Up Close &
Personal With French Actor Vincent Cassel
Another Wonderful Bad Guy
French movie star Vincent
Cassel co-stars with James McAvoy and Rosario Dawson in Danny
Boyle's crime thriller "Trance." Courtesy Photo.
gangster movie genre basically became part of the cinematic landscape
in 1931 when Edward G. Robinson starred as Rico
in "Little Caesar." Since then, scores of tough guy
films have been made, some based on real criminals, while others were
based on fictional characters. Such films include James Cagney
in "The Public Enemy," Al Pacino in "Scarface,"
Denzel Washington in "American Gangster," Robert
De Niro in "Casino," Armand Assante in "Gotti,"
Robert De Niro in "Once Upon A Time In America,"
Marlon Brando in "The Godfather," Al Pacino
in "The Godfather II," Ray Liotta in "Goodfellas,"
and Robert De Niro in "The Untouchables" as
well as "Pulp Fiction," "Bonnie & Clyde,"
"White Heat," and "Scarface: The Shame of a
Nation," to name just a few.
Vincent Cassel should clearly be added to
the list of actors playing bad guys, especially for his portrayal of
the famous French gangster Jacques Mesrine, in the two-parter
"Mesrine: Killer Instinct" and "Mesrine: Public
Enemy #1," for which he received the 2009 Cesar award for
Best Actor. He also co-starred with Natalie Portman in
the "Black Swan" which won multiple awards including
the coveted Oscar for Best Picture.
Left: Vincent Cassel transformed his body to play
notorious French gangster Jacques Mesrine. Courtesy Photo;
Right: A film with multiple twists and turns and shocking revelations.
Photo: Courtesy Fox Searchlight Pictures.
His latest bad guy film is Danny Boyle's crime
thriller "Trance" in which he plays a criminal who
will go to any ends to retrieve a stolen Goya painting. Co-starring
James McAvoy (Simon) and Rosario Dawson, (Elizabeth)
the story has multiple plot twists and intrigues with a focus on Simon
who has suffered severe memory loss and can't remember where he hid
the stolen painting. A hypnotist played by Dawson is hired to
delve into Simon's subconscious to retrieve the information that
results in shocking revelations.
Cassel recently sat down with a select group
of journalists and the following has been edited for content and continuity
for print purposes.
What was your first reaction when you read this
Cassel: I thought wow! Danny Boyle is calling
me. I thought of the script what I think of the movie today. It's smart,
surprising, and at last a female part that is really interesting where
the actress can be beautiful and smart.
What is the most important thing to you before
accepting a project?
Cassel: Honestly, for me, the main thing is the director.
I still believe you can make a great movie without a good script but
with a good director, but with a great script and not a good director
you will end up doing something that is not interesting.
This is a very complicated story line. How many
times do you think a person could watch this movie and get something
Cassel: Well, it's full of little details and yes I
think a second viewing could be interesting because then you can really
appreciate what the actors are doing. For example, how they lie so well
which doesn't really apply to my character because I'm one of the only
characters who doesn't need to lie. I'm pretty straight forward, but
Rosario and James really have things that they have to hide or don't
remember. So, I think a second viewing is definitely worth it.
So you figured it how before you started filming?
Cassel: The funny thing is that we shot the movie a
year-and-a-half ago because Danny Boyle had to stop to direct
the Olympics. So it's been a while and when I saw the finished
movie for the first time a month ago, I got totally caught up by the
plot. I forgot the details of the story so it really got to me, which
is a good sign I think.
What is your process for staying in the moment
even though you know what's going to happen next?
Cassel: First of all, I don't think actors should think
too much while you're doing it. When you act, it has nothing to do with
the intellect. It has to do with your emotions and your capacity to
let yourself go and not judge yourself or be afraid of being ridiculous
and then you just have to be in the moment. When you are in the hands
of a good director, this is much easier because if you're working with
someone you're not so sure of, then you have to think because you never
know if it's going to be good so you have to take care of things that
usually actors don't have to take care of. But if you work with someone
like Danny, or other directors who are real directors, you just focus
on the moment and everybody does his own job actors act.
What's Danny's golden touch?
Cassel: I think he really loves actors because he comes
from a theatre world and something I've noticed working with him is
he's a real gentleman. I really believe that directors are the bosses
on the set and they have to decide and take responsibility for everything
but he never exaggerates that position. He's gentle. For example on
the set it's always like "do you mind if we do another take?"
"Would it be okay?" He always asks in such a gentle way that
you are always ready to do what he wants.
Is his behavior on set unusual?
Cassel: Well, some people can be a little more rude
if you give them the space to be. Some people in this business have
the tendency to think that what they are doing is very important and
because of that they can raise their voice and they can play some games
with people but they are polite and attentive to others and don't like
that. I have to say that I've been very lucky since the beginning and
have had very few bad experiences.
How much character direction did you receive?
Cassel: Not much. But you know character direction is
a legend. The most important direction is the casting. If you cast the
right person then you don't have much to say on the set. When people
tend to talk too much, it's because something is wrong; otherwise you
have to go with the flow. It's having fun with the moment. I worked
with Jacques Audiard ("Rust & Bone")
on a movie a few years ago called "Read My Lips."
On the second day of shooting he came to me and started to talk, talk,
talk. I mean he's a very smart person but I told him he had to stop
talking to me like this; please instead of using twenty words, use three.
Just give me the idea of what you want; otherwise I lose my energy.
