Charlotte Gainsbourg: ‘Art shouldn’t be censored’

The musician and actor, 46, talks about her controversial debut with her father, Serge Gainsbourg, the death of her sister Kate and #MeToo

The best thing my parents [actor/singer Jane Birkin and musician Serge Gainsbourg] taught me was modesty. They gave me so many things, but professionally the biggest gift was just being able to watch the way they worked. Neither of them ever took themselves seriously, they were always aware that everything can go away very quickly – an excellent lesson to learn so early.

I wish I’d had a bit more confidence when I was younger. I’ve got more confident as I’ve got older, but I still struggle to place value on what I do. I do it because I enjoy it, but I still have to work on that confidence often. The biggest achievement in my life of late is the ability to not care – to not judge myself so much. Not in a negative way, but in knowing I need to think like that to do things.

I made my recording debut when I was 12, with my father, on his song, Lemon Incest. I remember those times fondly, because I was so fearless. I don’t think I really understood what I was doing. It took 30 minutes. I was swimming in a swimming pool before I did it, and I was desperate to go jump in the pool when I was done. And then when it came out and there was all the scandal, I was at boarding school, so I didn’t hear about it until a lot later.

Art shouldn’t be censored. I feel that freedom of expression is the most precious thing, the thing we need right now more than anything. The world has become so violent, you need to be able to be free to analyse that. This is a very, very strange era. There’s so much rawness about religion… there’s something scary about the world right now.

Being an actress hasn’t got much to do with my other job of music. I tend to work with directors I love and that I’d follow anywhere, and that’s because you often need to put yourself in someone else’s hands. But with music, you’re the one behind the project. I have to agree with the result. With film, I don’t. Sometimes I don’t even see the film. It took me a long time to come back to music because I couldn’t imagine doing it without my father, but I’m pleased I did.

My sister wasn’t dead when I started making my album Rest [Charlotte’s sister, the fashion photographer Kate Barry, died on 11 December 2013], and when she died, I went to New York and changed everything. Grief became part of the project. I had words that I needed to say, and I needed to say them with anger. Grief manifests itself in many ways.

I’m thinking about #MeToo and about whether extremity is needed for change, change that is very much needed. But I’ve also been thinking about the cost to people’s lives, whether lives should be destroyed with tweets and the like. Judgment has become too immediate. I feel that we need more distance – to go the old-fashioned way of trials when we’re judging people.

Charlotte Gainsbourg appeared at Field Day Festival 2018. For her international tour dates, visit


James McMahon

The GuardianTramp

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