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Kylie Minogue on acting in Holy Motors, musical aspirations, and new experiences

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Australian pop star Kylie Minogue is best known for her chart-topping hits like “Can’t Get You Out Of My Head” and their elaborately staged videos. She achieved her first break on the soap Neighbours, and has continued acting between albums. While Minogue is the first to admit that she hasn’t always gotten plum roles (see: Jack And Diane), her latest has her stepping far outside the mainstream in Leos Carax’s confounding fantasy, Holy Motors, his first film in more than a decade. The A.V. Club recently sat down with Minogue to discuss her project with Carax, why she considers him the Nick Cave of filmmaking, and her new album.

The A.V. Club: What drew you to this role?

Kylie Minogue: Leos. When I met with him, I didn’t know too much about him except for The Lovers On The Bridge. I knew he was great, and people would kill to work with him. I thought the character was interesting. It was so removed from what I generally portray in my Kylie persona. I wanted to get back into acting, but I wasn’t actively pursuing it. Like, I wasn’t knocking on doors at the time. It’s just this gift that kind of fell from heaven, and two very unlikely characters coming together. I would have thought, “Why does [Carax] want to? We’re from different worlds.” But it’s ironic, because I’ve been saying for a number of years—I’ve done a few movie projects, a number of which were just such stinkers, and I thought, “Maybe this isn’t for me.” I know every actor has their moments when they’re not in a fun movie. But I was saying, “We really need the Nick Caves of the film world to have something,” and he overheard that and knew what to do with me. The only thing he really knew about me was my duet with Nick Cave [“Where The Wild Roses Grow”]. So I was like, “Mmm, maybe that which I put out there finally came to be.”


AVC: And it’s the kind of movie that doesn’t have a simple interpretation.

KM: No. I’ll tell you, it wasn’t easy filming. I would say the hardest part of being involved in this movie is when people say, “Tell us what the film’s about.” You’re going down the red-carpet line with shows that really need quick buzzy answers. I give this weird, elusive pseudo-answer. I can’t really explain, and you can’t put it in a nutshell. I think that’s why it’s intriguing.


AVC: It’s both liberating and—

KM: Confusing.

AVC: The main character is a Grim Reaper of sorts, coming to people in their last moments and transforming into someone who either leads them or physically takes them to whatever’s on the other side of life.

KM: That’s interesting. I haven’t heard that one before.

AVC: What did you come up with as you were creating your character?

KM: My character is one of the rare moments in the film where that confusion is kind of clarified. You always get a direct hit of, “Oh, we get that. That’s something we understand.” And even then, it’s not entirely clear, because it’s still in Leos’ world. Leos and I spoke about the fact that [my character and Denis Lavant’s character] had something in their past, which was a child. They’ve got the clock against them. They’re both in the same business and do the same thing. What is in their past is so deep and so tragic that there are no words. Thus, she breaks into song. There’s no words, so the song just comes out. I guess I really enjoyed going to a few festivals and gleaning more clues from Leos as to how he came up with it and what it means. I think the best thing I’ve heard him say—well, there’s many—but when he says, “Well, the film is about life and the experience of what it is to be alive.” There are times in our existence such as this moment in the film, where there just aren’t words that will fix anything or resolve anything or take it forward. It’s just horrible, it just is, and that’s the same with them.


AVC: The central character goes through so many different transformations stepping into these—

KM: So amazingly well.

AVC: Your role is pivotal in his development, but it’s also very brief. Was it hard to develop a backstory for this character?


KM: We really didn’t, and Leos left it very ambiguous. I don’t think he needed that, and we didn’t need that either. It’s just very distant, and it’s very painful. Obviously, she’s singing about a child, so we know what “it” is. But we didn’t say what happened—did the child die, or was it a miscarriage? We didn’t detail that. It wasn’t necessary.

AVC: So you just went into it without creating a backstory for yourself?

KM: Not in detail like that, no. Leos took the lead. He’s the kind of director who would say, “We need to create all of that in our minds.” I would have fully rolled with that. I felt we connected at a certain level, and that was like a holding pattern throughout the filming. Now we have a laugh. Now I know him a little better. Our relationship has expanded, and it’s been lovely, a lovely experience in my life. For the role, he didn’t say too much. He wrote me a letter before we started filming, which was very touching. I think the guy’s a poet and he expresses it in film. This is another kind of poetic gesture. He’s put a few things down in his kind of language, and he mentioned Jean Seberg. I think you could go through his film and reference all sorts of things. We spoke about that kind of tragic life and how she was a real presence, but very vulnerable at the same time. So it’s more about the feeling than a backstory.


