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CANNES, France — “Sam Riley!” actress Alexandra Maria Lara enthused when asked what she had most enjoyed about “On the Road,” Walter Salles’ screen adaptation of Jack Kerouac’s same-name classic. She’s pretty biased, however, having been married to said British actor (who plays Sal Paradise in the film) since 2009.
In town to support her other half at the movie’s highly anticipated premiere here Wednesday night at the Cannes International Film Festival, the actress chatted about the challenges of being married to a fellow actor and red-carpet dressing during a fitting at the Elie Saab suite at the Martinez hotel.
The couple, who is based in Berlin, where Maria Lara grew up, met on the set of the Anton Corbijn-directed film “Control,” based on Joy Division’s tortured frontman, Ian Curtis. The movie premiered in Cannes in 2007, marking the actors’ first time at the festival.
Being in a relationship with a fellow actor has been a learning curve for them both. “It’s intense, but it’s wonderful because you share the same profession so there are things that you don’t have to explain, there’s a great understanding as well,” she said. With months on end spent on crowded sets around the world, the anonymity and freedom of Berlin suits them down to the ground, she added.
Their respective career trajectories are quite distinct. For Riley, a former musician, who made his film debut in “Control,” such instant success brought with it certain pressures, as the level has to be maintained.
“It’s difficult starting at the top,” noted Maria Lara who sensed all of the cast of “On the Road” were under a lot of pressure while filming. “You know how it always is with adaptations of big novels or remakes of famous films. The journalists already have their claws out waiting to see if Walter Salles did a good job or not,” she laughed, adding: “I think he did.”
Maria Lara is relatively seasoned, having started out with small parts in TV dramas at the age of 16. “I was so excited about it and daydreamed about hopefully one day being in the cinema, working with amazing actors,” said the actress, who in 2007 was plucked by Francis Ford Coppola to play the lead female role in "Youth Without Youth.”
“Mad,” is the word she picks to describe the experience. “It was (Ford Coppola’s) first film after a ten year break; it was filmed in Romania, where I was born. I could not believe that a legend like him had chosen a Romanian philosopher to base his film on. To work with him was like entering another world.”
Maria Lara, 33, who was on the Cannes International Film Festival jury in 2008, has just finished shooting Oscar-winning director Ron Howard’s “Rush,” based on Seventies Formula One racing rivals Niki Lauda (played by Daniel Brühl) and James Hunt (played by Chris Hemsworth). She plays the role of Lauda’s then wife Marlene Knaus.
“It was interesting to imagine what it must be like to be married to someone who lives so close to danger all the time, and then you get happily married and then something happens that is just unimaginable — a very strong woman,” said the actress, referring to the terrible accident Lauda was involved in on a racing track in Nürburgring, Germany, in 1976, in which he almost died.
When it comes to treading the red carpet, the actress said she feels most at ease in Elie Saab, which she also chose to wear to both the opening and closing ceremonies of the festival in 2008. “I think he can make a silhouette (that flatters women) like very few others can,” said the actress, who selected an ivory embroidered couture gown by the designer for the “On the Road” premiere.
Riley accompanied her to Paris for her first fitting. For his part, Riley wore a black grain de poudre and satin shawl collar tuxedo, with a white cotton shirt, black silk bowtie and black leather shoes, all by Dior Homme.
Faced with a growing number of flashbulbs as their respective careers blossom, feeling confident on the red carpet is key, she said. “When I was younger, the red carpet used to terrify me because it’s not about playing a part, you’re not in a film pretending to be someone, you are yourself,” she said with a laugh. “It’s intimidating. There are so many gorgeous women on earth and so many gorgeous dresses; you’re not allowed to make mistakes, you’re not allowed to repeat yourself — it’s a whole chain of things that one has to respect. But then again, it’s also all about living the moment and having fun.”