Fascinating Anna Karina Quotes About Godard, French New Wave, and Her Career


New York City feels like a different place when French New Wave icon Anna Karina is in town. The Danish-French actress and Jean-Luc Godard muse was a guest at Film Forum where Godard’s Band of Outsiders received a restoration and is showing on the big screen. The tribute to Karina and the director runs through May 12, featuring multiple collaborations from the duo, including A Woman is a Woman and Pierrot le fou. Karina recently made the interview rounds, and we’ve collected a few of her most fascinating quotes (and several older ones) about her life and career.

On Jean-Luc Godard

“I thought that he was very strange, because of his dark glasses and all that, and asking a young girl to take her clothes off [for a small part in Breathless].”

“Jean-Luc gave me a gift to play all of those parts. It was like Pygmalion, you know? I was Eliza Doolittle and he was the teacher.”

“He would give you the dialogue in the morning just before you’re shooting. So you had to learn it, but also there was a lot of movements, you had to drink and talk at the same time, or light a cigarette and walk around. So that may be what people like today, because that’s what you do in life. It’s not the old fashioned cinema where people come in, close the door, sit down and then begin to talk. With Jean-Luc Godard, we did everything at the same time.”

“It was always the same thing — no script, dialogue at the last minute. Everyone always thought we just said anything we wanted. It’s difficult to explain — some actors want to know why they have to do this and that. It was so simple and natural with Godard.”

“It all began in Switzerland when did Le Petit Soldat. We fell in love. It was very bizarre, because it was like nobody could do the first step. We were looking at each other, like something bizarre and very exciting at the same time, getting nervous about it. It took a long time before something happened. We were working together everyday. And then, it happened. After a while we got married. He taught me a lot. He taught me all that because he knows everything about painting, about writing, the great directors.”

On working with Serge Gainsbourg

“That was great. We had really great fun. It was very serious and fun, too. He was such a great person. He was not the person he would become later, at that time. He was very timid and full of fun, and a little bit cynical, too, I must say. We would go and dance and have fun all the time. He was not such a big star at the time. At that time, we would go with Godard and eat cheese or something. We both loved eating cheese–you know the French, we’re famous for the cheese with the red wine. We’d rehearse, he had this big studio with a big piano, and that was about it. I suppose he had a bedroom, too, but I never saw it. I really loved it, working with Serge. We had a very good, how do you say, relationship.”

On directing her own movies

“I wanted to do it. I had this sudden urge to do a film myself. At that time, it was pretty difficult, because actresses didn’t really do films. It was like, “What’s wrong with her? Why would she want to do a picture?” Things like that. I think a director should do at least one part in his life. He should know how difficult it can be to be an actor. An actor should do at least a short film in his life, so he can know how difficult it is to be a director. Maybe they would understand each other better. I really wanted to do this film, so I wrote the script, but I thought nobody would want to produce it, so I produced it myself with very little money.”

“People really didn’t like it. ‘What is she doing here? This is not her job, she should stay being an actress.’ But I just wanted to see if I could do it, that’s all. And I wrote novels. And did singing – two albums, or did I say that already? I don’t sing any more. I guess I’m getting old.”

“It’s a love story [her first Vivre Ensemble], in a way. She is a bit hippie and he is a bit serious, and then they fall in love and she gets pregnant and has this child and then he kind of goes the other way. It’s not too funny, but it was funny to do it, because after, in ’72, I wanted to do a film that I produced myself with my little money and we went to New York to do one week in New York. It was really fun to do. I think personally that every actress should do a little film. Even a short film. And all directors should act, to know how difficult it is also the other way around.”

On French New Wave

“We didn’t realize at the time. We could change clothes in the street behind a tree if it was necessary. We were not asking for trailers and all that like most actors today. We were not difficult, and very happy to do the film. It was another world at the time.”

“It’s something very kind and very beautiful. But I never thought that. We had fun. We were not like stars at that time. You would change clothes behind a tree and do everything very quickly. We didn’t have trailers like stars would today. We’d talk to people in the streets and say hello while we were shooting.”

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On her future in film

“I am the old story. L’histoire ancienne. But an old story can still be a good story, no?”

“I don’t want to do just ‘Hello, goodbye,’ only for very, very good directors like Jonathan Demme, who asked me to sing this tango in his film The Truth About Charlie (2002). If not, I really take my choices, because I’m too old to say yes to everything, and also, I’ve done too many good things to go do whatever now.”