Juliette Binoche in Antigone.


WASHINGTON — In between rehearsals for Sophocles’ “Antigone,” which she is performing at the Kennedy Center here, Juliette Binoche ponders another myth: The French woman, that endearingly sexy, elegant and mysterious creature who she’s personified in such films as “Chocolat,” and “The English Patient,” for which she won the Oscar in 1996.

“We’re born like this, “she says, her laugh echoing off the walls. “We come naked on earth, while the others come with clothes.”

Then Binoche strikes a serious tone.

“It’s very hard to answer that question, because I have no clue where it [the myth] comes from. I’ve never really asked myself that. As an actor, you serve a story, you serve a character and you have to be neutral. When I’m walking on stage, I try to forget everything.”

“Antigone,” directed by Belgian “It” director Ivo van Hove, premiered at the Grand Théâtre de Luxembourg in February before transferring to London’s Barbican Theatre in March. The production toured throughout Europe and continues in the U.S.

This fall, Binoche will return to the big screen in “The 33,” a drama with Antonio Banderas about the 2010 mining disaster in Chile.

But the idea of a live performance clearly brings out her passionate French-ness.

“It [the performance] needs to be new and it needs to be dangerous,” she says. “It’s not a fear. It’s just that you’re so into forgetting and not anticipating any feeling or thought, that you put yourself into the moment so strongly that you don’t know what your next line is.”

Binoche has also, it seems, temporarily forgotten her designers. On this day, she’s wearing a chic red jacket, and when asked where she got it, she contorts her neck to pull out the tag. “Anderson,” she reads to me slowly, with the slightest of accents. “It’s J.W. Anderson.”

Binoche, also a painter and poet, explains she identifies with the art inherent in fashion design.

“I love a creator who has found a way of expressing himself or herself through different colors or shapes. I understand it’s tough doing the different seasons. I understand the risk of it, trying to find something that resonates emotionally,” the actress says.

She’s equally philosophical about her roles, especially Antigone, who defies the ruler of Thebes to give her brother a proper burial. Finding Antigone’s “layers” is something that’s a constant journey, one that’s different on every stage. As for her pre-performance “rituals,” Binoche is specific about them.

“I light a candle, and I have different books,” she explains. “I open a page and read. I like the coincidence of finding a feeling in the book with the feeling I’m in. I read the script, exercise and stretch, mediate and thank Sophocles.”

Does she ever indulge in a little wine? She is, after all, a French woman.

“No, “she says, letting out that hearty laugh again. “You need clarity. You have to keep your spirit in your body.”

But she does keep dark chocolate in her dressing room. She said the 2000 film with Johnny Depp inspires people to give her chocolate “all the time. I have cinema wheels, cameras and an Oscar made out of chocolate.”

But she never tires of it. She even likes “the feeling” of it. “I like dark chocolate, and white chocolate, but when it’s too sugary and milky,” she says it feels too American, too artificial. “I feel like they’ve fooled me.”

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