The Vincent

June/July 1998 Issue                                                     

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A ten-year career, ten years that seem like twenty because the movie world looks like it must make destinies shine so much and make graves so prematurely. Ten years, just enough to escape from fashions, discover oneself as an actor, and taste, finally, that tender moment of  failure of one's own transparencies. Vincent Perez at the edge of his needs. Freed. On the point of advancing in his destiny. Meeting with a serene man.

We left you at Christmas with Le Bossu, and here we find you back at Cannes with Chereau's last movie and then in the theaters with Swept From the Sea, a great romantic saga. Can't you stay still?

I worked in Swept From the Sea just after The Crow II. It's the story of an eastern emigrant that's freely adapted from a novel by Conrad. It's a peculiar film, very British with English actors, American producers and a French actor playing a young Ukrainian, Yanko. I deeply believe in this story which simply tries to talk about the subject of "difference". This experience made me suddenly feel closer to my own family: my father, a Spaniard, and my mom, German, and myself, born in Switzerland: we all experienced this strange stuff of "living somewhere else". My father arrived in Switzerland in the sixties in order to build something valuable; this was the beginning and then came the rest. We lived in the outskirts of Lausanne. I remember almost everything: the countryside, my friends whom I helped to milk the cows, the smells one can never forget.... Everything that forms the hazy universe of a child who's learning to live.

And the movie world seemed far away, then?

So far or so close! I moved a lot. I've worn out lots of memories in order to create new ones in the new places we lived in. Things were this way. The cinema was not even a childhood dream; I wanted to be a soccer player. For a long time I kicked this ball without knowing what was going to happen. And then, suddenly, I wanted to go to town, wanted the noise, the places where I could find a certain modernity. The big city was the way to get on the good train. I studied dramatic art in Geneva and then at the Conservatoire in Paris and at the Ecole des Amandiers of Nanterre theater. There I was going in another direction.

In Swept From the Sea we have again the same adventurous spirit that made you cut the links with your own past?

This movie is a bit like I am, and my style. I like very physical, very human parts, which make you go beyond your own limits. Playing Yanko has been like going back to my origins. Working on this character was going back to something familiar.

Was the filming very tiring?

Three months filming with no stops, wanting to be as close as possible to Yanko's destiny. I got up every morning at 5.30 in order to train with a coach. I never stopped; I was carrying stones in order to build up my body and to give me strength: it was like going back to my roots. At 7.30, make-up began before filming. I loved this devilish rhythm in the middle of Cornwall. We were on the English coastline, very far from everything…

It's maybe time to ask you your age because now we're maybe a bit far from the image of the young lover falling from his planet?

Already 33, almost 34. I feel this time is like a transitional phase. With no regret or bitter taste. I always felt I was not part of the system, like the outsider that I've always been, I believe. Even today. I was lucky to start an international career when very young. There have been no empty moments, or vague times of doubt.

Even if, as expected, you have been the young talent, the nice face to which everything must go well and to whom the impossible has been promised?

Of course! That's how it is: to make a new person the hope of the time, the messiah, the idol, and to send him so high and so fast that it all looks like a test. Luckily, the best advice I received form the old ones was "make your own way, draw your path…" I simply followed it…

With the risk of experiencing terrible times of emptiness?

After Queen Margot I received no offers in France. Why? I don't know. Happily, I was rescued from other countries where people wanted me. Furthermore, I was always quite rigorous in my choices. I was always privileged to have quality in the script more than the quantity. I tried to learn, to grow from my experience. I paid the price for this freedom.

While you could have become a star immediately, like some actors do, as people imagined you would?

There are two kinds of actors. The first kind are those who are kind of magical. They come up from nowhere and they are magnetic on the screen. Something all of a sudden happens between them and the public: take, for example, Leonardo Di Caprio. And, miraculously, he's able to stay completely free. He doesn't care what people think about him. Me, I am apparently of the second kind, for which things are slower to take form. I must say the movie world has not been such a clear choice in the beginning, because acting on stage came first; the appointment with movies came later with big productions immediately, such as Cyrano de Bergerac. I did not understand everything that was happening. But I went on in order to find out…

And did you?

Yes, slowly as I went along. It is never easy to learn how to do things. I look for true characters, wholesome parts, something total. I think it has been difficult for part of the public to understand and to follow me because I have been playing all kinds of different characters. I have not always followed straight lines, and I have paid for this.

Do you refer to, for example, The Crow II, that make one doubt about your future?

