May 1998 Issue
VINCENT PEREZ: "CALL ME VIVIANE"
For Patrice Chereau's film, Vincent slipped into the skin of a woman during eight weeks. Here he tells us all the complexity of the character.
How did Chereau contact you?
Three or four years ago, Abel Ferrara proposed that I play a transvestite. I was curious to know if I could play a woman without being ridiculous. I organized a photograph meeting with a buddy, Patrick Swirc.
Carla Bruni, whom I lived with at the time, was my coach for the make-up, the hairstyle and style. We gave birth to the image from somebody who was not me. The result was disconcerting. One could legitimately have a doubt about my sexuality.
What became of this project?
Ferrara never succeeded in assembling the film. I was rather relieved, but I kept the idea. And when Chereau said to me that he wrote Those Who Love Me Can Take the Train and that he wanted to work with me, I showed him the famous photographs. He spent several minutes before recognizing me. Then, he jumped up bursting with laughter. Six months later, he announced the birth of Viviane to me.
Then is Viviane the one you conceived?
Yes, but meanwhile, I had matured, changed physically. I knew that to become Viviane, I was going to have to make a great effort. When Patrice gave me the script, I immediately liked it and the rest is secondary.
How did you prepare for this role?
I met some transsexuals, not many... One of them described the long transformation it takes to become a woman. It is a helpful way to build the character. They also gave me some tricks, like never drinking in small glasses, which betrays the size of the hands. The hands and the feet are the major problem of the transvestites. These meetings were useful to me.
Did you study the gestures, the attitudes, the way women move?
Yes, I looked at them a lot. The way they walk. How they tighten their knees together. I imagine that comes from education. It is a gesture of decency, which mothers teach their young daughters. All these gestures become natural very quickly. If you wear a skirt, you tighten the knees automatically.
Did your partner give you particular advice?
While speaking with Karine, I discovered that women worship detail. The men stop with the general ideas.
And did you learn the typically female gestures like the best way of walking with heels?
During rehearsals, the heels helped me to feel like a woman. During filming, I had to remove them because I was too tall. I almost always carried ballerinas, which one does not see on the screen. But I make a point of specifying that the legs which you see are mine. I have very fine legs!
How did you hide your sex?
Under my skirt!
What was your daily transformation like?
My body was depilated with wax. Then, each morning the make-up lasted three hours: initially eyes, then dye, finally the mouth. During this time, I made singing exercises to assemble my voice of several octaves. The costumes were quick, only a few minutes. For me, the most significant element was the hairstyle. I became Viviane at the second that my wig was adjusted. Then I instinctively had her gestures and even her voice.
How did your first day go?
I was panicky. To help me, Patrice had installed strict rules. My name did not appear anywhere. Even on the service sheets, I was Viviane.
And did everyone call you Viviane?
During breaks, did you speak with the voice of Viviane?
Absolutely, I had her voice, her gestures. I was Viviane. Moreover, a funny thing happened during filming. I did not have any difficulty in crying; whereas, in real life I never cry.
Did this new personality affect your relationship with people?
During the breaks, Jean-Louis Trintignant and Charles Berling had conversations about guys, and they often spoke about motors. There was male talk which I could not participate in anymore. There were moments that I felt that I was really in the character.
And were you with the girls?
Morning and evening, I socialized with them. They spoke to me as a girl! I was made a complete girlfriend. I was always lined up with Dominique Blanc and Valeria Bruni-Tedeschi.
Can one speak about female solidarity?
Not completely. The actresses were green with envy because the lighting engineer took special care of me using special filters and lights. I was the star. Even when I ate, the room had to be air-conditioned because it was necessary that my body remain at the same temperature. If I were hot, that would change all the make-up.
Did you like being Viviane?
I know that I am an egocentric person, but nevertheless, it is a character who moves me. For a transsexual, I have the impression that there's an error in the destiny of Viviane with the Good God himself mistaken. A cure might be necessary because as long as you're not cured, you will be unhappy.
Are you a victim of your own good looks?
All actors are victims of their image. When I saw Leonardo DiCaprio in Gilbert Grape, I thought that he was real in his role. Three days afterwards, when I learned the character was only made up, I found that splendid.
Was the character of Viviane destabilizing for you?
At times, I realized that I did not sleep in the same way anymore. I slept with grace, almost with coquetry. As soon as I rose, I went in the bathroom to brush my teeth, and in the mirror I saw my painted nails, a sign that I was always in my role.
How did your partner react?
During filming, we didn't see each other, except once when she came as a surprise to celebrate an anniversary. Fortunately, it was one day when I wasn't filming. It had been decided that it was better not to see each other. Two months was not so long. In the end, this experiment rather enriched our relationship. There is a greater intimacy, one can speak of more than things!
Two months is long!
It is true. Moreover, there was a moment in the end when I understood in my flesh that it was necessary to stop.
In the last days of filming, were you sad?
An incredible trick occurred. When Patrice announced the last scene for Viviane, the girls, the trainees, the assistants applauded, according to the tradition, and then they melted in tears. That proves they were very attached to Viviane.
But were you sad?
I was content that it was finished because it was tiring physically and technically. For example, I was never to be filmed so that my broad shoulders would be seen.
At the end of filming, did Viviane die?
I spent one week burying her.. I had to lose her attitude, her gestures.
No fear of remaining effeminate or that your virility was changed?
No, because I am rather sure of myself, and I have a woman whom I love.
What did you do after filming?
I began to eat again, and then I left for Mexico with my partner.
Which is your worst memory of this adventure?
Shaving. For two months I had to shave two or three times per day. On certain days, my face was on fire.
Has having played Viviane changed your view on women?
I understand them better. I finally discovered, for example, why they put as much time into preparation! I realized the importance of lipstick in their life!
If you had a girl one day, would you call her Viviane?