The Vincent

January 2000                                                   

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Ten years of success, with the most beautiful partners in life as well as on screen, and, above all, the will to direct his career toward more demands and refinement. As the stylish prince charming, the eternal lover in Epouse-moi (Marry Me), his latest fairy tale, Vincent Perez agreed to remove the armor and talk to us:

What allured you to Epouse-moi? The originality of the script? The fact of forsaking time and historical films for a modern tale?

Both! Initially there is the structure of the film, which is enchanting. I love the state of mind of Oriane (Michele Laroque), who consults a magus in order to blow on the flame of love and make it burn again. The story also puts a finger on feelings which touch me, the tale of people who are made for one another, yet cannot find each other.

There is that same idea in Fanfan, where the marriage would be a perpetual pursuit of the other.

You are right. But this time the story is not about fighting the routine, as in Fanfan: it is about how the memory of the past undermines the relationship between Oriane and Hadrien, my character, suddenly at the edge of a nervous breakdown because of the relationship with his wife! And then I very much wanted to work with Michele Laroque. I liked thinking of us as this unexpected couple. And there is my desire to make more modern films. Some are proposed to me, but they are not always very good. But here, it is someone's first work, and the story itself is written well...

You also desire to direct your own films? You already did a short feature, L'echange.

I have since made two of them! Rien Dire was in competition at Cannes and Hier Tu M'as Dit Demain, where I warn young people about the use of hard drugs. Directing is a formidable experiment! This idea of being able to do different things attracts me more and more.

How do you look upon your career over these last ten years?

I've been lucky to meet directors like Chereau and Antonioni, who showed me what cinema was. To act without stopping in France or during slack periods, abroad. During all this time, I changed. The age of thirty was significant. There was Karine (Silla, his wife). I think that one works toward a global aim, even if we are not always able to control all the elements that insure the success of a film. In general, I take more pleasure in acting. Is that not seen in my performances? 

Yes, insofar as the young lover, main character but a bit rigid, in Indochine and Cyrano, led to ambiguous roles in Ceux Qui M'aiment Prendront le Train and Le Bossu, in which your name was not the first one on the poster, but where you managed to be the one in the limelight.

(Obviously touched) Thank you very much! It is true that at the  beginning, Cyrano had opened a breach. I was not given very engaging roles. I believe that the change came with La Reine Margot. Thereafter, I had the occasion to write my lines more and more. It is particularly true for Le Bossu. Ten years ago, I was also not a free-thinker as now and this feeling of smothering showed through on screen...

The young lover did not age. He simply matured?

I would say that the label of a "lover" gave me the possibility of exploring other universes. Starting from a romantic image, I could build new characters and, finally, had the capacity to play all characters. I proved that in Le Temps Retrouve where I played a 45-year-old dandy, but also in a more radical way, as Viviane, the transexual in Ceux Qui M'aiment Prendront le Train. I lived as "her" fifteen hours a day for two months. At a given time, there was a passage of transition between me and Viviane. This sharing in creation, which is just beginning to be offered to me, is the reason I'm in this profession.

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Was this way the only one offered to you when, as a mordbidly timid child, you lived in a bubble?

I always think of having had an artistic disposition. As a kid, I assembled school plays. I would have never dared to say to my parents that I wanted to become an actor, and I believe that at the time that would have made them laugh! In fact, I had a need for people who, without necessarily being examples, could understand my aspirations. I started by taking photography courses and then attended the Conservatoires of Geneva and Paris. At L'Ecole des Amandiers, Patrice Chereau allowed me to be something else than the "young lover." This was actually the condition for me to become part of his team...

You, however, agreed to keep on with this kind of character in cinema...

Yes, after Cyrano, I lost myself a little. I was impressed by what happened to me. I asked myself: "How am I going to survive in the French movie world?"

It was this same whirlwind which made you show off, without reserve, with beautiful and famous girls?

I was not showing off! I lived normally with a woman (Carla Bruni), who was carrying on a public profession. Because of this, I could not hide myself. Simply, rather quickly, I understood that the world of fashion was not mine.

What is your world? Even artistically - between Chereau and De Broca - there is difficulty in placing you.

I do not belong to any school. But I have certain principles. In particular, to act without parading my emotions. In any event, from the moment one "invests" in a character, the question does not arise anymore: it is essential to progress. This requirement makes my choices difficult.

But not as much as to refuse the role in Crow II, which certainly opened the American market to you, but was a critical and public failure...

You want to say bluntly that it was a descent... That known, first, it was a film with a script much too superficial and had sacrificed second roles...

Does the "French cultural exception" make sense for a Swiss actor of Spanish and German origins making films in the United States?

Yes, of course, it does. France is, no matter what some say, a healthy nation where a certain structure is avoids the excessive uniformity of the artistic production. This protection is sometimes too comfortable but, at the same time, it makes it possible for many people to make films. That known, I adore acting in the American industry. The rules are much clearer there than here. In France there are unwritten principles which distress me. The absence of black people on the screen, for example: does it form part of the "cultural exception?" At the same time, it is very complex, because here there is an independence of mind which does not exist in America. This is why, contrary to Banderas, who accepts the rules and often does admirably well, I do not think of myself living over there permanently.

A career like Christophe Lambert doesn't tempt you?

We are not at all the same kind of actor...

Which kind of actor are you to the Americans?

It should be known that Hollywood functions with lists. I am one of "possibilities" behind the major stars. But the fact of being on the list is already quite good. Even if someone makes a ridiculous proposal to you like the role of the mummy with Brendan Fraser. Then, I refused... On the other side, I have the chance not to be typecast as French. In Hugh Hudson's last film, I play an American of Italian origin without any more accent than my Texan partner, Kim Basinger!

I Dreamed of Africa will come out next May?

Yes, but there is Le Libertin coming out in March, directed by Gabriel Aghion, where I play Diderot. What a pleasure to act with the Serrault-Ardant-Balasko trio! Michel, especially made me pee in my pants with laughter) during the synchronization...

Other projects?

Desires, rather. Like acting with people like Cedric Klapisch. And then, more concretely, there is my first full-length film as a director. I have just bought the rights of a book. The story will be a bit like I am, but I will not act in it!

[Written by Olivier Rajchman]

[Loosely translated from French and edited by Cinzia Masina - many thanks!]

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