A Conversation with Actress and Film Director Cécile Delepière
Some people you meet always bring a handful of knowledge. I met Cécile during an event in Midtown, Manhattan entitled Mend: Listen Now & Listen Good, where 12 women performed their most personal stories. Cécile's acting intensity left me flabbergasted, I never thought I would live to see such an impeccable performance live. This raised the question, what life experiences could have created this level of emotion? Naturally inquisitive, I approached her, asked for an interview, and we conversed over coffee a few days later.
Cécile Delepière's younger self has faced eye-opening events early in life building an unparalleled level of self-reflection, a need for discovery, and what we call today a #badass attitude. Taking complete control over her career, she was nominated for Best Short Film at the Indie Film Festival in Los Angeles and at the UK Film Festival in London for Almost There. A couple of years ago, her short film Beíth Inspired by Khalil Gibran's poem "On Death" was awarded Video of the Week by The Awardeo Company, and Daily Short Pick by Film Shortage. She is the co-creator of Diary of an Actor, a web series about the art and craft of acting, and runs petit kino, a little ‘cinema’ for families. She has worked on multiple documentaries for French television, and currently starring HBO's High Maintenance.
Let's discover Cécile Delepière.
OPENLETR: Please tell us about your life pre-film and theater.
Cécile: I was born in the South of France, in Aix-en-Provence. I’m the last of four children and I grew up in a family of artists. For the outside world, my siblings and I had a pretty happy childhood, we were nurtured, and loved by our parents. From the inside, we had our share of family dysfunction. I was, for the most part, a joyful kid, but I often had to escape reality by inventing stories and creating my own realities. We lived in the countryside and I used to spend hours on my own in the fields and woods. Those were my happy moments. I was fantasying on new horizons. Going elsewhere. At the age of 17, I took the opportunity to do an exchange program in the US, left my family behind with sadness in my heart, but with the certainty this was my golden ticket. I spent one year with different American families and graduated from High School. That year abroad was a turning point in my life. It was a tough experience, but it taught me to be independent. And from that point, I knew I would live in a foreign country later on.
OPENLETR: What was the trigger that made you pursue a career in acting?
Cécile: I started with dance first. From the age of 4, I had the dream of being a professional dancer. My mother was taking me to her classes, and to contemporary dance ballet. I was in love with movement and with how it made me feel in my body and my heart. Expressing myself was already a necessity. All the words I was keeping inside, I was able to dance them. My aunt, my mother’s twin sister, was my inspiration and I always loved performing my dance moves in front of her. She encouraged my brothers and sister to create comic sketches for family reunions. I already knew that’s what I wanted to do. Be on stage. Perform. But for years, I felt like I had to fit in, have diplomas, and a good education. Being an artist would be an impossible path to take. I had the example of my dad struggling to pay the bills as a freelance landscape architect, and I was too scared to admit I wanted to be an actor. I didn’t believe for a second that I would have the talent and drive. So instead, I studied Law for two years, then Journalism, and when I finally graduated with a Master while taking night classes in an Acting School, I was left with a choice to make. I took my courage in both hands to tell everyone: “I want to be an actor”.
OPENLETR: As women, the relationship with our mother tend to impact our outlook. What was the relationship with yours?
Cécile: It is such a hard question to respond to in a few words. I was a good girl, doing good in school, a dancer, a social and happy kid. She was overwhelmed with the duties of a mother. She was running the house “military style”. With four small kids and a busy freelance husband, she had to be super organized. Many times, she would lose it! In the bad days, I was afraid of her and would keep my mouth shut. And in the good days, we were close and we shared some fun moments. But, I always felt I was treading on egg shells around her. When I was a teenager, she started to suffer from depression. After going through tremendous family traumas, she couldn’t find happiness. I promised myself I would live my life with joy. My mother is also an artist, a musician, but she couldn’t follow her passion like she would have loved to. She got pregnant really young and had her four kids within five years. She would always tell us to give priority to our dreams, and that she had sacrificed her career for her children. Being a witness of her struggles as a mother had a huge impact on me. I did follow my passion. And, all my choices have been revolving around this idea that I want to feel accomplished as a woman before becoming a mother myself.
OPENLETR: Travels have been a big part of your self-discovery and healing process. Tell us more.