And, from that day, he didn't talk to me any more. (Laughter)
Vincent Cassel and Natalie Portman in the multiple
award winning film
"Black Swan." Courtesy Photo.
The idea of sex and violence is explored in this
film. What are your thoughts on that?
Cassel: I think seduction, sex, and violence somehow
have a connection. When something gets very peaceful usually sex disappears.
So how are things at home?
Cassel: It's ok. (Laughter)
Vincent Cassel as the gangster Franck holds an empty
picture frame from which a Goya painting was stolen and misplaced. Photo:
Courtesy Fox Searchlight Pictures.
Why do you enjoy playing bad guys?
Cassel: I think heroes are boring most of the time and
plus they don't represent anything I see on a daily basis. I don't see
much heroes. I see people who are struggling with their own lives and
most of the time people who are the baddies or intense, or whatever
you want to call them, look more real to me than people that are bright
Based on the characters you choose, would you
say you are the toughest Parisian, toughest Frenchman or just the toughest
man on earth?
Cassel: I'm not tough at all. (Laughter)
Is that why you're drawn to these characters?
Cassel: Maybe. This question comes along a lot. But
in the way I portray them, I'm not trying to make them tough because
most of the time when you get violent, it's like saying I'm very weak
because it shows that you're not confident so I never try to be like
the tough guy because the characters I play are suffering.
How would you define your character?
Cassel: It's the story of a gangster who falls in love
and gangsters shouldn't fall in love because the minute you fall in
love for real, you get very vulnerable and it's not good for the business.
It's dangerous. That's why gangsters most of the time go out with whores
Rosario Dawson plays a hypnotist with shocking
surprises up her sleeve. Photo: Courtesy Fox Searchlight
Did you know Rosario Dawson before and why did
you want to work with her?
Cassel: I didn't know her personally but years ago a
director asked me who I would like to work with and I said Rosario
Dawson and two others. I think she is beautiful, sexy and has this
New York thing that I really like. She's really cute in a genuine
way, not in a movie star way because when you look at some actresses
in real life, they're very normal which is not a bad thing.
Were you nervous meeting her for the first time?
Cassel: No no. I was very excited actually and it went
very well. She likes to talk and travels a lot and use to have a French
boyfriend so she must be nice. (Laughter) It might sound strange,
but my work has to be fun for me.
Who are the other two actresses you would like
to work with?
Cassel: I'll tell you when I work with them. (Laughter)
Did anything surprise you during the shoot?
Cassel: Yes; the kindness of Danny Boyle on the
set. Sometimes it was too much. (Laughter) I even wondered at
some point if it was a trick. (Laughter) He was too nice.
Do you see a difference in the scripts you get
from Hollywood vs. from Europe?
Cassel: I've never actually worked on a Hollywood
movie. I've always managed to work with directors that do what they
wanted to do so I don't feel like I'm part of the Hollywood thing.
Hollywood to me is like the big blockbuster where the producer
decides everything. "Trance" is an English movie.
Do you get offers from Hollywood?
Cassel: I do, but I turn them down because life is short
and I don't want to waste time doing things I don't enjoy.
What made you decide to become an actor?
Cassel: My father was an actor so I grew up in that
environment and it was very easy for me to project myself in this. Being
an actor in movies is very complicated because you have to audition
and be accepted; otherwise you can just do things on stage in the street
and actually that's how I started doing things in the street. I was
in circus school at that time learning clowning which was acting for
me. We would just do it and it was the easiest way for me to express
myself to realize my dreams and to make money.
You're the first actor I've come across who started
out as a clown. Why do you think being a clown is a natural next step
Cassel: It's a very noble thing to be a clown. It's
portraying things around you and you have to make fun of it so I think
it's a good exercise. A clown doesn't have to have a red nose. It's
like improvising on situations. The clowns in circuses are the most
complete artists they have to know how to do everything, like actors.
Do you miss interacting with an audience when
Cassel: No because you have this interaction with the
camera actually and strangely enough if you don't feel the person behind
camera, it doesn't work and I can't act. I worked with a cameraman who
didn't understand what was going on and I got mad because after ten
takes he couldn't get it and I was really bad. So it's always a question
of somebody looking at you because to act by yourself is not interesting.
Everyone can be an actor in his own bathroom but it's the power of someone
looking at you and you having to pretend to be normal. When this thing
is going on, it's like a magnet but if one of the magnets is weak, it
doesn't happen. That's why it's important to work with interesting directors
and that's why good directors don't have to talk to you. They just have
to look at you and that makes the whole difference.
Vincent Cassel makes only two films a year so he
can spend time with his wife and his daughter Deva. Courtesy
You are a famous international movie star. How
do you balance that with being a husband and father?
Cassel: I don't work a lot. I do one or two films a
year because otherwise, to be totally honest, I get bored with promotions
and all that. If you do it just once in a while that's great, but if
you do it all the time, it's insane. I say no, no, no and only say yes
when I can't say no.
How do you navigate living in Paris, London, Rome,
Cassel: Actually I found a solution a few months ago
and now I just live in Rio. (Laughter)
Why Rio? The weather?
Cassel: I've been going there for twenty-five years
and I really like it. It was dangerous for a long time, but it's getting
better. The gangsters are further out and the economy is getting better
and it's a nice place to live, with a nice quality of life and yes the
weather and the culture, and the food. When you love something, there
isn't always a reason, and my Portuguese is getting better.
Hypnosis is the thru-line of the story. Does it
Cassel: I have no idea. They tried it on me and it didn't