The Overnight, out Friday, is one of the most explicit movies in recent memory: The story of a double-date dinner party that lasts until sunrise, it encompasses all manner of intoxicating substances, skinny-dipping and frank conversation among the four principals. (Call it Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? with a bit less anger.) And though Jason Schwartzman, Adam Scott, and Orange is the New Black‘s Taylor Schilling all get plenty to do—it’s a less-widely-known French actress who walks away with the movie.
As the wife of Schwartzman’s libertine party host, Judith Godrèche infuses the manic festivities with a grounded sense of calm, even as everyone around her is dissolving into neuroses or trying to find the bottom of a bottle. Her and Schwartzman’s characters spend the movie’s running time trying to get their uptight guests to embrace their inner hedonists, but Godrèche brings to her performance both a sense of mystery and of melancholy. She doesn’t always seem like she’s having fun, and turns The Overnight from a straight-up farce into something more complicated.
Godrèche only recently transplanted to the U.S. after a long career that has included roles in everything from L’Auberge Espagnole to Leonardo DiCaprio’s Man in the Iron Mask to USA’s Royal Pains. Her time stateside has also given rise to a TV project in development for HBO about a French celebrity forced to deal with stereotypes and culture clash once she moves to Los Angeles. After decades onscreen, Godrèche is one of the year’s most exciting breakouts.
TIME: This movie is fairly explicit in all senses. Did aspects of it give you pause?
Judith Godrèche: Not really. It was very interesting the way we received the script. I received it from Mark Duplass. He didn’t explain anything in the email. He wasn’t like, “Be aware, there’s sexual content or nudity.” He sent it without any notes. For him, he didn’t need to say anything. I kind of understand why. The script is so well-written, because all the things I was supposed to do related to sexuality looked subtle. It wasn’t big, and it wasn’t trying to be the funniest comedy of the year. It was just naturally funny. There was no effort. That was a good sign. You have to stop and ask, “Why did i do that? How can I justify this nudity?” when the script is all about the funny moment. In this case, it was so well-done that I never asked myself. I was the first one to be attached to the movie and we had to find a date to shoot together. The dates kept changing and I was saying no to French films. Finally, a year and a half later, I flew to Los Angeles to shoot it.
How’d you prepare?
I don’t work out usually—I worked out! I’m so impressed by American actresses’ bodies. They’re perfect. I’m French, I drink wine, and it’s not true French women are naturally slim. All those books about French women: It’s a myth. So I tried to do what American women do.
Do stereotypes about the differences between French and American women follow you around?
This is a big issue for me. I’ve been here a year. I had to stay because I’ve been writing a pilot with my co-writers and producer. I’ve experienced living in a city where I’m a walking cliche. All my relationships, all I do, is seen through the lens of being French. Their whole vision of me is changed because of their presumptive idea about what it is to be French. That leads to the funniest situations. I was once asked if it’s true that in France, cheating on your husband is not considered cheating. That’s how far it goes. No, I’m not going to sleep with your husband! It was a way of telling me, ‘Don’t sleep with my husband.’ No, French women are not after every married man. We’re not that open-minded. We’re like everyone else, trying to be faithful, though we might be less Puritan, or less hypocritical.
Do you feel like The Overnight subverts these stereotypes?
It’s fun to make fun of yourself. I love having the possibility to damage an image, or to beat up a presumptive image. In The Overnight, my character is the saddest one. There’s no closure for her. I don’t feel that when the movie ends, she’s found her path. I found this a pretty sad character, even though she’s supposed to represent the free spirit of the film.
How did you build such a strong and intimate sense of chemistry with Jason Schwartzman?
I was the biggest fan of him—I knew his music and his band and I had the most tremendous respect for him. He’s a very cultivated guy; he knows a lot about cinema from all around the world. The chemistry just happened right away. We were meant to work together. There’s something so so genuinely honest about his choices in life. That’s a guy with no second motive for why he’s doing things. He was the most devoted actor I ever worked with. There’s one thing about this movie—none of us, obviously, were there to make money at all. None of us were thinking it’s going to be famous. We were here because of the script and the director. That makes us brother and sister right away. On other sets, everyone has an agenda, and the agendas can be different.
What’s the status of your announced HBO comedy about a famous French actress adjusting to life in L.A.?
I had to discover what things were like on TV and I had never ever worked on TV. It’s an interesting journey, and scary—I’d been a film actress all my life. Every film is like a baby—you don’t let it go. I worked with directors like Olivier Assayas—when we didn’t have the money to make a film, you still end up making it. You never let it go. On TV, once you have a script, and an actor—I can’t even imagine giving a script up!—they can say, “We’re not interested,” and it’s over. It’s not my experience of making a film. I’m learning the rules and they’re brutal. They haven’t said no, and it may happen. But when you write a [film] script, you will find the money. We’ll go to the Duplass brothers! But on TV, it’s not a question of budget—it’s just if they want it or not. I’ve met with producers and when I met those guys, I felt those were the ones. I’ve made a lot of mistakes in my life, but this, I’m sure, is not a mistake.