The Vincent

May 3, 2000                                                               

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Vincent Perez is a household name
- if your household happens to be in France.

"I know French people won't know me as a Vincent who is here right now talking in English because to them I am somebody else,'' he said in an interview.

Perez made his American movie debut in The Crow: City of Angels. He also starred in the Oscar-winning French film, Indochine, starring Catherine Deneuve. He now shares the big screen with Kim Basinger in I Dreamed of Africa.

The movie tells the true story of Kuki Gallmann (Basinger), her family and their adventures after moving from an upscale life in Italy to a rural African ranch. Perez plays Kuki's husband Paolo.

His other films include the HBO movie, Shot Through the Heart, in which he played a Bosnian Serb forced to fight a childhood friend to the death in the former Yugoslavia.

In some ways, playing a real-life person is more rewarding than a fictional character, Perez said. "You have to think you are touching the soul of somebody else.''

But, he added, neither I Dreamed of Africa nor Shot Through the Heart were documentaries, so he used the biographies only as starting points, adding his own elements and emotions to his characters.

Perez said he gets a thrill when he creates a person and then is convincing to an audience.

"I'm fascinated in making you believe that I am somebody else. It's a way for me to wear a mask. Wearing a mask isn't to hide yourself; it's a way to find the real person behind the mask."

He speaks French and English fluently, and his Spanish, German and Italian are all passable, he said. Perez said switching languages helps him change personas, opening up a greater variety of professional roles and personal experiences.

Were you nervous bringing your family to rural South Africa while the film was being shot?

"I was nervous more about the racism around. My wife is from West Africa - Senegal - and I've felt and I saw people act really strangely with her. It's not the most peaceful country. There are tensions there."

What about the wildlife?

"The snakes are a game to play. The snakes - you have to be careful but they never attack. He (the snake) only attacks if you walk on it or if he is scared."

What was the most memorable part of your experience?

"One day we were near elephants in the bushes. We were surrounded by small trees. We thought there were like four elephants behind the trees, but they tiptoe; they are very, very quiet when they walk. So we thought there were only four. Even the ranger thought there were four. But when they appeared - suddenly one came out of the bush - so we moved away and saw there were like 80 elephants."

Have you ever thought about starting a new life as the Gallmanns did?

"Starting over takes a lot of courage. Sometimes I think about it... I really don't know if I could do it. I have this great passion for acting, so why should I do something else? My life is a work in progress. Every day I want to move forward and add some other passions that I have."

Did the birth of your daughter Iman change your outlook?

"Yes, my mind changed a lot. I was blown away by the feelings that emerged from me. ... She really brought a lot of happiness to my life. I have to say, spending time with her I know, this is it. This is wonderful."

As you become more familiar to American audiences, what is one thing you would like people to know about you?

"You don't have to be French to relate to a French character. You can be an American who relates to this French guy. Emotions are universal."

[Written by Samantha Critchell, Associated Press Writer]


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