After a string of high-profile appearances in darker films, Canadian actress Suzanne Clément was ready for something lighter and funnier. “I was so blessed to have this — really fortunate. This came at a great time,” she says with a smile and laugh about how she got the job co-starring alongside comic actor Patrick Huard, in the latest film from Monsieur Lazhar director Philippe Falardeau, My Internship in Canada, which opens in Toronto on Friday, October 23, 2015.
“I had just done Mommy and had come off of doing a lot of really heavy stuff,” she explains during our interview at the 2015 Toronto International Film Festival, discussing her relief at being able to cut loose. “I wonder why I don’t do more films like this one; you can have fun playing hard characters, but this feels so good. I had been travelling for the past few years and it was kind of getting to me. At some point, I needed to come back to Quebec, so I spent a month in the woods with my sister, her kids and boyfriend, and they were a strong couple to witness. They’ve been together almost 30 years; they’ve been together since they were 17, and watching them was inspiring. Being there in the woods of Quebec and feeling the roots under my feet again, playing with the kids and brushing my teeth in the middle of the woods with no running water was invigorating. It was around that time that the script came and I just thought, ‘Yes! I want to do this! This is going to be fun!'”
In the film, Clément plays, appropriately, Suzanne, wife of rural Quebec MP Steve Guibord (played by Huard). Steve, the only independent politician in parliament not backed by a major political party, finds himself in an actionable position he doesn’t want to be in. Constantly striving to keep the chaotic, often-warring interests of his constituency as his primary concern, Steve becomes the all-important swing vote in a conservative-led march towards war. Suzanne plays the slightly right-wing-leaning wife attempting to push the already frayed politico everyman in one direction, while his peace-loving daughter tries to persuade him otherwise.
“I had just done Mommy and had come off of doing a lot of really heavy stuff. I wonder why I don’t do more films like this one; you can have fun playing hard characters, but this feels so good.”
While Clément admits to pushing Suzanne’s conservative leanings to the forefront, she’s quick to point out that the relationship between Steve and Suzanne runs deeper than partisan beliefs.”I really pushed her right-wing side. It was written that way to begin with, but I definitely pushed that a bit more on a personal level because I found that aspect to be really interesting,” she says, sipping on a late afternoon coffee. “I’m not sure Philippe quite saw that side of her as much, but it’s more fun wanting to see her having all this ambition and to watch her subtly manipulating emotionally some of the people around her husband. She takes a stand and speaks from the hard point of view she learned from her mother. She’s abusing her power a little bit, but she isn’t really a villain; she wants what’s best for her husband and she’ll fight for him. They come first, even though there’s this core issue they might not see eye to eye on. She has a strong mind and speaks it; she’s able to cut to the chase and sees through things that are fake. I don’t think there’s any question that this couple will stay together. They will argue about things, but there’s always this love — they’re past their difficulties. If something bad was going to happen, it would have happened long before the events of this movie.”
In addition to being a departure for her, in terms of the tone of films she’s been doing as of late, the frequent Xavier Dolan collaborator jumped at the chance to play a character that’s nothing like her temperament.”I love that this character is a pragmatic person; I’m not a pragmatic person,” Clément chuckles. “My whole life is full of doubts and I admire how this woman can actually make decisions. A friend once portrayed me as someone who, if they were dying, would say, [gasping] ‘I’m dying… or am I? Maybe I shouldn’t die now. I think it’s a good thing, maybe’ [laughs]. That’s me! That’s who I am! So to play this woman, it’s actually relieving. She looks at this man with a great amount of love and although she disagrees with him, to some extent, it’s really because she just wants him to make a choice. I’m not like that at all, but you can see how easily you can relate to that point of view.”
Those personal doubts might not fit her character, but it made Clément comfortable around her comedic veteran co-star, who she sees as a bit of a kindred spirit.”Patrick started as a stand-up comedian, and I’m such an admirer of comedic performers, especially stand-up,” she says warmly about Huard’s background as a performer. “I would love to do it, but I would be super-scared. I think, like myself, they’re worriers. He has become such a great actor and he’s rightfully huge. You’re so secure when working with him because he’s so strong and generous; he’s in his prime.”
“I love that this character is a pragmatic person; I’m not a pragmatic person. My whole life is full of doubts and I admire how this woman can actually make decisions.”
Clément also sees the film as something relevant to national politics in Quebec and across Canada, and how all politics begin in the home.”In Quebec, politics are talked about around the dinner table and in the kitchen a lot these days, but I remember there was a moment where we would always say, ‘Let’s never talk about politics.’ I remember the brother of my uncle’s wife would always come around to family gatherings, and he would always leave in the middle of supper because he was angry over talking politics. That was Quebec before, but I think it’s calmer now. Everything starts and happens in the family. There’s so much being said in this movie about [Quebec], about the rest of Canada, about all the strings that are being pulled and about humanity in general. We take for granted what we have, but it’s a normal thing for a family to want to protect its environment and the community around it. We want to protect our rights, and that starts at home.”
She’s also well aware of the film’s near-perfect timing, in terms of its release on the heels of an historic Federal election, but she swears none of the worlds of these characters are a perfect metaphor for Canada’s current state of affairs. Clément hopes the film’s timing will give viewers some laughs, and a chance to pause and reflect on what it means to be Canadian.
“Philippe started writing this five years ago, and he told everyone about it the same way you see it at the start of the film: as a story that’s yet to happen, in a place somewhere near you. He always said this on set, and now it’s happening! I hope this makes us appreciate what we have and makes us want to share it. If we can have our government allow people to be welcome here like we used to, I think we can evolve as a society, in a good way.”