The Vincent

May 27, 2000                                                           

He is one of the few European actors triumphing in Hollywood. According to People magazine, he is one of the "50 Most Beautiful People in the World." Vincent Perez, born in Switzerland, representing the French movie world, the son of a Spanish father and a German mother, co-stars with Kim Basinger in I Dreamed of Africa, a drama based on a true story.

He was recently in Cannes, where he presented his movie and gave Björk, the star of Dancer in the Dark, her Best Actress award.  He is quite multi-faceted. Seductive, short-haired, he prefers being interviewed in English, even though his Spanish is actually quite good. He responds, "No, I am not ashamed, but it would take so long!"

Have you surfed on 'your' internet pages?

Not much, but I know there are some. I have the Internet, but I don't surf much.

I heard your family was with you during the filming of "I Dreamed of Africa." Were you scared?

No, it was actually wonderful. Everyone was so happy. I already knew Western Africa but not South Africa. Most of the Americans spent
their days swallowing pills and were pretty nervous, but I did not take any because I knew it was not mosquito time and there were no risks for malaria or any other condition of this kind. I had a good advisor, my wife, who comes from Senegal.

Is it true that she suffered from racism in South Africa?

Yes, sometimes. Racism is common there and there is a lot of tension between blacks and whites. It's very difficult.

Once you told me that as a child, you suffered from xenophobia as well, because of your Spanish origin.

Yes, I felt kind of refused; but it was not racism, because this exists only when people make you feel bad because of your skin color. I think most racists are just afraid of the unknown. That's why they don't try to get closer to what they don't know. They just do not move. They stick to what they know and do not open  themselves up. Life is too short to stop moving forward. It's best is to go on and discover new things. I think that one becomes richer thanks to everything the world offers - this is my goal.

"I Dreamed of Africa" is based on a true story by Kuki Gallman. Have you met her?

Yes, but only after shooting the film. I met her in NY before the premiere and we were all quite nervous. We did not meet her before because Kim wanted to play this character very autonomously. The producers feared it would be difficult to adapt a book for the screen because of problems with the ego of the writer. Usually the screen version can be a frustration for the writer, so it has been better to meet just afterwards. We were telling the same story, but in a film things must always be changed.  Actually, I didn't miss that because I really wanted to invent my character. We were not filming a documentary on their lives, just a movie. If I had been Kim, though, I would have definitely wanted to meet Kuki beforehand because she's the one carrying the weight of the movie, not me. I'm simply a complement.

Do you know if Kuki liked the film?

I think so. She felt very proud and respected.

Do you think she sees you in her husband Paolo?

When she saw me, she became very melancholic and touched. She started to cry and thanked me for giving Paolo new life. She told me I looked a lot like he did and that made her feel good.

In this movie all characters find the best side of themselves, though so much misery happens in Africa. All these problems wouldn't have happened had they stayed in Italy...

Well, in my personal life, I believe in destiny, so no matter where you go, there is a destiny following you. When your time has come, there is nothing to be done. When Kuki and Paolo were children, they had each been to Africa. That's why they were looking for their own lost paradise when they went together. They had a common dream, wanted to find their paradise again and decided to start a new life.

Would you go and live in Africa with your wife and daughter?

Never, but simply because of the question of education. In Europe there are more opportunities, and I am European, that's all.

Some think you are too young for Kim Basinger. What do you think?

I am happy to hear this but, frankly, I don't think it is true.

What do you think of "Out of Africa", Pollack's movie starring Robert Redford and Meryl Streep?

It is quite different from ours, much slower. It's about a woman who goes to Africa and then goes back to her country, while in I Dreamed of Africa, Kuki goes there to stay. Actually she's still there. She created her own natural reservation and she writes books.

Which one do you like more?

Well, it is difficult to say as I am not impartial. On the other hand, it is difficult for me to appreciate a movie in which I star. I will answer in two years time!

You are presently working in Vienna filming "The Bride of the Wind" with Australian director Bruce Beresford ("Driving Miss Daisy").

Yes. Jonathan Pryce will be musician Mahler, Alma Mahler (Sarah Wynter) is his muse, and I will be Kokoschka, the expressionist painter, who was one of her lovers. She was Mahler's spouse and when he died, she had a passionate love affair with Kokoschka. He was in love with her, but she was in love with others. This made him turn mad and become the genius he was. His first masterpiece, the painting called "The Bride of the Wind", was created in order to try to tell something to his beloved.

What do you do to get rid of a character?

I take a shower (he smiles). Now, seriously, it depends upon the character. Some stay inside me for a long time while others a shorter
time. Once I was a transexual, my favorite character so far, in a French movie, Those Who Love Me Can Take the Train, and it was three weeks before I was able to free myself from it! I got up in the morning and still many movements were with me. I had been totally in the character for two months working 15 hours per day. I was a woman and I lived like one. It was hard to get out of her.

Cary Grant used to say that "everyone wants to be Cary Grant. Me to". Is it difficult for an actor to find himself?

This kind of problem can happen to actors who are a bit out of balance with themselves. I never had this problem...well, maybe I did but I didn't realize it, so it's not a problem for me.

You have directed three short films. When will you start a long one?

Next year. I've already found producers and the script will be ready soon, but I prefer not giving any details about it.

Will you star in it?

I still don't know but I don't think it's a very good idea.

Are you still in contact with Penelope Cruz?

I met her in LA two months ago and I indroduced my wife and my daughter to her. It was a very good time. She was playing with my little girl...really adorable. She really deserves the international success she's having. The press will be kind to her because she is not just a good actress, she's also kind. There are not many people like this. She has something pure and, despite her young age, she keeps her feet on the ground.

[Written by Gloria Scola and kindly translated by Cinzia Masina]

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