Coming of age films have often found fertile ground in horror cinema, but few have done it as memorably as Raw, Julia Ducournau’s breakout hit that’s been thrilling queasy audiences since its Cannes debut last year. The film’s fiercely feminine perspective is the result of an intense collaboration between the filmmaker and her young star, 19-year-old Garance Marillier, who delivers a performance that runs the gamut from shy freshman to unhinged, blood splattered grotesque. As a precocious teenager entering veterinary college, Marillier gets to explore female desire in a distinct and contemporary way — in between munching on severed body parts, dissecting animals and wearing shades of colour that would do Isabelle Adjani proud. We spoke with Marillier over email recently to ask her about the experience.
You’ve worked with Julia Ducournau before, on the short film Junior — which is also about a young girl’s metamorphosis. What attracts you to these kinds of movies? Or are you Julia’s go-to actress for teenage horror?
Julia and I have developed a very strong bond and a blind trust since Junior, therefore it was almost like a no-brainer to work together again on Raw. To me, the horror/fantasy genre offers a wide acting range, and that’s what interests me. What’s more, I knew and admired Julia’s work, and it was therefore natural for me to say “yes”.
Your performance in Raw is very intense. Was this a hard role to play?
It was indeed very intense, but it was incredible to be able to achieve what we wanted with Julia; it all came down to the trust and support we had for each other. Yes it was a difficult role, but in the end, there’s nothing more pleasurable than playing an audacious role.
The movie requires you to get splattered with fake blood and paint, cut open a dog, pull hair out of your mouth, eat a raw fish and chew on various body parts. What did you think of all of this when you read the script?
I said to myself, “Lucky this is Julia, because this could quickly go wrong given the audacity of the subject, and the way it’s going to be treated.” I was right to trust her because I am very proud of her work and the standard she set.
Did you have any reservations?
There were some moments when I told myself “I won’t be able to do it,” so there were inevitably some moments of doubt, but Julia always put me back on track.
Were there things that you drew on from your own life in creating the performance?
No, not really. I lived my period of “discovery” in a very healthy and smooth way, but like Justine I’m very sensitive and anxious, so I see myself in the fears we can have at our age.
Growing up as a teenager in the last few years — is high school this intense? Is there that pressure to fit in and the threat of bullying?
When I was a child I was a real tomboy. I was never among the ones that were bullied or intimidated — on the contrary, I showed the boys I was as strong and brave as them. I’ve protected myself and surrounded myself well, so that I never had to experience it, and I actually condemn it whenever I see it happen at my school.
What exactly was your sister’s detached finger made of? And what did your own “arm” taste like?
The finger was a candy, a mixture of candies that were melted then moulded, so it was very tasty. On the other hand, my arm copped it: at the end of the day it was all yellow and swollen due to the bruise caused by the bite, but of course, I didn’t bite until it bled; I had a sponge with fake blood.
Have you ever bitten anyone for real?
Ha ha, um yes, my brother when we were kids; sometimes until it bled. But he was bigger than me and I needed to make him understand that despite my prawn size, I could hurt him if he provoked me.
If you had to eat a celebrity to stay alive, who would it be — and what do you think they would taste like?
I would eat Jamie Dornan because he’s very handsome with perfect flesh, ha ha. And while we’re at it, I would caramelise him with soy and honey, because I don’t really believe in good “natural taste”.
I have to ask you about the movie’s notorious waxing scene. Did you have a body double? If not, that is a… brave performance.
Yes I had a double for close-ups, but for technical reasons: I didn’t have enough natural hair. But hats off to the doubles who must have been in real pain!
We don’t see a lot of really intense coming-of-age stories about girls. Is it important that we see more of these on screen? Why?
I find the way the discovery of female desire is depicted is always very cliché: she meets a boy on holiday, sleeps with him, and that’s it. However, Julia treats the matter with a lot more depth, with something visceral, organic. To me, she made a very audacious bet, and I hope it will inspire other artists!
A lot of critics have been squeamish about the movie, but it’s not really that gory; at least not all the time. Why do you think people are so grossed out? Do you think it’s the nature of the female sexuality on display?
I think it’s because it tackles the intimate, and then Julia puts the viewers at ease to better surprise them later.
Raw is interesting in that it portrays desire in a way that ignores gender or sexual orientation — like when your character sleeps with her gay roommate, or bites a guy or a girl. Is representative of the experience of teens your age, that they are more fluid sexually?
I think it’s much more common these days, a lot of young people are not closed up to to the idea of having homosexual, heterosexual relationships etc. Julia really wanted to show that what matters is that love doesn’t know gender; we are attracted to and fall in love with people, not with a penis or a vagina — like what happened with Justine and Adrien. These days more and more young people adopt this philosophy, and I think it’s real progress!
Did you have formal acting training? Did this prepare you for the very physical intensity of this role, or is it something more intuitive?
I’m in a theatre school since 2012 — l’Ecole du jeu. It’s a training that’s based essentially around the body, so it certainly helped me a lot on Raw to work in an animal way.
As an actor, what kind of roles do you cherish most? What would you most like to do, and who would you love to work with?
I’m drawn to all types of roles as long as the script is interesting. The character needs to have something to defend, and not be all bland. I’d like to work again on the body — on the physicality — like Julia, Alice Winocour, or David Cronenberg.
Who inspires you as a performer, or a filmmaker?
I’m a diehard fan of David Lynch. Twin Peaks is my favourite work in the whole word. I also love the work of Wong Kar Wai enormously; filming with these two would be my biggest dream. Regarding actors, I really admire Soko, who is very organic, Isabelle Adjani, Gaspard Ulliel, Mélanie Thierry, Cécile de France, and Carey Mulligan.
What are some of your favourite high school movies?
I don’t really have a “teen” movie culture; my parents always showed me old movies, like all the Hitchcocks. My favourite movie from my teenager years remains Hitchcock’s Vertigo with Kim Novak.
You’re a fan of Soko, who mixes movies and music; is that something you would do? What kind of music do you listen to personally?
I listen to at least five hours of music every day, mainly rap, but also a lot of classic and contemporary music. My father is a contemporary drummer, my brother too, it’s in our family. I actually also played classic drums for 12 years. It’s a passion, but I don’t feel it’s my destiny. However I’d really like to combine both passions, cinema and music, such as in directing music videos.
You’re in the new Cahiers du Cinema. Must be nice to be celebrated by such an esteemed journal.
It’s obviously an honour, but I need to keep delivering after that. That pressure has to give me the courage to continue to progress with rigour and work.
This Q+A was originally conducted in French. A very special thanks to Sandra Beeston for translating.