The Vincent

November 5, 2005                                                  

The French actor and director, Vincent Perez, has come to spend a few days to Maritius to discover the charms of the south, and more specifically, those of the Telfair Hotel. Thanks to the complicity of Vanessa Bťchard, marketing director of the establishment, we have been able to meet the actor who refuses to be eternally stereotyped as the leading sex symbol of French cinema, whose physique and roles make it easy to forget that he has a solid dramatic background. At forty-plus, Vincent Perez still has the presence and charisma of a young lead, a quality that has long confined him to French cinema. But, as he often said during Fridayís rambling conversation, heís not only a beautiful face, but a man of cinema who, after becoming a successful actor and starring in several French cinema classics, turned more and more toward direction. Perhaps to offer to others the roles that he was often not offered and which he now writes, often in collaboration with his wife, Karine Silla.

Itís the very start of the career of Vincent Perez, who seems chosen by the gods when it comes to luck and career-defining meetings. The chosen one was not always totally all right with this. ďYes, Iíve had a lot of luck in my career, without doubt. But you have to know when to seize an opportunity, know when to go for it, make yourself available, know when to wait for the moment, make good choices and reject others. Iíve had luck of course, and a bit of talent, but more than anything Iíve worked hard, and Iíve known how to make decisions. It took a lot of courage to leave an institution like the Paris Conservatory and go and apply to the Amandiers Theatre, directed by Patrice Chťreau in Nanterre. At acting school I learnt that the world doesnít owe you anything and that in this profession, you donít get it through luck, but through work, work and more work, and that talent is all about sweat. For example, if I hadnít decided to learn English when I was 23, I would never have been able to film in the United States. Nobody there would have thought of putting me forward for a role if I hadnít been able to speak English. Thatís how I got the lead role in The Crow 2, and how I recently filmed a version of Frankenstein for American television. Itís true that Iíve had a lot of fantastic opportunities but behind that thereís a lot of hard workĒ.

Cyrano de Bergerac, an international success, made Vincent Perez into the top young leading man in French cinema by far, given many roles as the seducer, often in costume dramas and epics. He became the cinematic heir to Gťrard Philippe and to Jean Marais, by remaking some of their great roles, from Captain Fracasse to Fanfan la Tulipe to Le Bossu. When he wasnít playing action heroes, it was his good looks that made him valuable in those productions where he played seducers. On the big screen, he seduced the most beautiful of actresses, from Catherine Deneuve (Indochine) to Jaqueline Bisset (The House of Jade), passing through Isabelle Adjani (La Reine Margot), Kim Basinger (I Dreamed of Africa), Sophie Marceau (Fanfan), Fanny Ardant (Le Libertin) and Penelope Cruz (Fanfan la Tulipe).

ďItís true, Iíve acted in a few French cinema classics, which have sold a million tickets the world over, like Cyrano de Bergerac, Indochine, Fanfan la Tulipe, Le Bossu. But itís important to realize at the same time that an actor has a hard job with highs and lows, more lows than the public ever sees. You have to know how to keep it in perspective, and itís not always easy, even if youíre a well-known actor with some big hits behind youĒ.

ďAt acting school I learned that the world doesnít owe you anything and that in this profession, you donít get it through luck, but through work, work and more work, and that talent is all about sweatĒ.

But Vincent Perez owes the most beautiful role of his career so far to a character who has nothing to do with his image as a seductive young lead. A character the very opposite of those he is often asked to play, that of Viviane, the transsexual in Those Who Love Me Take The Train, by Patrice Chťreau.

A layered character that allowed him to challenge his trademark image of a handsome actor. An undertaking to which he was resolutely committed for several years. ďItís often forgotten that before I was a beautiful face, I was a stage actor more than anything else. Iíve always wanted to try different things as an actor, and certainly to challenge my image as a handsome hunk, as a young lead with longevity. From this starting point was born the character of Viviane, the transsexual that I play in Those Who Love Me Take The Train. The story behind the creation of the character is interesting. I had photos taken of me dressed up and made up like a woman just to amuse myself, to see the effect that it would have. Then I showed them to Patrice Chťreau, who started to write Those Who Love MeÖ and who wanted to give me a role in it. Initially, he didnít recognize me in the photos, but afterwards, he kept them. Itís from those photos that the character of Viviane, one of the best of my career, was written. The role was a huge risk for me as an actor because instead of challenging my trademark image, I could, if my interpretation was bad, make a fool of myself like never before. When the film came out, the left-wing intellectual critics who didnít like me much because I donít have a good profile, were obliged to recognize that I wasnít just a beautiful face, but an actor with things to say and to show.

The film, which was entered into competition at the Cannes Film Festival, made it clear that Vincent Perez wasnít just a young lead, but an actor of substance. It opened doors for him in Hollywood and got him the leading role in the fantasy film The Crow where he took up the character created by Brandon Lee, son of Bruce Lee Ė who had been killed during the making of the film.

Since, Vincent Perez has become one of the few French actors to work in the United States without being stuck in the role of the French lover, and who is given roles of real substance.

Since 1992, Vincent Perez has added another string to his artistic bow: direction. He started with short films of four to eight minutes before directing, in 2002, his first full-length feature: Peau d'ange. Produced by Luc Besson and co-written with Karine Silla, the film, presented at a number of international festivals, benefited from a strong critical eye, and revealed the real temperament of a director. Qualities which encouraged Luc Besson to entrust the new director with the American remake of a Japanese-style fantasy thriller with a dose of manga, The Secret. Vincent Perez has just finished filming it with David Duchovny, hero of the television series The X Files, in the leading role. ďMore and more, I feel Iím a director, I have no more desire to be on the other side of the cameraĒ.

Vincent Perez avows he has no more desire to be on the other side of the camera. ďI have a few offers as an actor, but more and more Iím leaning towards production. Iím a little frustrated by my acting career right now, nobodyís offering me anything interesting, and Iím searching for something else. More and more, I feel Iím a director, I have no more desire to be on the other side of the camera. At the moment Iím working on writing a screenplay in the style of a childrenís story. I hope that it will be my next film in the role of directorĒ.

But a strong character would be capable of giving him the desire to return to acting. Like the one that an American producer has just offered him. ďI dream of interpreting the character that an American producer has offered me, but which is, for the moment, a project without financing and without even a director. Itís a film in the style of Charlie Chaplain, the actor who gave me the desire to do cinema. Itís a screenplay about the life of a clown in a concentration camp for Jewish children during the Second World War. Itís a comic-tragic role relying more on the talent of the actor than on his physical appearanceĒ. And itís another way for Vincent Perez to repeat that he is not just a beautiful face.

[Kindly translated by Steff Stronge]


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