PARIS — Some leading ladies get to star opposite Hollywood hunks. But for her role in Julian Schnabel’s “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly,” which premiered Tuesday in Cannes, Canadian actress Marie-Josée Croze got to interact with an imaginary eye.

The movie is an adaptation of the memoir of a former editor of French Elle, Jean-Dominique Bauby, who was paralyzed by a stroke in 1995. Croze’s character, Henriette Durand, is based on the nurse who invented the communications system that enabled Bauby to write his book by blinking his left eye.

“I chose to play her as she was, an extremely devoted lady and disciplined in many ways that I’m not,” says Croze, who, last summer, spent three very intense months holed up filming in what was Bauby’s hospital in Berck in northern France.

“Even if I had eaten entire animals, I would still have lost weight,” says the actress, who was sometimes ruffled by Schnabel’s unorthodox directorial methods. “I’d get self-conscious spells having to speak directly into a camera, so he was constantly pushing me to higher states,” she says, recalling humorously how the director’s outfits would raise the French crew’s eyebrows, as he often turned up on set in what looked like pajamas, matched with a bandana and a pair of flip-flops.

“You can’t prepare for anything with Schnabel as he likes to create chaos, but there’s a magic that comes from that,” she says. “It’s good to know that, after 20 years in the business, you can still feel like a newcomer.”

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