AVC: Was that approach scary or exciting for you?

KM: I was terrified and excited. But terrified because it’s so far removed from my day job.


AVC: As a pop star?

KM: Yeah. I went to Paris on my own. I didn’t have any entourage. I didn’t have anyone. I was flying solo. I wanted to feel like I did when I was a teenager, and I was acting. You’ve gotta bring the goods. It’s not your name that’s doing anything. I was nervous and speaking in French. How do you go into singing and then singing telling a story as opposed to performing? I’m used to performing, and you sell it. But that’s not selling it, so Leos helped me find the balance of how to make it sound pretty and emotional but not perform it, a funny place to get to in my head.


AVC: It’s a subtle, nuanced kind of performance. You seem to speak French fluently.

KM: I don’t. It’s an illusion. I’ve lived in Paris on and off, so I say I speak emergency French. I can get into or out of trouble. But I’m definitely not fluent, and I was fretting about that as well, “Oh God, do I sound like an idiot?” I read the script that was emailed to me, and then I spoke with Leos. When I first read the script, I was a bit confused because it gets to the scene with the top model, Kay M [played by Eva Mendes]. “Is that me? Wait, am I the photographer’s assistant?” Because my scene is not until the very end. So I was a bit confused.


AVC: Did he do that intentionally?

KM: He did that because he said he originally thought of Kate Moss for the role. Another interesting thing with Leos is he sings. He has a thing with letters and words. Even his name Leos Carax is a switch up of his actual name. It probably had K.M. as in Kate Moss, and it became Kay M, I’m guessing. I don’t know, I think it was intentional but not because of me.


[Leos Carax is an anagram for Alex Oscar. —ed.]

AVC: When he first wanted you to do the role, did you know the kind of song that you would be singing?


KM: The lyrics were in the script.

AVC: Did you know the style of music?

KM: No, I didn’t. It was a short while afterward; I was sent a track, which Neil Hannon [frontman of chamber-pop group The Divine Comedy] wrote. I think his girlfriend sang it on the demo. I was so touched by the song anyway, because it’s a beautiful piece. When I first met with Leos, I said, “Oh, how does it work? Do you pre-record the song? Do you do it in the background?” He said, “No, we do it in the scene.” Instead of being terrified, I was elated. I just thought, “That’s amazing.” I don’t know how many takes we did. But everything is in the scene. It’s amazing how clear it sounds. Mostly, the pieces are pre-recorded. So that was another thing. There’s certain shapes you’ve got to make with your face to make something sound—to sing, but trying to get, facially, what you need to get across. It was a very interesting exercise for me.


AVC: Did you feel it took away a layer of artifice?

KM: It took away about a zillion, because that’s normally what I’m doing. Although something within you always comes out. Pop shows, pop music—it’s putting stuff on. I mean, no one wants to see you walk out in your pajamas. Do you know what I mean? Or your track pants. So yeah, I had to lose all that stuff.


AVC: The song has this classic, almost torch-song quality. Is that something you want to explore more in your future albums?

KM: This is going to sound like a great segue. I’ve got an album coming out next month called Abbey Road Sessions. A lot of the delivery on that is acoustical, orchestral interpretations of hits from 25 years. Not all of them, but a number of them.


AVC: A lot of The Beatles?

KM: No, mine. But I tried to channel The Beatles, just get some Abbey Road coming through me. So yeah, that album is the way it’s recorded. It’s very intimate vocally, but again, it’s very different to what’s in the film.


AVC: So you’re revisiting past songs in new ways?

KM: The arrangements are pretty stunning. That’s something I’ve dreamt about doing for over 10 years. One day, I’m gonna do an album with an orchestra. And this year’s my 25th year in the music business, so it was time to do it. Between Holy Motors and all the musical stuff happening, I feel like it’s a great time in my life. I think I’ve gone that way enough. Now I want to go another way. I want to expand and fill myself with different experiences.