French Actress Hélène Cardona Crafts Emotional Core On Screen

Every film strives to capture the audience emotionally. Some are successful, while others fall flat. Veteran French actress Hélène Cardona proves the heart and soul at the center of the uplifting indie feature film, Caralique.

Hélène is best known for her role as Fuffi in the Oscar nominated film, Chocolat, starring Juliette Binoche and directed by Lasse Hallström. She also appeared in the films The Hundred-Foot Journey, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, Jurassic World, Enough, and Mumford, and recurs in the Amazon Prime TV series, Upload. 

The talented actress has also voiced characters in Heroes Reborn, John Wick: Chapter 4, Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny, Murder Mystery 2, X-Men: Apocalypse, Happy Feet 2, and Muppets Most Wanted. She is an award-winning writer and author, and has produced several projecting, including the celebrated documentary film, Femme.

What made you want to get into acting?

Hélène Cardona (HC): I’m not sure where it really came from, except that it’s always been in me. When I was around ten years old, my school interrupted its regular teaching schedule and offered some experimental classes for a week. Acting was one and I tried it. Then the bug was left dormant until much later. I think if you’re an artist, you’re born with this desire or drive to create, and you have to honor it. I grew up playing the piano and dancing. I was also a math and science major in high school and loved studying languages and literature. Eventually I had to make a decision. I had just written my thesis on Henry James on the Search for Fulfillment in The Wings of the Dove while working as an interpreter for the Canadian Embassy in Paris and realized I had to fulfill my own destiny. I took flight and moved to New York to train at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in order to pursue acting professionally.

You found success early on, landing in Lasse Hallström’s Chocolat with Juliette Binoche. What was that experience like and how has it influenced your career?

HC: Chocolat was a dream come true. It happened unexpectedly. I had auditioned for a small role for Lasse Hallström’s The Cider Rules and didn’t get it. But he remembered me and offered me the role of Fuffi the hairdresser in Chocolat. And it happened the same week that I became an American citizen! 

The whole experience was truly magical. Lasse is wonderful filmmaker, very generous and easy to get along with, and the whole team was fantastic, cast and crew. It was fabulous to work with and be around Juliette Binoche, Leslie Caron, Lena Olin, Judi Dench, Carrie-Ann Moss, Johnny Depp, Alfred Molina, Peter Stormare, Antonio Gil, John Wood, Ron Cook, Hugh O’Connor, Élisabeth Commelin, as well as the kid actors. 

They were all so giving and caring. It was teamwork and such a friendly, jovial atmosphere. You know, Chocolat was a small film, nobody knew it was going to take off the way it did. And everybody was treated in the same way. 

We all got along fantastically. We filmed in beautiful locations, from the small French village of Flavigny in Burgundy, to Shepperton Studios in London, and Bath in the West Country. Everyone made me feel welcome and that I belonged there. I felt so at home. I never forgot that feeling. I stored it.

The year before Chocolat I had filmed Mumford for Lawrence Kasdan and had a very similar experience. Both brilliant filmmakers, at the top of their profession. They treated me and everyone with such respect. Mumford had an amazing ensemble cast too, and just like with Chocolat, I was struck with everyone’s goodwill and professionalism. The atmosphere on set was delightful. I was very lucky to have these extraordinary experiences that showed me how cinema works at its best.

Where do you start when you get a new role?

HC: I always start with the script. I read it and reread it several times, make annotations, work it. I get associations for my character, the places where I connect, the feelings and emotions that get triggered. The images that come to me. Then it depends on the type of script or role, whether it’s drama or comedy, whether there’s a rehearsal process with the rest of the cast and so on, if there’s research I need to do, depending on the period etc. But at the end of the day, I always remain open, on the day of shooting, for what the circumstances bring. I’ll be reacting to the other actors, and I won’t know until that moment what they’ll do and what the director may want specifically. So, I know what I bring in, but I let it go when it’s play time. I think the key is to remain flexible and trust the process.

What can you tell us about your latest role in the inspirational family film Caralique?

HC: What drew me to Caralique was the story. It’s a lovely script by Dale Fiola about a mother and daughter and I always had a very strong bond with my mother, who passed away when she was still young. So, it’s very emotional for me. I play the role of Arlette Linstrom, a successful fashion designer who has fallen on hard times. Arlette does everything in her power to help her daughter Caralique succeed in fashion and have a better life. She teaches her to stick to her instincts to achieve her childhood dreams. Arlette’s love and unwavering support for her daughter unable Caralique to achieve her dreams. 

