Since his appearance in La Haine (Hate) in 1993, Vincent Cassel has made a name for himself as one of the most talented and versatile actors of his generation, having switched effortlessly from independent productions like the controversial Irreversible to big budget blockbusters such as Oceans’ Twelve and Thirtheen. The actor, who received the 2009 Cesar award for Best Actor for his performance in the two Mesrine films (released in the UK in August), where he plays France’s most wanted criminal of the Seventies, talks exclusively to Chic-Londres.
You have been recently honoured by the British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) which described you as the “golden boy” of French cinema, how do you feel about that? I am not sure I deserve to be described as a “golden boy”, although I am obviously delighted – especially considering how important the Academy is in Britain. I really didn’t expect it to happen, particularly since I am the first Frenchman at this event, which makes it all the more flattering. I knew I had some kind of following in the UK, but the fact that I have been recognised in such a formal way is very reassuring. I need reassurance just like everybody else.
Your wife, the actress and top model Monica Bellucci, lives in London, where you have filmed Elizabeth and Eastern promises: would you consider moving here on a permanent basis? I really feel comfortable in London. I lived here for a while when I was younger, I made several films here and my wife lives here, which obviously means that I spend a lot of time in this city. However, I wouldn’t leave Paris to settle in London full time: if I ever decide to leave Paris, then I will want to leave behind the stress, pollution and traffic jams, so there wouldn’t be much point in coming here to find exactly the same thing.
Which role was the most difficult to play and on which film set have you had the most fun? The most difficult role for me was in Sheitan, because the character was so different from me, and because I had to push the boundaries of acting to the point of ridicule. I had most fun on one of my last films (Les Seigneurs, to be released in 2010), probably because I have been very close to the team for so long: I was in fits of laughter at least twice a day, which is unusual even for me. Generally speaking though, I really have fun on shoots: when I am acting, I feel like a kid in the playground, able to get rid of all my inhibitions. That said, acting in itself can actually be very serious. That’s because immersing yourself into a character can trigger very strong emotions and tension, which I release by laughing a lot. Contrary to what one may think, I actually had a lot of fun on Irreversible, even though the film’s violence makes it so difficult to watch. On the other hand, you don’t necessarily have lots of fun when filming a comedy.
How does it feel to switch from indie films to big blockbusters and is there much difference between theway French and American directors operate on set? People outside the business often imagine film sets in a way that is very different from reality. But in my opinion, there are not that many differences between an indie and a blockbuster: as far as I am concerned as an actor, my work is always the same and I always immerse myself in a role in exactly the same way, whatever the budget. There might be more hierarchy when shooting an American film, but even then, it all depends on the film. The real difference lies in the distribution process, which is much heavier with American films, but that has nothing to do with the acting itself.
You have shot five films with your wife, Monica Bellucci: do you manage to distance yourself from your amily life when on set? I don’t want to distance myself, on the contrary, as our shared experience helps me in my roles. I personally believe that being close to the other actors makes it easier to play alongside them. And incidentally, it is absolutely lovely to be able to share those acting moments with people you love, be it your wife or friends.
The British Academy of Film and Television Arts (Bafta) organised on the 3rd of June an event around Vincent Cassel as part of its A Life in Pictures cycle, which previously honoured Meryl Streep, the Coen brothers and Cate Blanchett. This event was organised in partnership with Unifrance, which promotes French cinema abroad.
Vincent Cassel in Dates:
- 1966 (November 23) : Born in Paris (real name: Vincent Crochon, son of comedian Jean-Pierre Cassel and journalist Sabine Litique)
- 1983-1988 : Studies circus and singing, before switching to acting studies, first at the Actors’ Institute of New York and then at l’Atelier International de Théâtre in Paris, before joining Jean-Louis Barrault’s theatre company.
- 1991 : Starts his film career with « Keys to Paradise » by Philippe de Broca
- 1994 : Appears in the UK as Nicole’s boyfriend in the adverisement for Renault Clio
- 1995 : Plays Vinz in Hate by Matthieu Kassovitz, which launches his career
- 1996 : Meets his future wife Monica Bellucci while shooting The Apartment with her and marries her in 1999 (daughter Deva born in 2004)
- 1998 : Plays the Duke of Anjou in British film Elizabeth
- 2001 : Shrek (Monsieur Hood’s voice in English version), Birthday Girl (with Nicole Kidman) and Read My Lips
- 2002 : Irreversible
- 2004 : Agents Secrets and Ocean’s Twelve
- 2005 : Derailed (with Clive Owen and Jennifer Aniston)
- 2006 : Sheitan
- 2007 : Ocean’s Thirteen et Eastern Promises
- 2008 : Shoots Mesrine (Part 1 and 2), about France’s most wanted criminal of the Seventies
- 2009 : Receives the César award for Best Actor for his performance in both Mesrine movies and becomes the face of the new Yves Saint Laurent men’s fragrance, La Nuit de l’Homme