Hélène Cardona









RD: – Hélène Cardona, you’re an actress, a star of contemporary cinema, and a poet with a great career as a humanist. You are a beautiful woman, who studied literature at the Sorbonne (Philology and Translation Studies, Master’s on Henry James), studied music (piano, Geneva), dance (Paris, Geneva, New York), and a rich film activity. A true artistic tornado, a real muse for poets and other artists. When the muse herself has muses, what becomes artistic inspiration? Is it more complex or much simpler?


It all started in my childhood. Even though I was born in Paris, we moved very quickly to Geneva, Switzerland. Except for a few years spent in Geneva itself, and one year in Monte Carlo when I was four, I spent my childhood in the mountains. So my first inspiration was nature. The Alps and the Jura are extraordinarily beautiful. I would take walks with my dog and ride my bike on my own for hours. We lived in a small isolated village, conducive to great communion with nature. I also read a lot. I was steeped in fairy tales. I lived the magic. I also read a lot of poetry and novels. I started playing the piano when I was six, and dancing (ballet) when I was five.
Music played a predominant role in my life early on. The Music Conservatory in Geneva was one of my sacred places, with the forests and the mountains. I felt at home and protected in the hallways and beautiful rooms of the Conservatory. You could hear echoes, music escaping the different rooms and I was always eager to meet my teacher and play or hear what she would bring and suggest for me. Then I would practice at home everyday for hours and time simply vanished. I always felt when I was done practicing that I had visited another world. I didn’t have the words then, but now one would call it meditation.
I started watching movies in Geneva cinemas but it’s really not until I moved to Paris at fourteen to attend high school that I began watching a lot of movies!
French TV showed a lot of old American movies and wonderful British and French series. I would go and see all the French and European movies. The Paris cinemas offer a lot of classics, American and others. That’s an education in itself. We also had subscriptions to the Comédie Française, the Opera and other theatres. I felt transformed after watching Lorenzaccio, Life Is a Dream and so many amazing plays. Again I didn’t have the words for it yet but around fourteen, fifteen, is probably when I felt that that was the life I wanted to live, through characters, on stage.





RD:- Hence the need for transformation (s) of caméléonisme? How did you become so versatile?


It all happened almost at the same time. I started writing poetry when I was ten. I didn’t think anything of it at the time. But I kept writing all my life. I lived in a world where music meant so much to me. I love listening to music when I write. After graduating from the Geneva Conservatory at fourteen, I was accepted in Maître Sancan’s class at the Salle Pleyel, in Paris, where professional pianists are groomed. I kept dancing and performed with Vera Kylova’s Dance Company at the Théâtre des Champs Élysées. In high school I was a mathematics and science major, with a strong interest in literature and languages (including Latin). So I was constantly commuting between very different worlds. Every summer I would go abroad and deepen my study of languages.


RD: – And the actress Helene Cardona? Where did she arise from?





From my own ashes. Maintaining all these activities proved almost fatal. After graduating from high school with a Baccalauréat in math and physics I got into medical school at seventeen. After two years I crashed. I could no longer do it all. Everyone is asked to specialize early in France and it was a miracle I could do all that for so many years. Being in medical school meant giving up my soul. I went through a deep depression and nearly died. Which is what saved me. It was an incredibly spiritual experience and put me on my path. I knew then I wanted to be an actor and just had to find my way, and my voice.
Because of my love for literature and languages I got a Master’s in English and American literature from the Sorbonne, while also studying at the Goethe-Institut in Bremen, Germany; Cambridge, England; and the Universities Menendez Pelayo in Santander, and Baeza, Andalucía, Spain. I had a scholarship for my senior year at Hamilton College. There I studied theatre and American and Spanish literature. After writing my thesis on Henry James for my Master’s: “The Search for Fulfillment in The Wings of the Dove,” I knew I had to take flight, leave Europe and train as an actress or stay in Europe and work toward my PhD. I had to make tough choices.


RD: – How was learning what being an actor? Is this what was difficult? Have you encountered obstacles? Is there a story, an anecdote, a memory to share that can describe your first contact with this fascinating passion for the game scene and lights the fire?


I left Europe behind to start a new life. I auditioned for the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York and was accepted. It’s one of the oldest drama schools in New York and one of the most prestigious. There I studied Shakespeare, dance, singing, stage combat, and of course, scene study. Most foreign to me were the musicals. I didn’t know any of those songs. I also had a British accent at the time that they wanted me to get rid of it and learn to speak and act in American English.
I do have a magical anecdote to share. After I graduated from the American Academy I went to the Actors’ Studio to train more. My first teacher there was Ellen Burstyn. I was incredibly lucky because she only taught two classes and I got into one of them. She taught it partly at the Studio and partly at her home in upstate New York. On the last day she placed different objects on a table and asked each of us to close our eyes and pick one. I picked a pin that represented a beautiful dove in flight.





RD: – Of all your movies, all your characters, which has intrigued you the most?


I loved playing Sofya on stage in Chekhov’s Wild Honey. After it was over I kept dreaming the play night after night. I was haunted by it. Playing Françoise “Fuffi” Drou in Lasse Hallström’s Chocolat was sheer joy. Fuffi is a gossip and I made her a lot of fun. Filming was magical with Lasse.


RD: – What were the models, idols of your childhood? Who and what did you like?


