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Juliette Binoche: You're the target and the critics have rifles pointing at you...acting can be hell

Her character in Cloud Of Sils Maria might be an ageing actress struggling to let go of her youth, but in real life, Juliette Binoche doesn't have that problem, she tells Albertina Lloyd

Juliette Binoche wipes away the cappuccino foam from her upper lip and apologises for having her mouth full. The French actress has been tempted by a chocolate muffin from the selection on offer in her London hotel room, but she is not impressed.

"I thought, 'Chocolate, yeah, I need a bit of chocolate'. But this is so stupid. It looks like chocolate but it doesn't smell or taste like chocolate. It's a lie!" she exclaims, giggling.

Of course, she would know, having won a string of award nominations for her portrayal of a master chocolatier in the 2000 film Chocolat, alongside Johnny Depp.

In her latest movie, The Clouds of Sils Maria, she plays a famous actress who is persuaded to remake her debut film. Except, instead of playing the vampish young assistant again, this time she must play the older employer the assistant seduces, only to break her heart and destroy her life.

But Binoche's character Maria can't understand the fragile emotions of the role, and clings to the part she played in her prime.

The project is entwined with parallels, both on and off screen.

It is directed by Olivier Assayas, for starters, who worked with Binoche on 1985 film Rendez-vous, in which she played a young aspiring actress who moves to Paris to begin her career.

The follow-up, which the 51-year-old describes as "a wink at the past", was her idea.

"I approached him (Assayas) saying, 'I have an idea, would you be interested in developing this?'" she reveals.

"You have to provoke, initiate projects. If you have a thought going through you, or a feeling, you have to go for it."

Impulsive Binoche is so warm and open, it's impossible not to feel relaxed in her presence.

She admits she relished the chance to play an actress, however tortured.

"When you're an actor and you have to talk about acting, it's fantastic. It's the water you're bathing in," she says.

"And I was happy to be able to show what an actor's going through sometimes in their personal life. It costs something to play something."

She also understands some of the paranoia her character goes through in the film.

Binoche is currently starring in a new production of Sophocles' Greek tragedy Antigone, which is currently touring Europe before heading to New York.

Playing such a tortured soul, night after night, takes it toll, she admits.

"The night of the premiere, I said, 'What am doing here? Why am I going through his hell?' Because you think, 'Those critics'. You're the target, and they have rifles coming onto you. That's the paranoia of the actor. But somehow, you've got to put your mind and your spirit in another place."

Born in Paris in 1964, Binoche started acting in school plays. She broke into films in the early Eighties and gradually made a name for herself, playing the lead in Jean-Luc Godard's controversial Hail Mary (1985) and the Three Colors trilogy in the early Nineties.

In 1996, she starred in Anthony Minghella's The English Patient, winning both an Oscar and a Bafta for Best Supporting Actress. She wept as she accepted the latter, exclaiming, "I thought England didn't like me."

Since then, she has appeared in English, American and European films, but never allowed herself to be tied by language, genre or industry.

And it is for that reason she feels she has never felt limited by age, as so many actresses claim to be.

"I don't feel that," the mother-of-two insists. "If you feel that, you have to create your own desire. You have to be a creator, not hanging yourself there and waiting and feeling sorry that it's not fair. You have to create yourself, that's what I believe."

She admits acting is a tough business, and when she was starting out, she never had to deal with the public scrutiny that comes with today's celebrity-obsessed culture.

She is impressed by how well her younger colleagues - Kristen Stewart (25) - who plays her personal assistant in the movie, and Chloe Moretz (18), who plays her young co-star - have coped with it themselves.

"I understood that a lot, because they both started very young," says Binoche.

"I was fascinated, because I was playing at school doing theatre, but I was never put in the spotlight at that young age. But they're strong women, they have strong minds and spirits."

Unlike her character, whose desperation to hold on to the past she describes as a tragedy, Binoche does not look back.

"In acting, you have to be so present, you're using the memories in order to create something new," she muses.

"It's true that I don't think too much of the past. It's me, Juliette, I'm like that, I'm a very present lover."

With that, Binoche laughs her carefree laugh, and it is clear the clouds of the past are not hanging on her shoulders.

Clouds of Sils Maria is in cinemas from tomorrow

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