French actor is all aboard for role as transsexual in 'Train'
Though American actors have a worldwide reputation for taking on daring roles, not many of
them would be eager to play a transsexual. But that's exactly what French actor Vincent
Perez does in the intriguing film Those Who Love Me Can Take the Train.
At home and abroad, the darkly handsome Perez, 35, is best known for playing lovers - of
Catherine Deneuve and her daughter in the Oscar-nominated Indochine, as a
flamboyant nobleman caught up in France's bloody 17th century religious wars in Queen
Margot and as a Russian sailor stranded by shipwreck in 19th century England in Swept
From the Sea. He is perhaps best known in the United States for starring in The
"A pretty face in France, I can assure you, doesn't help," said Perez in
slightly accented English. "In the long term what's important is an actor has to
Perez studied in the experimental school of writer-director Patrice Chereau, France's
iconoclastic and much-revered theater and opera director.
"He called me and said, 'I'm writing a script and I'd like to work with you, but
there's no part. What should I do?'
"I had no idea," Perez said, "but three years before, I was offered a
transsexual role, Victoria. We had done makeup and tests with me as a girl. I remember
looking at the shots thinking, 'Wow! Something happened' - but that movie collapsed.
"So I showed the pictures to Chereau and said, 'Maybe you should meet this girl.' He
stood a minute before the picture and then jumped, 'Wow! This is you!' He was totally
surprised," Perez said. "I told him the story and he took the idea and wrote the
part of Viviane."
Perez, who wears prosthetic breasts in the movie, adopted "less is more" as his
motto when it came to playing Victoria.
"It was to make the acting . . . simple and real. They gave me books and tapes, and I
read about the operations, and I met these transsexuals in Paris.
"OK, but I know I have to find the woman in myself," he said. "I'm
surrounded by women, my wife has a lot of girlfriends, and I started to look at my
friends. Viviane became a puzzle of all the women around me, bits and pieces."
"But that wasn't enough. So I reached a point where Chereau and I did many screen
tests. The lip color was a major thing because it changes the meaning of your face. We had
to find all that. Makeup took me three hours in the morning. To pitch my voice was the
last, most difficult thing."
Perez insisted the entire crew call him Viviane. "The rules on the set were
clear," he said. "As soon as 'she' puts the wig on, she becomes Viviane. No one
was allowed to talk to me as Vincent.
"After staying 15 hours a day with Viviane, after two weeks of that, some magical
thing happened. At the beginning I was very shy, and then I became her. The boys would
give me chairs and the girls would tell me secrets - you know, girl talk."
"After two months it was more Viviane than Vincent, and the sweet thing was, Chereau
said my last name on the last shot. He said, 'This is Vincent' and all the girls were
crying, because they were saying goodbye to a girlfriend."
What does Perez feel now, looking back at his actorly transformation?
"Some people said in France I helped the transsexual community be understood. There
is a beauty in those kind of people; they think God made a mistake with them and they have
to fix it. It's a beautiful thing to act as an actor.
"But I did it once," Perez said. "I'm not going to do it again. Now I'm
looking for a big macho part."
[Written by Stephen Schaefer]