I do! But it has been a fantastic experience. This movie has had two lives, in the theaters and as home video. In this movie, I tried to create a character from beginning to end. A milestone in my career, no doubt. Since then I feel much more free, more autonomous, more convinced in what I do. I listen more to my instinct.

Going through the hard law of critics?

In the beginning I was very sensitive, which is pretty normal. When one chooses to be an actor, one knows one's life is exposed to all factors that make it public. And in the back you have this obligation of respecting the image people have of you. You cannot be destroyed by that, or too enthusiastic. The more I go on, the more I find out who I am, and the less I feel dependent on people's opinion of me.

How do you explain the fact that only a few French actors are known abroad?

Depardieu, Reno, Auteuil, Karyo…they are more than people say. More will come. It's a positive evolution, because the American movie industry is realizing that Europe has more to give than they thought. So finally they are more keen in giving in sometimes. Let's be realistic: if I ever become a big star in America, nobody will care about my "frenchy" accent!

Though, the American resistance is getting organized…

We are just at the beginning. The evidence is that just one year ago I was on the point of playing in a big American production, A Perfect Murder. The producers, Gwyneth Paltrow, Michael Douglas and many more wanted me starring in this movie. I had almost signed, but then came the president of the production company and stopped this project. His argument was: "It's an American movie, we need American actors." Too bad! Even the director wanted me. I still remember him, smiling, tapping on my shoulder and saying "Welcome to the club". The club? In a way I am part of it. I am on the list, I am in a certain rank corresponding to a certain sum. Ah, America and its visions! I lived one year in New York, a fantastic town. There's always a cop at the corner of the street that makes you feel a child again, afraid of doing something wrong…

What will you do of this image of "romantic hero" in which you are a bit stuck…the character of Yanko in Swept From the Sea will not help you to get rid of it!

I like it! Deep inside I have to. But I think that last Chereau movie (Those Who Love Me…) is going to be a surprise. It is like something being completed: a new step, something else I care a lot about. I know many are going to be surprised and I like it.

Is this the result of a certain maturity?

It is normal that after 30, the parts and the career evolve; all of a sudden, in line with one's own evolution, the characters become deeper and more complicated. By the way, I have received proposals that go beyond my personal situation. I feel more serene, more capable of going further and further, less easily influenced by a director. It is a bit like if I decided to go through some danger: I feel this need of exploring new dimensions, of letting all the different sides of my personality be seen. In this state of mind I decided to explore the chances this job offers. It took time and it is quite normal. It is difficult to know oneself, what one really wants, in an immediate way. One needs a certain time before seeing the evidence.

Even because, in the beginning, everything distracted you from the essential: you have a nice face and this should be enough!

The appearance as only criterion? I don't believe it. It is always a double-edged sword, because then, all of a sudden, you are in the limelight and you don't know what to do. One chooses to be an actor and, naturally, one just stays too much in the limelight. One cannot be prepared against everything that might happen. Then one day the time comes when you are able to see what is your true choice and what is not. With this truth one starts going on. Like other people, I have done many stupid things; as, for example, not recognize someone I had met at a party the night before! It is very easy to be clumsy and to pull a boner. It is difficult to always show your good side; I have always been the king of blunderers!

One leaves reality in an almost magical way. If someone is a star, someone respected, or at least someone that people recognize in the street, do you admit it's an escape from day-to-day reality?

Movies as an escape place…Yes, this can happen. Movies as escape. My 30 years brought me the essentials things of life: on myself, my fears, my doubts. I am someone rather inhibited and during years and years I protected myself with a certain form of arrogance that allowed me to show I was feeling good, even though it never turned into nastiness. My characters allowed me to evade from reality. But, when a film ends, reality is there again, and the problems one left are back, maybe even stronger than they were. Nowadays I feel less in need of proving something, of showing what I am able to do. Sometimes you just need to be there and to simply go on with no need to "overplay" at any cost.

After Chereau's movie I started another one in Sarajevo, where I am a Serbian sniper facing a Croatian. Sometimes I said to myself: "If you don't know, don't do anything!" because often the characters do not do anything else than just exist, and these are true moments that are going to be on the film without twisting any arm. It is a new attitude for me. I don't play any longer in front of the camera. It is the camera itself filming what's happening. There is no need to give it everything.

[Written by Christian Moguerou.]


[Many thanks to Annegret Hofer for sharing this article and to Cinzia Masina for the translation]

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