To prepare for her role as the fun-loving ingenue Peppy Miller in The Artist, French actress Bérénice Bejo studied up on the major stars of '20s silent film era, which director (and Bejo's husband) Michel Hazanavicius wanted to completely recreate. The in-depth research left Bejo feeling as she if she were on a first-name basis with some of the most legendary stars of that era, all of whom are now long dead.

"Just last year I was reading and watching a lot of movies and reading books with pictures of the movie stars back in that time," Bejo said in our exclusive interview. "At one point I felt like I knew everybody — Gloria Swanson, Mary Pickford, Janet Gaynor, Charles Farrell — and I was very excited to be part of that kind of movie, and I felt kind of like one of those actors."

Apparently, Bejo's uncanny ability to step into the multi-faceted role (she is an actress playing an actress playing all sorts of parts) did not go unnoticed by film critics and award voters. Earlier this week it was announced that Bejo is nominated both for the SAG award and the Golden Globe for Best Actress — putting her, along with Meryl Streep, Michelle Williams and Glenn Close, in pretty impressive company. "I was very happy and proud for Michel and Jean [Dujardin] and very surprised," she said of her colleagues, who also received individual nominations from the Globes. "I was not expecting it for me so I was really, you know, I felt part of the group."

You'd think feeling part of the group would feel like second nature to Bejo, but she admitted the hardest part of making the film was believing she deserved the part. "You just put more pressure on yourself the first few days, and then Michel came to me and he said, 'OK you know you deserve this part, you’re good enough to be here, you don’t have to prove anything to anybody, just relax and just trust me and trust yourself,'" she said. "So after three or four days I actually let it go and just focused on the work."

If only Gaynor and Swanson could see the result….

Watch the trailer for The Artist here: