The Vincent

March 30, 1995                                                    

A star overseas, Perez is poised to join acting royalty     

Vincent Perez is the Swiss-born son of a Spanish father and German mother. He has the Euro-credentials to be a major American import, and the sex appeal and talent to clinch it.

Playing a fiery stud of the17th century, involved in intrigue and romance with the title figure of Queen Margot - the star is Isabelle Adjani - Perez is at 30 an established star in France. He would not mind an American career extension:

"Hollywood? Of course, like a dream! You have so many good directors. My English is better; I am no longer translating in my head. And I am being sent scripts. But who knows?"

What we know is that Perez had impact in Indochine (courting Catherine Deneuve) and Cyrano de Bergerac (as the love swain Christian). And that he is the sexy, violent, costume-ripping male lead of Queen Margot, a spirited version of Dumas' story from director Patrice Chereau.

In person, Perez brings to his first San Diego visit a brimming intensity of gaze and reflectiveness of mind. There is a touch of Brando in him.  Perez did not fall into the "my-costume-is-my-muse" trap of history performance as the virile La Mole and is alert to his film's nuances:

"I have made several historical stories and the costumes here were very special, amazing. But I was not concerned to act as someone did 300 years ago, I didn't even think of that. Really, it's a modern movie. It does not how off the sets and make you think of the past, but makes you feel it is happening now, in front of you. You never play `period.' You play `now.'

"How contemporary is this? When filming, all we had to do was think of what was going on in Sarajevo. We saw it on TV every night. People killing in the name of religion, of God. What this movie shows is that when politics uses religion, it is always a disaster. Isn't religion about love? And what has love to do with war?"

Love and death

But love in its erotic and dynastic aspects is very much a wheelwright of plot in Queen Margot, a soaper with tremendous sexual combustion. For Perez, though . . .

"Our story is not about politics and religion, but about love, about people caught up in each other. There was a kind of world war then, Catholic Spain and the Protestants in England and Germany, and France divided.

"And all these kings and queens were related. And so young! Charles IX was about 19, Margot was 16 or 17, so all these young people full of passion and jealousy were going to war, scheming and making love. They were a kind of royal Mafia. And old Catherine De Medici (Virna Lisi) was like the Godmother."

Like most actors who've had the chance, he thrilled to working with Adjani:

"Isabelle is No. 1 in France. Everyone loves her, even when they criticize her. In person she looks just like she does on the screen. Amazing. Like she is still about 16. I don't think she keeps a painting up in the attic, but I really don't know her secret of beauty!"

And Perez acted with the great Gerard Depardieu in Cyrano.

"Yes, that was the real beginning for me, in such a big production. I was shy, so impressed by Depardieu. But then one day I realized we all fear, we want happiness and love, we go to the bathroom. So we are all in the same arena, no? That changed me. I was not intimidated. But Depardieu does have a truly amazing spirit."

Director Chereau was an early mentor and trainer of Perez, in theater (neither of his parents, now divorced, were keen for him to be an actor).

"It's great when you get that relationship, like De Niro has with Scorsese, not that I am a Robert De Niro. Patrice and I started work 10 years ago, we know our little angels and devils. It was great to slip back in. On the set, we would all stay and watch each other act, giving ideas, and that is wonderful energy. Without Isabelle and Patrice fighting over ideas, no movie."

Taking direction

A Parisian since age 17, though he keeps a place also in Switzerland, Perez recently made his first English-language film, Talk of Angels, which is "based on a story in the '30s in Spain. An Irish girl working in a rich Spanish family falls in love. We filmed in Spain. Polly Walker plays the woman and we shot in English, so I covered my French accent with a Spanish accent."

His heart's goal is to direct. Perez has made a six-minute short and is "now writing my first feature. After many tries I found my voice as a writer. It took tons of pages! I will direct it, but not act. I love directing my friends, getting into the heads of actors.

"It's a modern fairy tale, influenced by Dr. Bruno Bettleheim's book, The Uses of Enchantment.  I kept going back to that book; it pushed me into myself, my childhood. It is so important that parents tell these stories to their kids. Movies cannot substitute for that."

Perez is not another star-boy whose upward dream is to trade buzz lines on "Entertainment Tonight." Instead, he recently did a staging of Chekhov's Platonov, after "someone gave me Van Gogh's letters with his brother Theo, in a book.

"I got so caught up in him, his voice, that it changed the character I was
doing. I became like Van Gogh, a fragile man who felt misjudged and was so honest he couldn't speak properly. I began to stutter on the stage!"

Still, despite that cultural appetite, Perez's first movie attraction "was to American movies by Charlie Chaplin, and Disney films, and Frank Capra, on TV. Later I found Scorsese, Altman. And Kurosawa, Bergman, the Italians."

Catching the bug

His vocation stems from "a magic moment when I was 13, in school. The teacher asked me to organize a play: Come on, Vincent, wake up, do something! I started writing and working with friends and suddenly we had a play of sketches to perform in front of students and our parents. I was doing everything: dancing, imitations.

"At the end my teacher said, `Vincent, think of becoming an actor.' And my father, an importer-exporter like everyone in Switzerland, said, `Actor? Oh no, no, no, no.' Acting seemed to carry some old disease. Now, my mother wants me to make more films, but I hold off. I'd rather do one or two a year I care about. I give a piece of my life, not just a performance."

The next piece will be given in Moscow, for a film in which Perez plays "a Frenchman trapped in the Russian Mafia. A black comedy, wonderful script, and I am excited but worried, too. Russia is now a frightening place. Unlike San Diego."

[Written by David Elliott ]

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