Arlette is the heart and soul of the movie, its emotional core. The audience connects with her right from the beginning, through her creativity and passion for fashion, her resilience, her immense love and sacrifice for her daughter, until the very end. Hers is a magical world, and she instills all that magic in her daughter. 

I had so many moving scenes with the child actress Kali Funston, who plays Caralique in the first half of the movie. We were able to create a world completely our own. It was Kali’s first role, and a lead to boot, and I was so impressed with her. I think these are the scenes from the movie that stay with the audience most.

How has your international background impacted your work?

HC: I was born in Paris, and grew up in Switzerland, England, France, Monaco, Spain, and Germany, and spent time in Wales, Greece and Italy. My mother was Greek and my father Spanish. He worked for the United Nations most of his life, so I grew up in a very international environment, speaking several languages. I went on to study English and Spanish philology and literature, and German. I have three passports (US, France and Spain) and feel like I’m a citizen of the world. Because I moved so much all my life, I’m very adaptable, and it suits this industry. 

I’m also lucky in that I can put my languages to use. I do a lot of voice roles, voice acting, with all my different languages, and I love working with actors from different countries and backgrounds. It’s a lot of fun. I’m so grateful for it.

What’s been the biggest challenge you’ve faced so far in your career, and how did you overcome it?

HC: Let’s see, the first one was to leave Europe behind and start over in New York to focus solely on acting. That was a huge step, considering I had to leave in very difficult circumstances. Once I graduated from the AADA (it’s a two-year conservatory program), my student visa was over and I had to find a way to stay here legally if I wanted to work. I first obtained a practical training visa through the school, thanks to a wonderful casting director, Eileen Kennedy, for whom I had done a stage reading of a radio play. I am deeply grateful to her. 

Luckily, I had also done some modeling work in Paris while studying and that came in handy as I was then sponsored by a modeling agency. That work permit lasted one year and was renewed. Finally, after my second try, I got my Green Card in the lottery, which then led me to apply for the US citizenship. So that was a constant challenge for many years. 

Has anything surprised you about the entertainment industry?

HC: The entertainment industry is like any other in the sense that it attracts all kinds of people. It’s a microcosm of humanity. However, what sets it apart is that everyone works together very intensely and we get to know one another very quickly. Those who choose to work in this field usually bring a lot of passion and make many sacrifices to pursue their dreams. 

What I love about it and what I look for is the sense of family, of belonging. When I was at the AADA in New York, it became my second home. The same happened when I was at The Actors Studio. And it’s usually like that when I’m on a set. It becomes my world, where I belong, where I feel at home. It’s as if I have two homes, at all times, my real home where I live, which is like a haven for me, where I recharge my energies, and the sets and studios where I work.

Best piece of advice you’ve ever received?

HC: My acting coach, the late Sandra Seacat, always considered the space we worked in sacred. She carefully selected the students so that the environment was always respectful. Everyone felt safe. I think it’s important to remember that. There were stars, like Jessica Lang, and beginners working together, and we were all equal. We all wanted everyone to do their best and succeed, and we were encouraged to take chances. There was always magic at work.

I always try to carry that sense of sacredness, and of goodwill, and respect with me and for everything I do.

What inspires you most in your life and career?

HC: I love to always learn, and be surprised, to discover new ways to look at the world, new places, make new connections. I want to keep growing, evolving into a better self. And art is the medium I use. I’m also a poet and writer. And I love that I can write books when I’m not acting, that I have this other outlet for my creativity. Spirituality and mysticism are an important part of my life as well. 

I’ve taught, and mentored, on and off, and my students have inspired me too. The people that inspire me most can come from all walks of life. I also have a deep connection to animals and nature, I need them both. 

Is there anything else you’d like to share?

HC: I was very fortunate to work on the miniseries All the Light We Cannot See, based on Anthony Doerr’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel. I highly recommend it, it’s so beautiful. It just came out. It takes place in the final days of WWII and follows the paths of a blind French girl and a German soldier as they both try to survive. 

I was also very lucky to work on the new original Apple TV+ series, The New Look, coming out in February 2024. It’s a historical drama about the rivalry of fashion icons Christian Dior and Coco Chanel and it allowed me to reunite with Juliette Binoche.

And then there’s this original screenplay Primate, that I co-wrote with my partner John Fitzgerald, based on his novel, that we’re developing. 

So, I’m open to new adventures!


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