The star of Jacques Audiard’s Parisian drama reflects on her whirlwind journey from first-time actor to the Cannes red carpet.
With Paris, 13th District, director Jacques Audiard adapts three short stories by American cartoonist Adrian Tomine, merging them into a sharp, sweet portrait of sex, love and endurance in a Parisian high-rise neighbourhood. The ensemble includes Noémie Merlant, Makita Samba and Jehnny Beth, alongside Lucie Zhang in a star-making turn with her debut feature film role. She plays Émilie, a French-Taiwanese twentysomething with a flair for chaos.
LWLies: How did you get into acting?
Zhang: The first time I tried an acting class was 2019, but I really hadn’t any experience before. And this acting class didn’t tell me that much because I was never there due to too much college work. But I pushed myself because I really wanted it. Even though I’m shy and it’s hard for me to express myself correctly, I really wanted to challenge myself. When I was young, I was inspired by my grandfather who is a very skilled, genius doctor. I wanted to do that type of job, but then, boom, this desire for acting came. And it erased everything else. This film happened because I saw the announcement on Instagram, looking for Chinese-speaking girls who grew up in Paris. I was so excited and I told myself it’s gonna be me or I’ll die.
Were you familiar with Jacques Audiard’s previous films?
To be honest, not at all, because I wasn’t really cultivated in terms of cinema. Both French and Chinese cinema. I was studying a lot, so my life was just studying. Of course, once I was cast, I watched everything. But I couldn’t find the first two.
This film was shot during the pre-vaccination Covid era of autumn 2020. What was it like filming such a physically intimate production with those early restrictions?
Since it was my first film experience, I couldn’t compare it to anything. But things got really close between us. We were only seeing each other. And for the intimate parts, we had to forget the Covid restrictions because it’s just a paradox. There’s no movie without them. Even the twice-a-week PCR test was kind of fun because everyone was lined up in a row and we were all stressed. It’s a bonding experience.
How was it acting in two languages in the film?
It was much better because two languages is me. If there was only Chinese or only French, it would be even harder to reach the character. All my crying was done in Chinese because we found out that Chinese is my intimate language and I use French because I learned French at school. So, anything intellectual or technical had to be in French for better, clearer, concrete communication. But in terms of feeling, it had to be in Chinese. Also, to help me, everyone told me to translate the whole script into Chinese to play it entirely in Chinese the whole time,