ZOE CASSAVETES, Fearless behind the camera

ZOE CASSAVETES, Fearless behind the camera

My first encounter with Zoe Cassavetes was through her movie “Broken English” released in 2007. I absolutely adored her fine study and observation of the complexity and banality of language in a love story, an experience that we all went through at least once in our life.

The second encounter with her was in Paris when I met her in person at the house party of a common friend. That’s where I’ve noticed that Zoe’s natural way of being and talking is reflected in her movies where she observes in a very sincere way the multiple facets of female emotions in different phases of a woman’s life.

Daughter of the legendary Hollywood couple John Cassavetes and Gena Rowland she loves to be challenged in her movie projects and to get out of her comfort zone.


Last year you’ve directed the serie « Junior » for Blackpills, a mobile ready short form video content for millennials. 10 episodes, each not longer than 10min, for a millennial-focused mobile consumption.
What a challenge!
Do you like to get out of your comfort zone? 

Yes, I love to get out of my comfort zone.
But it was more about creating the subject of teenagers in modern day that was the most daunting. They were going to be my audience and I wanted to get it right.

What is so interesting about the millennial culture?

What is interesting to me about this new generation is first, how quickly time goes by since you were that generation X and how extreme some of the things they do and watch and know are. And it’s all because of technology moving at the speed of light. I come from a generation where I had none of that stuff for the first 20 years of my life. I know how to read and write by hand and dream.

No one ever puts down their phone. Life is through the phone. That scares me. But there are some amazing kids out there who are using the technology to build their lives in positive ways.

It’s just no one knows what the effects are of so rapidly ingesting this new system of being into our lives. I know I’m affected by it and I’ve lead the other life.
I’m sure millennials just look at me and are like, who is this old lady?

You’ve tried to be an actress before becoming a photographer and director. What made you giving up acting and stand rather behind the camera?

I was a terrible actress! Really, really bad. It’s too bad, too, I really wanted to be one. But I didn’t really know who I was back then so I had no base, no confidence to perform.

I’ve always been a writer and when I tried directing I loved it because I was in control of the orchestra so to speak but I didn’t have to be the performer.

I love actors to bits. It’s not an easy job. But I love my long, involved, sometimes painful but always rewarding job.

You’ve directed the film « Behind the Door » celebrating the Ritz Paris’s reopening. Do you have any personal memories of the Ritz Hotel?

I loved the Ritz Paris from the time I was a little girl and I would go there with my parents.

It’s like a fairy tale, not just because it’s a beautiful hotel, but the people who run the hotel make it seems like you are in a magical place where anything could come true.

So the film is very fantastical with magical keys and doors into a wild world of hide and seek, sort of childhood game with all the best costumes and people.

If you had to keep just one movie in a time capsule as a proof of humanity for billions of years from now when earth has erased all traces of mankind, what would be your choice?

Oh I hate this question.
I love movies so much it would be very hard for me to decide on just one. Especially since my favorite movies are about human suffering.

I would have probably had a better answer before Trump took over but now it’s BT and AT. My BT pick would be “It’s A Wonderful Life” and my post Trump pick would be “Dr. Strangelove”.

Being married to Sébastien Chenut of the french electro-duo Scratch Massive, is music an important part in your movies?

Married to the composer! Truthfully Seb has amazing taste in music and film. And he knew how to push me to a more modern sound in my films and work we do together.

Music is such a big part of the story. It is a character in your film, the way a location is.

I love what he does but now I’m so used to it as ‘our style’ that I’m pleasantly pleased when people react to it so strongly.

Imagine you were stuck in a huge record store, as they exist in LA, for one night. Which records would you pick and listen to?

The DIVA soundtrack, Nina Simone, Led Zeppelin Houses of the Holy, WHAM! Make It Big, I don’t know, I’m old school…

You’re friends with Marc Jacobs and you’ve directed the film “The Powder Room”  for Miu Miu. Is fashion an interesting playground for you as a photographer and director? 

It’s true I do a lot of fashion films and commercials. And I love doing them because they HAVE to look gorgeous and I love playing with that.

And, yes, I love clothes and shoes and bags or whatever but I don’t really follow fashion too much anymore. I went to a lot of shows and cool things over the years and I occasionally still do.

What I really love is the artistry and care and imagination that goes into pieces and seasons.

The person I most admire in fashion is Miuccia Prada.
She’s constantly brilliant and warm and generous and anything she puts her energy to comes out amazing. The people who work with her are amazing. It starts from the top and trickles down.

Guy Bourdin vs Helmut Newton?


I love Bourdin’s glossiness but no one knew how to bring out strength like Helmut Newton.

You love to write. You’re writing the scenarios of most your movies. Which book has triggered this love for writing?

I have been writing forever. Just making up stories and writing them down. In school I would write everyone’s English papers of them, all with different points of view. It was my one subject that I liked and was good at.

I wrote my first play when I was maybe eight or nine. It just sort of came naturally to me, especially when I was young and I had no fears about how good the quality was. I miss those days of being uninhibited.

Can you tell me a little bit more about your new film project “My Dead Ex” that came out in March?

“My Dead Ex” is not actually my project but I directed a couple of episodes.
It’s a really funny show about a teenage guy who’s so in love with a girl at school that when he tries to impress her he ends up dying, but then coming back to life based on their special bond.
It’s ridiculous and I love it and I was so happy to laugh for a second.

What comes to your mind when you think of Iran?

I have two friends, sisters, who are from Iran and escaped to America with nothing. But their love for their country never lessened and hearing stories about them growing up always made me want to visit.

I think it’s terribly sad that the state of the world is just to be so fearful of things we do not understand.


Zoe Cassavetes’ portrait:  by Sofia Sanchez and Mauro Mongiello
“Junior” film poster (c) Manny Films
“Junior” behind the scenes: by Zoe Cassavetes
“Junior”behind the scenes: by Zoe Cassavetes
“Behind the Door” film poster
“Behind the Door” behind the scene
“Broken English” film poster
“Day out of Days” film poster
Miu Miu’s “The Powder Room”: by Zoe Cassavetes
Miu Miu’s “The Powder Room”: by Zoe Cassavetes
Text: Anahita Vessier

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