In post-World War II London, Ada Harris (Lesley Manville) earns a living cleaning houses. She’s led a lonely life since her beloved husband Eddie went missing in action, but she’s not the type to brood over any misfortune or to complain about her circumstances. Still, when the ever-pragmatic Ada spies an unimaginably lovely Christian Dior gown hanging in the master bedroom of a wealthy client, she’s surprised to feel an overwhelming pang of desire. Owning something so ethereal, so beautiful, a true work of art—why, that could really change things for a person. 

Still, whatever obstacles are thrown her way, Ada refuses to leave Paris without her dress. Her unwavering commitment charms idealistic Dior accountant André (Lucas Bravo), kindly model Natasha (Alba Baptista), and the aristocratic Marquis de Chassagne (Lambert Wilson), Paris’ most eligible bachelor. Ada soon discovers that in changing her own life, she begins to change the lives of all those around her. She might even help save the House of Dior itself. 

After taking on extra jobs and saving as much as she can, Ada finally can afford to pay for a Dior dress. She bids farewell to close friends Vi (Ellen Thomas) and Archie (Jason Isaacs) and makes her way to Paris to visit the prestigious House of Dior and turn her dreams into reality. Yet when she arrives, Ada is met with a series of surprising setbacks, not least of which is Dior’s intimidating Madame Colbert (Isabelle Huppert) who bristles at the very notion of a common charlady wearing haute couture. 

I had the pleasure of seeing writer-director Anthony Fabian’s sparkling new movie adaptation of author Paul Gallico’s 1958 novel Mrs. ’Arris Goes to Paris on the very day that I was leaving for the City of Lights myself as part of a European trip with my family that was long delayed because of the pandemic. It was a delight talking to French actor Lucas Bravo (who also starred in the recent series Emily in Paris opposite Lily Collins) mere hours before heading to the airport. I began the interview in my rusty French telling the talented Bravo that I was about to head to glorious Paris for the first time in several decades.

Lucas Bravo: Oh my God, you’re going to be very surprised, everything is very different now. The mayor changed everything, there is so much green and everyone is on bicycles, you’re going to love it! 

Danny Miller: I can’t wait! The film really helped put me in the mood except now I have a strong desire to go to 1957 Paris! I loved this movie — I think it’s the exact fairytale that we all need right now after the past few years. I was surprised at how it made me so emotional — I either had a big lump in my throat as I watched or I was openly sobbing in the theater.

(Laughs.) It takes a real man to admit it!

Even though André Fauvel in this film and Gabriel in Emily in Paris are completely different characters, in some ways both of them represent the idea of the typical French man as seen from the outside. But I have to commend you for bringing so much complexity to the roles that you completely avoid falling into any broad stereotypes. Are you looking for those complexities when you play such characters?

I really appreciate you pointing that out. With Gabriel, when I first got the script, he seemed like the typical boy next door and I was a little worried about that. I wanted to bring more nuance to him so I made him more vulnerable and connected to his femininity which really helped me discover so many layers of that character since I just didn’t think I’d be able to play the typical boy next door. With André, it was even more personal, this character made me think of who I was as a teenage boy when I was trying to find myself. To be honest, my mother was a very strong figure in my life and she basically had a kind of aversion to men even though my dad was one of the good ones! But I had a difficult adolescence with her and it was very hard for me to get in touch with my own masculinity since she was always so critical. As a result, I was completely unable to interact with someone of the opposite sex, I was just paralyzed with no self-confidence whatsoever in this area. Playing André, I found that I could inject that kind of trauma into the character, that really seemed to fit — he was very clumsy and always hiding behind these glasses that didn’t really hide anything, unable to share his real feelings about the woman he loved. He was tall but trying to be so little at the same time and he just completely lacked the courage to verbalize his feelings. That’s a painful place to be, and I know because I’ve experienced it.

So interesting. Did you think a lot about André and Natasha’s back story?

Yes, I decided that when the movie starts he’s been in love with her for about two years. He’s put her on this pedestal but has been unable to do anything about it even though it’s consuming him. 

And it takes someone like Mrs. Harris to help him get the courage to move past his fears.

Exactly. Lesley’s character is trying to get that dress, that’s her dream, that’s her goal. My character is trying to connect with Natasha, that’s his goal. I think this is how André and Mrs. Harris first connect, they are both driven by these dreams. He needs courage which she helps him with and she needs a friend which he provides. Their relationship is this perfect organic exchange!

It must have been such a thrill working with an actress like Lesley Manville, she’s so amazing. But the person who had my eyes popping out of my head, I have to admit, is Isabelle Huppert. Did you find it intimidating in any way to work with such a screen legend?

Isabelle was shooting another film in Rome the day before she started on our. She finished her shoot, jumped on a plane, arrived early in the morning, and went straight to work. And that’s what Isabelle is, she’s a machine, she’s the most talented workaholic you can possibly imagine so she can be on many projects at the same time. She arrived on set and we immediately started rehearsing the scene and, like Lesley, she was so nice and accessible and at your service. That’s what I’ve found in my last few projects — it seems like the really great actors are always at the service of others in a scene, and by doing so, they always raise their partners’ game. This is something you don’t really learn in school, but Isabelle is always like this, and Lesley, too. These are real, simple, generous human beings. 

I don’t know if you ever saw Isabelle Huppert’s great episode on the series Call My Agent (called Dix pour cent in France) but I think I’ve watched it 15 times and it may be the funniest, best episode of television I’ve ever seen in my life. 

(Laughs.) I have seen that and it’s exactly what she’s like in real life!

The production values of this film are extraordinary, it’s so beautiful to look at. I was interested in the decision to have all of these gorgeous Black and Asian models in a 1950s Dior show which I’m guessing probably didn’t happen even though I wish it had. Do you think that was just part of the fairy tale element of the story?

Yes, in a way, I think Tony wanted to adapt this book to something a bit more modern. It was written right after the second world war so it was written through that perspective but things have changed a lot since then and we were able to broaden that perspective. But at the same time, Tony was also very well researched in the history of that time and, while I’m not certain about this, I think there actually was some diversity in the House of Dior’s models back then. 

Oh, wow, I’ll have to research that. I hope people are going to be as moved by this film as I was. Is there anything specific you hope people take away from it?

For me this is a movie as we used to make them. This industry was created for entertainment and escapism — you can leave your problems and obligations at home. Once you enter the theater, you will  be transported. I think that’s what we need the most right now, don’t you?

Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris is currently in theaters and available on streaming services.