Juliette Binoche Learned to Paint Like Pollock for New Role

French actress Juliette Binoche attends a prize ceremony in Paris. Photo credit DOMINIQUE FAGET/AFP/Getty Images.

Actress Juliette Binoche has employed her considerable skills as an artist in portraying one in the new romantic comedy Words and Pictures, reports the New York Times. Her character, Dina Delsanto, is an art instructor suffering from severe rheumatoid arthritis, forcing her to adapt her artistic process to accommodate her deteriorating physical condition.

In the film, Binoche lies on her stomach on a swiveling office chair, rolling across the canvas, painting in broad, labored strokes. For other works, she employs oversize brushes suspended from ceiling beams that can be easily pushed. All of Delsanto’s paintings seen on screen in the movie are by the actress’s own hand.

Before she became a movie star, Binoche studied art, and she has remained engaged with the visual arts even as she has received accolades for her career in cinema. An earlier brush with onscreen art came in 1991’s The Lovers on the Bridge, in which Binoche played a street artist. As in Words and Pictures, she created the film’s prop art. Last year she played the famous sculptor Camille Claudel in Camille Claudel 1915, though that film concerned the artist’s years of confinement in a mental institution and did not feature any scenes of art-making.

Formerly a portraitist, Binoche’s character, Dina Delsanto, has taken to creating more abstract work as her illness has progressed. Binoche too, had to learn some new techniques, turning to a friend—painter Fabienne Verdier—to transition to bolder, more gestural work.

Director Fred Schepisi didn’t hire Binoche for Words and Pictures based on her artistic prowess, but soon realized she was more than up to the task. Before filming began in earnest, he gave the actress the chance to experiment in the studio, and recorded her artistic process.

“It was an adventurous, but great, way of going, because it has that reality of trial and error actually happening on screen and not having to be faked,” Schepisi told the Times.

Words and Pictures, in theaters May 23, co-stars Clive Owen an English teacher at Delsanto’s school. Despite their differences (he prefers words, she, pictures), their attraction is undeniable—it is a rom-com, after all.

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