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Waffling With...Duke of Burgundy star Chiara D'Anna

With the excellent The Duke of Burgundy hitting cinemas, we spoke to its star Chiara D'Anna.



Interview by Eric Hillis



Information on your background is hard to find. Are we correct in assuming you are Italian?

Yes, I’m from Italy: a small town near Turin.  

You’re relatively new to movies. What is your background in acting?

The Duke of Burgundy is my second film and the first lead role. I’ve started theatre alongside my scientific studies when I was in Turin over 10 years ago (I studied Geology). When I graduated from both university and the three years of acting school I started to act in professional productions and realised I wanted to pursue an artistic career rather than a scientific one. I then ended up in London and met different practitioners working both in London and abroad; I got interested in devising and physical theatre. After obtaining my MA in physical theatre I started working as a lecturer in performing arts and then I moved into film while still working in theatre both in Italy and the UK.

You describe yourself as an actor and a ‘theatre maker’. Can you explain the latter?

I used the term ‘theatre maker’ because I love acting as much as I love directing and creating a performance –in a wide sense. I don’t write plays but through the devising process the piece emerges in rehearsal as an ‘ensemble piece’. As a director I then have to take decisions about editing, cutting, ‘montage’…I really love the research phase: the dramaturge role – if you like. However I don’t feel comfortable labelling myself a ‘dramaturge’. ‘Theatre Maker’ seems closer to the truth! At least this is how I work with my company, Panta Rei Theatre Collective.  


You made your debut in Berberian Sound Studio. How did Peter Strickland come across you?

I was on Spotlight and I got selected for an audition because they were looking for Italian actresses. 

What was your reaction when you first read the script for The Duke of Burgundy?

I loved it straight away…and that was just the first of many drafts. It became richer and even more captivating in later versions. If you’re referring to the theme of the film: there wasn’t anything shocking or unexpected because I had a few meetings and email exchanges with Peter even before the script was ’conceived’. And I knew what the film was about. At the beginning I was a bit concerned about a couple of ‘intimate scenes’ but Peter reassured me straight away that there wouldn’t be any graphic scenes or nudity. There have been many occasions where Peter asked me if I was really sure that I wanted to be in this film and he wouldn’t have been offended if I’d say no for the delicate nature of the genre…but I wasn’t anything but flattered. As I said many times in previous interviews: the atmospheres and moods…the tone –if you wish- of the film came out straight from Peter’s writing. And I was so inspired by this sensual and surreal world. The dream and nightmarish sequences were my favourites! 

Did Peter give you much background information on the character of Evelyn or was it left to you to develop her yourself?

I had some basic information about the character from Peter. None of us was interested in psychological realism so we didn’t intellectualise too much about the reasons why Evelyn is the way she is. Having said that, I loved making my own assumptions and hypothesis and I played with them to see what could happen. I created Evelyn’s world from what was provided by the script and some images and music: Peter sent me a few visual references and music. But I added my own visual references too and I did a little research on S&M and Lepidopterism.

In interviews, Peter has cited the softcore sex movies of the 1970s as his biggest influence on The Duke of Burgundy. Were you previously aware of these movies? Did Peter screen any of them for the cast?

I didn’t know these films. Peter showed us only a few scenes to have a taste of the atmospheres, colours and aesthetic. Fassbinder’s The Bitter Tears of Petra Von Kant and Bunuel’s Belle du Jour were the only two films I knew already. 

Peter has said that you had only met your co-star Sidse Babett Knudsen once before shooting started. Is this true? Did this make things easier or more difficult for yourself and Sidse?

Yes. We met once in July and then we met in October for the shooting. I was a bit concerned about the lack of rehearsal because I usually work differently…but at the same time it’s exciting to be challenged in doing things in a different way. Everything seemed to flow very nicely between the two of us. I cannot say for certain if this lack of rehearsals made things easier or more difficult because we didn’t experience the other option.   


IMDB lists your next appearance as a sci-fi movie titled Native. What can you tell us about that?

I have a minor role in this film. It all happened at the last minute by chance through a friend’s connection. Not even an audition. The script was intriguing. It seemed fun and I did it.  

We think you have a big career ahead of you. How would you like it to progress yourself? Can you see yourself in a Hollywood blockbuster or would you prefer to continue working with more interesting independent filmmakers like Strickland?

It might sound a cliché answer but I’m really curious. I would keep doors open to any stimulating opportunity. Anything that I consider a useful learning experience would be great. I think there are bad and good movies both in Hollywood and in independent cinema. Commercial success is neither an indication of quality nor a lack of it! I would have been over the moon if I could be in a movie such as The Grand Budapest Hotel – for instance. Recently I rejected an offer because it was far too violent and gross for my taste and I didn’t think I would have enjoyed the experience.

The Duke of Burgundy will be competing with 50 Shades of Grey in UK and Irish cinemas. We know everyone should choose Duke, but in your words, can you tell our readers why they should see it?

I think you should see it because it’s stimulating. It doesn’t provide answers but questions about any romantic relationship. It’s universal. As I said many times in other interviews: for me this film isn’t about sadomasochism, it’s about a couple’s inability to meet each other’s needs. The S&M choice is only a clever way to put under a ‘magnified lens’ something that we all experience in relationship: power games and manipulation. Love can be interpreted and expressed in so many different ways and nobody can judge what is right or what is wrong. What we can ask ourselves however is: how far can we go to accommodate our lover’s needs? We certainly don’t want to hurt or change a person we really love. But can we compromise ourselves to the point of sacrificing our own needs? Maybe for someone this IS love; for others it might be self-sacrifice; for others pure madness…

Read our review of the excellent The Duke of Burgundy


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