The Vincent

August 22, 1999                                                    


Vincent Perez had never been so scared in his life - his professional, movie-actor life, that is. There he was, surrounded by some of France's most famous, finest thespians - Jean-Louis Trintignant, Pascal Greggory, Dominique Blanc - on a set with director Patrice Chereau, and Perez was in a wig, makeup, high heels, a dress.

And no, Those Who Love Me Can Take the Train, despite its share of light, quirky moments, is not a cross-dressing comic farce. Perez, star of Queen Margot (also directed by Chereau), Indochine and The Crow: City of Angels, was taking on the role of Viviane, a transsexual. The roiling, charged-up film - about a gathering of family, friends, lovers, ex-friends and ex-lovers at the funeral of a painter - opened Friday at the Ritz East. The film was nominated for 11 Cesar Awards (the French equivalent of the Oscar), including supporting actor for Perez, and won three.

"I wasn't sure if I was capable of doing the part," Perez explained on the phone from New York the other day. "I didn't want it to look silly, I didn't want it to be a 'performance.' I just wanted to be real and bring her to life."

And that's what he did. Although it sounds like the corny actorly cliche, Perez became Viviane for the duration of shooting.

"I realized that the only way for me to be really, really real in this part as a transsexual was to immerse myself completely," Perez says. "So, after a lot of research, I started the movie and I just stayed in the part for two months, 15 hours a day. Between takes, at lunchtime, on the set, I was Viviane. It was forbidden to call me Vincent.

"And after two weeks, suddenly she was taking my place. She was the one that was making the movie, and I wasn't there anymore."

Perez, who interviewed transsexuals in preparation for the role, also took cues from the women in his life: his friends, his wife.

"Viviane was like a puzzle of all the people, all my female friends, around me," he says.

The actor also met as Viviane with the great Trintignant, star of Z, The Conformist, Truffaut's Confidentially Yours, and Kieslowski's Red.

"I remember long talks we had," Perez said with a chuckle. "I was in my dressing gown, sitting in his room, and we would have long conversations about his work, about life, about the movie. It was funny to be me, playing Viviane, talking to Jean-Louis Trintignant. It was a little abstract.

"He was flirting with me! It wasn't really awkward or bizarre, it was really more tender."

By the end of the shoot, Perez said, people "knew Viviane better than they knew Vincent. A half-dozen girls [on the set] cried because it was my last take and Viviane was going to disappear. I was touched by that too."

Perez, who is 37 and a new father (he and his wife, writer Karina Silla-Perez, have a girl, Iman), divides his time between Paris, and, increasingly, Los Angeles. The Swiss-born actor, something of a heartthrob in Europe, has plans to write and direct his own films. And he wrapped work in spring on Hugh Hudson's I Dreamed of Africa, in which he stars opposite Kim Basinger. The Sony Pictures production is scheduled for an early 2000 release.

"It's based on a book by Kuki Gallmann about this couple who want to start a new life, away from civilization. And they leave everything and go to Africa, build a ranch, and start a new life there. It's quite a simple story, but it's an epic movie. They're doing something that a lot of people fantasize about doing, but that people are scared to do. And this couple, they did it."

[Written by Steven Rea]

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