Comedian Valérie Lemercier knows people think it's weird that she plays a character based on Celine Dion at all ages of her life, starting at age 6, in her new film, "Aline."
After the unauthorized biopic debuted at the Cannes Film Festival last year, journalists were confused, shocked and entertained all at once by the project. A Vanity Fair reporter called it "one of the strangest approaches to a biopic I've yet seen." The Daily Beast described it as looking "like the French equivalent of a Will Ferrell movie."
Lemercier, who is a popular stand-up comedian in France, said she thinks the humor in her film, which debuts in theaters Friday, goes over the head of those who were critical.
"The first character I wrote was a child," said Lemercier, who wrote, directed and stars in the movie. "A thing I love to do is play children. It's surprising for you … but in France people know that I often play small girls. It’s, for me, something funny to do. Maybe it's a little bit freaky, I know that."
In fact, she said, she almost took the bit even further — she wanted to play Aline at 6 months old, as a baby with one tooth, sleeping in a drawer.
"My producer asked me to cut it," she said. "But maybe one day."
The process involved digitally adjusting Lemercier's body and face for age appropriateness in post-production. Onscreen, it looks, as The New York Times described it, as though she has been "shrunk to Hobbit size and Facetuned into near-oblivion."
I’m playing her at all ages, with all my body, my hands, everything.
Valérie Lemercier on her role
"It's not my own face on a child's body," she said. "I'm playing it with all my body. It's visual effects. They reduced me. I'm playing her at all ages, with all my body, my hands, everything."
Sometimes, Lemercier said, there are no effects at all.
"At the school I only had a big desk. ... My paper is bigger," she said, referring to a scene that takes place in a classroom. Or "when I'm singing, I have a big microphone," she added.
The visual effects process in post-production took six months, she said.
Lemercier said that to those in the U.S., where Dion had a residency at Caesars Las Vegas for 16 years, the singer was always considered "glamorous."
"That wasn't the case in Quebec and in France," she said, where Dion became famous as a child.
"She was a little bit strange at first. At first she was like an adult. She had problem with teeth, with hair everywhere. I didn't want to play only the glam singer. I wanted to show [the] growing pains of adolescence."
Humor aside, Lemercier said she also wanted to make the film a "tribute to Celine." In addition to showing Aline's career rise, it highlights the relationships she has with her Quebecois family, with 14 children, as well as with her manager-turned-husband, Guy-Claude (inspired by Dion's late husband, René Angélil).
"I think for me, a main thing of a life, it's love," Lemercier said. "Of course this story couldn't have been without that love story. ... This career couldn't have been without that love story. [And] she fell in love very early."
She said she researched Dion extensively.
"I was a fan, but I didn't know everything," she said. "And I became a great fan ... when I spent time to read the book about her mother, her husband and about her, of course."
Dion has not commented on the film, which has gotten mixed responses from those who know her. Dion's family members spoke out against the film, criticizing it for factual inaccuracies, France24 reported.
"I think it's difficult to see your own life," Lemercier said when she was asked about their reported reaction. "If I were Celine I wouldn't go quickly to see the movie."
But, Lemercier noted, "of course, that's why I changed every name." At the end of the day, "it's not real."
She said she often dreams about Dion and Angélil. But if she were to meet Dion in person, it would be "really a dream."
She said she would try to strike up a conversation by complimenting Dion's shoes, which would likely be nice.
But, Lemercier said, "I would be so shy."