In Holy Motors, the new sci-fi fantasy film by Leos Carax, our favourite Australian pop princess returns to her acting roots in a role that she says is “her destiny”
Kylie Minogue has been part of the pop-culture fabric for so long, we almost feel like we know her personally. But her sunny disposition has been battered over the years by storms in her private life, including a string of broken relationships and a battle with cancer. So when she was granted pride of place at the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee concert, it seemed a just reward for the eternal Aussie pop queen.
But ever since leaving Neighbours and shaking off the girl-next- door shackles that came with being Stock, Aitken & Waterman’s in-house muse, Minogue has been making sure her fairy dust comes laced with a pinch of salty rebellion. As she tells us with a mischievous smile, “I’m not just a shiny, happy person. There’s another side; and maybe I can start feeding it a little bit more.”
Feeding that dark side is the reason we’re meeting Kylie today on a shaded garden terrace in Cannes. She’s understated in blue capri pants and a black lace top, with little make-up and few accessories – saving it up, no doubt, for that evening’s appearance in a gold-sequined gown on the film festival’s red carpet for Holy Motors, an art-house film so baffling and bizarre it left critics scratching their heads.
Directed by Leos Carax, a French writer and director known for surreal visions and sporadic productivity (his best-known film is 1991’s Les Amants du Pont-Neuf with Juliette Binoche), Holy Motors is a peculiar, touching odyssey in which Monsieur Oscar (Denis Lavant) adopts various guises – from gypsy woman to hit man – as he’s chauffeured around Paris from one encounter to the next. He seems to be performing for an unseen audience, and he meets Minogue in a derelict department store. They discuss their lost love before Kylie sings a tender ballad; it’s a melancholic and moving sequence, and it is fascinating to see Minogue back on the big screen.
Besides a few TV cameos and animation voices, this marks her first major acting role since she played The Green Fairy in 2001’s Moulin Rouge. The offer from Carax came out of the blue. Describing the experience as “a beautiful curveball”, Minogue presumably could have opted for something a bit more mainstream in which to make her comeback. But she ascribes the choice to a lacklustre acting CV.
“Most of the films I’ve done were just disastrous. So it makes more sense to me to at least do something that’s going to be an interesting experience,” she says. “It seemed to be a way to test the waters and test myself. I feel at home on set. That’s where I started, although I can’t remember much about being a child and making The Sullivans, where the sets wobbled. It’s part of my psyche that was developed a long time ago and… it’s terrifying and exciting; it’s the unknown.”
Minogue has been working since she was 11. “I feel like this is what I was put here to do. It’s my destiny. And aside from that, it’s the only thing I know how to do.”
This has been a big year for Minogue. She’s celebrating 25 years in the music industry, and has been marking the occasion by releasing new recordings of her biggest hits, as well as a greatest hits album. Looking back on her career has filled her with mixed emotions, especially when it came to trawling through the archive of photos and videos from her early career (“I thought, My god, you were such a baby!”). If this year marks something of a crossroads for her, it’s something she’ll be familiar with after her well-publicised battle with breast cancer – an experience that, naturally, put everything into perspective.
“On 17th May, it was seven years since I was diagnosed,” says Minogue, who underwent surgery and chemotherapy. “Those dates stay in your head, and I’m reminded every day about it because I have physical scars as well as mental changes. It’s hard for me to talk about it. But my overall feeling at the end was that it was just such a human experience. I was confronted with people I simply would otherwise not have met.”
Minogue shared her experiences from the beginning, and medical circles now credit “the Kylie effect” with the spike in women seeking mammograms at an earlier age. The singer was initially misdiagnosed and, even when she sought a second opinion, was told by the clinic’s receptionist that she was too young to need a mammogram. “We all know the result of the story,” she says. “I hope that woman will think twice next time before saying, ‘You don’t need to be here.’”
Although actor Olivier Martinez stuck by Minogue’s side throughout her illness, their four-year relationship ended in 2007; it had been her longest since Jason Donovan in the 1980s. For the past three and a half years, she’s been linked to Spanish model Andrés Velencoso, whom she met filming an ad for her men’s fragrance, Inverse. When the couple aren’t working, they spend their time in London. Though Minogue – a Melbourne native – has been based here for 20 years, she only recently admitted to herself that the city has become her permanent home.