Discussing Rosalie with Nadia Tereskiewicz – Interview

Nadia Tereskiewicz exudes a gentle, leading lady quality and shines within her onscreen performance playing the titular role of Rosalie within this French historical period drama which featured in the Un Certain Regard programme of the 76th edition of the Cannes Film Festival in 2023. Rosalie is inspired by the true story of Clémentine Delait, a bearded lady, from the early 20th century, who ran a café in Les Vosges. Delait became famous and challenged those stereotypically held notions of femininity. During such periods, hormonal conditions such as hirsutism (excessive hair growth in women) were unknown, but Delait initially felt the need to conform by shaving her face regularly.

The film depicts 1870s France with Rosalie maintaining her secret identity by similarly shaving daily to fit in to society. Circumstances change, however, when Rosalie is married off to Abel Deluc and has to find a way to reconcile her true self alongside fulfilling the expectations that her husband and neighbours held of married women.

It was therefore delightful to sit down with Tereskiewicz over a Zoom meeting, speaking in both French and English, following the film’s general release in France to discuss playing Rosalie. Rosalie is directed by Stéphanie Di Giusto and it is the second film on which Tereskiewicz had worked with Di Giusto with the first being the 2016 film, The Dancer. Recounting this initial acting experience with Di Giusto brings a smile to Tereskiewicz’s face but she mentions that she ‘only had a small part’ to play in The Dancer.  However, it seems that, small or not, her role had sufficiently impressed Di Giusto as, despite not having seen each other for six years, Tereskiewicz was spotted by Di Giusto from across the street whilst wearing a face mask during the covid lockdowns. Following that encounter, Tereskiewicz was invited to a casting for the role of Rosalie and as they say, the rest is history!

Tereskiewicz has expressive blue eyes which would make her instantly recognisable, even from a distance. Her expressions also assist with a convincing portrayal of the inner vulnerability of Rosalie. When asked about the elements that drew her to the role of Rosalie, Tereskiewicz explained, ‘I was moved by the love story and thought that it was an unconditional love story.’ Indeed, the film explores this notion of being accepted and Tereskiewicz invites us to ‘forget about the beard but to normalise it to find a new kind of beauty’.

To prepare for her performance, Tereskiewicz drew on Wild Things by Emily Dickinson, Ryan’s Daughter by David Lean and Rosetta by the Dardenne Brothers for inspiration. These are a range of literary works offering different emotional experiences with a pervading female lens which is understandable given that Tereskiewicz wanted to look at how Rosalie felt and examine her childhood. For Tereskiewicz, it was also important for there to be a sense of liberty conveyed for Rosalie to be herself and the importance to like oneself. Indeed, the character of Rosalie is determined and stubborn in her progressive approach, which we both agreed on.

However, despite being a film that is set in the 19th century, that sense of othering and prejudice that Rosalie encounters is still relevant to modern-day societies. For Tereskiewicz, the film challenges the perceptions adopted by society of a feminine beauty ideal. Indeed, she is of the view that people need to ‘see past the beard and see the inner beauty.’ Rosalie certainly questions those standards and defies conventions within the film’s narrative.

When Tereskiewicz was probed about the challenges that she might have faced in playing such a role, as the film has darker undertones and equally explores the impact on mental health, she mentioned the initial challenges of finding the beard and coming to terms with wearing it.  Apparently, very similar to a casting process, there was substantial research undertaken to find the right type of beard to fit the film’s mood and settings. Tereskiewicz mentioned that the entire process took two months to find the beard and that she also had to find the essence of Rosalie’s sensuality whilst being bearded.

Nadia Tereskiewicz as Rosalie
Nadia Tereskiewicz as Rosalie

There is the sense that Tereskiewicz undertook a gruelling method acting process, not least as there was an intensive period with the make up fitting for the beard! ‘It took four hours every morning and then four hours to take off every evening as it was hair by hair’ reveals Tereskiewicz. But, the length of the process provided her with that ‘time to dream about the scene and how to prepare’ and so there were some positive benefits. Tereskiewicz gives the impression that she radiates positivity overall in her life as she smiles regularly throughout the interview and describes having good chemistry with Di Giusto and being ‘joyful and positive’.

However, just as Rosalie faced outward pressures in refusing to conform and striving for more tolerance within the society that she inhabited, for people like her bearing different appearances and others bearing physical war scars such as her husband Abel, Tereskiewicz faced a few challenges during filming not least from wearing the beard as the wig was heavy too but she was also wearing a corset that was tight and restrictive.

Tereskiewicz conveys those heavy burdens effectively onscreen as Rosalie as well as an innocence and a sense of isolation as she is othered and pre-judged. However, such isolation was also a feeling that Tereskiewicz personally encountered whilst on set ‘I felt very alone … I had to sleep on the set to have more time for filming on the set rather than having to wake up at 2am or 3am each day to arrive …’ Again, this element highlights Tereskiewicz’s dedication to the role and her belief in the world that Rosalie inhabits and wishes to change.

The levels of isolation felt by Tereskiewicz were also replicated within the filming of the scenes with her co-star Benoît Magimel (from The Taste of Things) in order to recreate that authenticity, between the characters Rosalie and Abel, as Tereskiewicz had not spoken with Magimel initially – ‘Stéphanie did not want us to talk.’

As such, the introductory scenes between Rosalie and Abel with their initial awkwardness seem very true to life, with Tereskiewicz being unaware of how Magimel would react, which created added tension to their performances. Admittedly, there is a fantastic degree of chemistry between Tereskiewicz and Magimel, throughout Rosalie, with superb performances. Although, Tereskiewicz did find that there were some continuous struggles as she ‘had to be soft, welcoming, but never a victim’ within the role.

Yet, Tereskiewicz found herself warming to wearing the beard for her performance and tapped into her character Rosalie’s unwavering sense of hope. ‘I learnt to be more tolerant as Rosalie believed in humanity – she believed in life’, explained Tereskiewicz, ‘I would love people to feel better about themselves as we all have a type of judgement.’

Indeed, despite the levels of adversity faced by Rosalie and the vitriol directed towards her by virtue of the parochial 19th century attitudes, her belief in love remains solid, which is perhaps a lesson that we can all take away. Above all, Tereskiewicz would wish for society to realise that ‘desire cannot be controlled or codified and that people should not be stuck in codes.’

As a parting thought to take away after watching Rosalie, Tereskiewicz ‘wants people to have more kindness’ and this is certainly a good lesson that the compelling film Rosalie imparts to its audiences. We shall, therefore, wait with bated breath to see the next role that Tereskiewicz undertakes after the breathtakingly mesmerising, emotional Rosalie.

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