Cécile: I started to travel on my own at the age of 15, visiting my friends in Turkey. It gave me such a sense of freedom and independence. I felt like all the doors were open for me. It made me so happy and light. I could be whomever I wanted. There was also the idea of escaping my family dramas: the heaviness, the torments, the sadness. Then, at 17 I lived in the US for a year, and even though it was a hard thing to do, I wanted it more than anything. My inner voice was guiding me. Like a calling. It allowed me to explore who I was, what I wanted for my life, and to grow up. It took me another two decades to make another big leap of faith and move to Canada in 2009. This was also guided by my intuition. I literally packed my bags and left. No plans, no friends, barely any money. Just the conviction that it was my path. I needed the challenge. I needed to climb mountains, and surpass myself. Go to the core of my being, heal my wounds, free myself.
OPENLETR: Has there been a specific self-realization event that allowed you to break from your past and take charge of your future?
Cécile: Probably the day I quit smoking. At the time, I was in a really painful relationship with quite a violent man. It lasted only 6 months, but made me realize that I was destroying myself, not respecting myself. It was a dark period. I think it was an important time. And, it felt like hell. That was a wakeup call. I left him and went to New York for an acting workshop, which was all about connecting the emotions in the body, and how to recall them anytime I needed them for a role. It was a life-changing moment. I felt like I was smoking to avoid feeling things and cover the pain; facing my rage, my sadness, my power… I went back to France, quit cigarettes on my birthday, and got my visa for Canada 6 months later. I was finally facing my fears, but also allowing myself to live my dreams.
OPENLETR: Besides travels, what other things have you explored in your healing process?
Cécile: I have done different therapies, healings, guidance, all of which led me to be more connected to my spirituality, and to discover why I am here. Every day, I wake up and wonder what I am going to create. When I feel down, I create. When I’m happy, I create. That’s my best healing tool. I think we are constantly in a healing process. There are always thoughts and feelings that need to be expressed and transformed.
OPENLETR: During the Mend Event, your monologue touched on an important question women are often asked: "are you pregnant yet?" Why was this the central theme?
I wrote this text, because I believe words are healers. They help you release your deepest fears and traumas. Sharing my story with other people, saying those words out loud, felt like a release and a relief. I’m 41 years old and I’m not a mom. I have a wonderful husband, and we have been trying to become parents for a long time. I have been wondering why we are not pregnant yet. Why are we not parents? When is it “happening”? Is there something wrong? I have turned those questions in my head over and over, blaming myself, my relationship with my mother, my fears, my selfishness… the list goes on. But today, the only question is: “Do I really want to be a Mom?”
OPENLETR: Do you believe that women are socially pressured to have children? How has the answer to the question evolved as you grew throughout the years, and would you be comfortable today saying: "I am not pregnant and I don't wish to have children"?
Women are definitely pressured to have children. If you are 40 and childless most people are asking questions, and judging you. It’s like not belonging to the club. You are an outsider. You don’t fit in, because of your lifestyle. And in many ways, you are seen as selfish and self-centered. I never thought about having kids until I met my husband. Then I felt it would be the natural course of life. My body reminding me every month that I could be pregnant, it became an obsession for a long while. If I didn’t have a baby, there was no purpose in life. My friends started to have kids, my siblings too. I felt and shared their joy and love. I wanted it also, but it terrified me. I was afraid of losing something. My freedom mostly. These past few months, I have made peace with the whole thing. I joined an amazing support group of women, all moms. And sharing our stories has been very liberating for me. In addition, I launched Petit Kino, a little cinéma for families to capture the best moments in a child's life, and it feels great to spread love. This is my journey and my story. I’m not pregnant, and whether or not I’m a mother one day, I’m happy with my life now and will be at the present moment.
OPENLETR: In terms of your film career, what are you currently working on, and where would you like to see your career?
Cécile: Right now, I’m expanding in many creative directions. I have found the right place to make my dreams come true. In New York. Last year, I came back in front of the camera starring in HBO's High Maintenance along Ben Sinclair and Myriam Shor. It was such a joy to explore that character. I cannot wait to embody more characters on camera and on stage. We are in the early process of casting and pre-production of my next short film, a drama written by screenwriter and actress Zoë Watkins. I’m also writing a couple of scripts; a love story and a family one. I have entered the world of fashion creating films for women's wear brand Theia Couture and traveling to Milan for Buoni Propositi, a jewelry designer. I’m super excited to work with very talented people in front or behind the camera. I am a creator and story teller, and I want to continue my journey as a self-made woman. Inspire and be inspired.
OPENLETR: What has been the best thing that happened to you so far?
Cécile: Meeting the love of my life! I feel like I moved to Los Angeles just to meet him. Together we have manifested our wildest dreams, and it is only the beginning!
OPENLETR: Any last words of wisdom?
Cécile: “Trust the dreams, for in them is hidden the gate to eternity.” (Khalil Gibran, “On Death”). I directed a short film called BEÍTH, and it was based on this poem. These words resound with me so much.