic comedy "Dan in Real Life."

Binoche insists that she is - and always has been - a happy person, even when she faced adversity on set.

"That doesn't mean I didn't laugh," Binoche, 60, said of her more somber periods. “But it’s true, I choose a lot of TV shows because they are stories that move me.”

Below, the French actor talks about jealousy, the role of escape, and the book that helped her through dark times.

Juliette Binoche attends the premiere of " Three Colors: Blue" in Los Angeles. Ron Galera/The Ron Galera Collection/Getty Images

In 1992, when you were 28, you had appeared in several films and were launching your international career. How did you feel?

It feels like forever. When you start, you always feel like [your career] is going to take a long time to become a reality, even though it took me years to do casting tests and get through. I was cast in The Unbearable Lightness of Being very early on, when I was 22 years old. I had been selected about a week before, so it was a bit of a shock because I had to put my heart and soul into it and be a Czechoslovakian. Girl, knew nothing about Czechoslovakia.

Let me go back to "Three Colors: Blue" which you started filming when you were 28 years old . What do you remember about the casting process?

Director Krzysztof Kieslowski asked me to star in one of his films, but it had been two and a half years since I made Lovers on the Bridge . I was kind of a prisoner of that movie, but I didn't want to leave until the movie was finished. When Kieslowski came back with Blue , he thought I was too young for the role. I showed him a picture of me that the director Louis Malle had seen because he [also] felt I was too young for Damage . I thought, "Maybe I'll give Kieslowski the same photo." It worked. He said my eyes and the way I looked at the camera felt ageless.

Interestingly, looking ageless helps you. How did you think about age and aging at that time?

I don't. I just think about surviving and choosing what I want to give to the world. It's all about exploration and growth. It's not about the outcome - starring in a successful movie or making a lot of money. That's not my purpose.

As an actor, everything you encounter is so passionate because you have to open your soul very quickly. It’s a confusion of expectations. You learn to fail, you learn to be dissatisfied, both in frustration and hurt. I suffered a lot while filming "Lovers on the Bridge" because the filming was very long and painful. But through pain and failure, you learn more about yourself. You need to be washed over by life like you're in a machine to be able to choose who you want to be and how you want to live. I think my 20s were miserable. I got a lot better in my 30s.

Juliette Binoche and director Louis Malle in 1992 . Bertrand LAFORET/Gamma-Rapho/Getty Images

I read in Entertainment Weekly that when you were filming "Damages ," it was a difficult experience. Can you tell me about this?

Well, I was trying to survive, and I felt that the director, Louis Malle, was a little passive and not [involved] too much in my conflicts with the [other] actors. So I felt abandoned. I remember reading Talking with Angels all the time because it was my survival book to see life from a different perspective - so I didn't feel trapped by what I was going through. Because when you are so attached to your way of life and so identified with it, the pain becomes unbearable.

During this time, you received global attention. Do you feel the pressure to be a sex symbol?

I never felt like a sex symbol. The women I play are deeply connected to their sexual power. But this is an image. I didn't realize the power I had that might have kept me out of danger. But at the same time, it's not always good to be unaware, because then you won't be able to understand the consequences of certain situations.

When did you realize this power?

Much later, probably 20 years later.

Binoche in 1991. Raphael Gaillarde/Gamma-Rapho/Getty Images

You said the pain will be less when you are 30 years old. why is that?

Because you learn all the big words like betrayal, jealousy, envy, and the need for power, the need for this, the need for that. What does it feel like to be jealous? How do you change it?

Did you ever feel jealous in your 20s?

Well, I have a boyfriend. I get so jealous when they look at another girl or talk to another girl.

What about in your career?

I don't believe a character belongs to you. I have as many choices as I have. There were two other actresses in Hurts , and I ended up being cast. But for The Piano , I was talking to Jane Campion and hoping I could do that. But when I saw Holly Hunter do it, I was so happy because I felt like I couldn't do it any better.

What advice would you give to your 28-year-old self now?

I won't give advice. You have to live your life and not take advice. Too much advice can kill you because then you become afraid of this and afraid of that. You have to go with your heart and believe.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.