Heidi Mumford-Yeo - Cannes Film Festival 2019

Palais des Festivals, Cannes, France
Festival date: 14–25 May 2019
Heidi Mumford-Yeo
Role: Phrynia

Hello Heidi. Lovely to chat with you today.  Of course, you play Phrynia in Misanthropos, but today we are discussing your prolific attendance at the Cannes Film Festival in recent years. To start it off: when did you first attend Cannes and how many times have you been in total?

Hi Ellis, I first went to Cannes in 2015, so this will be my third year; very excited!

Cards on the table I've never been to Cannes, so it's all a mystery to me.  Can you describe it?  The atmosphere, the ceremony (by which I mean the 'pomp and spectacle' of the festival and how one behaves, etc.).

I mean, it’s as you would imagine I think, but actually being there, surrounded by so many incredible people, people you respect and look up to – that’s, for me, what makes it such a privilege to attend. My first time was a little nerve-wracking but I think that’s part of the experience. Quite surreal at times, when you find yourself next to Adrian Brody with the inner voice ‘act normal’ screaming at you!

You will also be going again this year, I believe, which I'm very jealous about by the way.  Can you tell us about the film you are there promoting?
Yes, this is my third time at Cannes, and it’s always exciting being part of such an iconic festival with so much inspiring work being produced. I’m there again this year as a guest, so I’m looking forward to soaking up the atmosphere and of course, watching some fantastic films. French cinema has always been my favourite, so in that sense, being part of Cannes is very special indeed.

Now you're very prolific in film, both in the UK and India; do you ever get to run into familiar faces while at Cannes from your previous canon of work?  Is it a mini-reunion, of sorts?

Ha, well yes it’s a great opportunity to catch up with old friends and make new ones! Although it does tend to be quite relentless with a lot to fit in, in a condensed period; screenings, events and meetings etc., and they say a week at Cannes is a week of sleep deprivation! I’d probably agree with that! In fact, I definitely would!

You've shared photos with the production company of Cannes for the blog, thank-you for that by the way; but can you tell us what your singularly favourite memory from Cannes is?

Gosh, they’ve been so many special 'pinch me' moments but one of my standouts was during my first visit there and my first red carpet. It was the premiere of "Twin Peaks", and the atmosphere was quite surreal, quite feverish after such a long hiatus. We ended up sitting three rows in front of David Lynch (the director) and the cast, which was quite weird!

Did you have a favourite film you saw during your various visits to Cannes?

Yes, it would be Iranian director Asghar Farhadi’s 2018 thriller "Everybody Knows" starring Javier Bardem and Penelope Cruz. I’m huge fans of them both.

Do you feel the festival does a great job celebrating the independent, lower budget films; and is there ever any pressure when surrounded by such a spectrum of cinema to feel underwhelmed or even (oddly) unworthy?  Though you know you're not, of course, it must be very intimidating?

Objectively yes, there is a quite a lot of pressure attending something so high profile, but I’m a true believer in what we focus on grows, so it’s essential to keep things in perspective. We’re currently in an ecological crisis, and with what is going on in the world, it is really quite terrifying, so I think, realistically, we have more important things to worry about! But of course, everyone feels the pressure. We’re all the same – famous or not. I do think the festival does a sound job of promoting emerging talent and progressive cinema, in that sense. I’ve never felt alienated being there, quite the contrary, I’ve always come away inspired.

To get all "hard news" briefly, because I think it's something important to talk about in this industry, do you feel there is an unfair expectation at such a major festival to look glamorous, even if just going to watch the screenings.  Do you observe any noticeable difference between the way the guys were allowed to dress and the expectation of how the women had to appear?

Yes, of course, there’s that to it. But it’s a part of it, and it always has been, and it’s part of what makes it so unique – the glamour. I love dressing up so it’s never a chore; I’ve collaborated with some fantastic designers since we’ve been going to Cannes and been fortunate enough to wear some incredible dresses – which again is another privilege. It’s always a highlight for me. Of course, it’s simpler for the guys – one or two tuxes, and you’re there! I do remember a bit of a hoo-ha two years ago with women complaining about the high-heel rule though – they had a good point!

[ SIDE BAR: for those not familiar, in 2015 a group of women in their 50s were turned away from the gala screening of Todd Haynes’s "Carol" for allegedly not wearing high-heeled shoes.  This was followed by director Asif Kapadia tweeting his wife was initially denied entry to the screening of his own documentary "Amy" -- about the late, great Amy Winehouse -- because of her footwear.  And then producer Valeria Richter revealed she had been stopped 4 times for not wearing high heel shoes, despite having part of her left foot amputated ]

Last two questions, promise.  As a theatre actress who has performed on the West End and at the Royal Opera House, did having that feather to you bow help when networking at Cannes?  Did you find most people there really had no connection to theatre (beyond seeing it occasionally)?

I think it depends entirely on who you’re speaking to. It’s a celebration of film so in that sense, the theatre isn’t necessarily the first thing you’d talk about, but I think all actors and directors have an appreciation for it and most of us have done theatre so….

And final question: what is the one thing you want people to take away from being at Cannes? 

Well, I guess it would be to keep working hard and believing in yourself; keep pushing the boundaries and try not to let the peripheral stuff get in the way. It’s hard, we know how tough the industry is, but I think being there is aspirational and inspirational and perhaps just creates that little bit of impetus we all need sometimes to keep forging ahead.