The Vincent

Boston Herald
October 3, 1999                                                    

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 Crow 2.

"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 reinvent himself."

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]

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