The composers I loved most were the Romantics, Chopin, Shubert, Schumann, Listz, Brahms. Also Bach and Beethoven. All the fairy tale heroes and heroines from Grimm, Perrault, Hans Christian Andersen, the Russian fairy tales and Greek mythology. La Comtesse de Ségur. Sir Walter Scott’s Ivanhoe. As for the poets, Jean de La Fontaine, Robert Desnos, Rafael Alberti, Antonio Machado, Federico García Lorca, Miguel de Cervantes, Luis Cernuda, Pablo Neruda, Louis Aragon, Georges Brassens, André Breton, Jean Cocteau, Paul Éluard, Charles Baudelaire, Victor Hugo, Molière and Shakespeare. Jules Verne of course and Voltaire. I’m sure I forget many. I loved reading Alexandre Dumas, Ponson du Terrail and Honoré de Balzac.
All the beautiful French, Spanish and Italian films with stars from the fifties, sixties and seventies. Ingmar Bergman’s The Magic Flute.


RD: – What did you fear as a child?





I always wondered what happened when we died. I remember asking my mother when I was ten. She answered “We don’t know”. And it’s always been the great mystery. When I almost died I felt that who I really am never dies. I felt a connection with something bigger and stronger than everything I knew and with unconditional love. Although I experienced unconditional love through animals.


RD: – You know, Levure Littéraire, for his new edition, pays a tribute to the child of all time and this little world of « I » (u). How was Helene Cardona as a child? Joyful, playful, melancholic, dreamer, funny, moody, sulky, feisty etc.?


I remember being told that I was a melancholy child. I connected so much with Chopin’s music. Definitely a dreamer. I was introverted and it’s been such a journey for me to come out of my shell and express myself.





RD: – Did you have friends? How were they in comparison to you? What were your favorite games and dishes? And pets?


I had few friends. We moved quite a bit. I had a few friends from the Conservatory and a few from school, also a few from skiing and horseback riding. I almost grew up on skis! We would have birthday parties where we played games. We also played soccer and scrabble. I loved eating strawberries from the garden with whipped cream. And picking wild blackberries! We always had chocolate in the house. We would go to Geneva and pick different chocolates. During the hunting season my father would get pheasant. We would also eat bass from Lake Geneva. My grandmother and mother made delicious paella. My mother made amazing jams and the best leek pie. She also made the best Black Forest cake. She was an extraordinary chef. I had my first dog (half Weimaraner, half Lab) when I was five, my second (a black and white Cocker Spaniel) when I was twelve. They were my best friends.


RD: – How much of the soul of this girl there, nestled against your memories as an adult, do you still keep deep in your heart?

All of her. I look back at her and I see the magical child, in nature, with the animals, with music, poetry, melancholy, laughter and dreams. She never left me. That’s still who I am deep down.


RD: – Since when do you write? What was your first written text about and who inspired it?


As I mentioned earlier I started writing when I was ten. My first poem was about my dog.





RD: – You were born in Paris, a mother half Greek and half Irish, and a Spanish father, you have traveled, you speak several languages, you are the author of several books of poetry, you have given life to several movie characters. How would you describe yourself in just two sentences concentrated?


I am a citizen of the world. I’m a poet, writer, actor, teacher, translator, dreamer.


RD: – What parallels exist between your work as an actress and that of poet? What binds them one to another?


They are parallel lives that feed on one another. They are different ways of expression.


RD: – I learned that you are interested in the dream world and the world of Morpheus. When you dream, you dream for yourself or for your characters?


That’s such an interesting question. I love to remember my dreams. I have a notebook by my bed and write them down. I’ve written many poems inspired or based on dreams. When I trained with Sandra Seacat at the Actors’ Studio in New York, she introduced me to a particular form of dream work. You could call it Jungian. I have kept doing this work for many years now. It’s very therapeutic, a more holistic approach to medicine. And it can also be used to develop a character in a play or movie. You dig into yourself to find the answers. In the dream you are connected to your Inner self and to the divine.


RD: – On your website, it is noted: « A poet and actress. » When you say your poems in public, is the actress who decides their meaning or rather it is the writer who ponders aloud?


It is the poet. The actress helps with good diction and a great rapport with the public.





RD: – You keep coming back to Europe for lectures, for film shoots for interviews. How is the European film, seen elsewhere?


I adore European cinema and would love to work more in Europe.


RD: – And European poetry? What beautiful things does it offer?


I love discovering poets. In the last few years I discovered Jean-Claude Renard, so mystical, and have been translating him. Jacques Crickillon. My publisher is based in Ireland so I’m lucky to discover many wonderful Irish poets, such as Thomas McCarthy,
Afric McGlinchey, Peadar O’Donoghue, Paul Casey. My father is also a poet. He was born in Ibiza, Spain. A few years ago the government of Ibiza paid him a tribute and published an anthology of his work, El Bosque de Birnam (The Birnam Wood), which I’m translating into English. I was very lucky to be able to attend. I also discovered a superb poet from Ibiza, Vicente Valero.


RD: – An upcoming project as an actress, or poet, perhaps, in Europe?


My new bilingual poetry collection, Dreaming My Animal Selves (Le Songe de mes Âmes Animales) will be launched in March 2013 at the Writers’ Conference in Boston. I will definitely come to Ireland, England and France for readings.
As for movies, I’m putting it out in the universe! May I film in Europe soon!


RD: – Thank you for your kindness. It was a pleasure to interview you.


The pleasure was mine!















Reporter: Rodica Draghincescu




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