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FRENCH actor Vincent Cassel (pictured) is probably best known to English audiences for his Oceans’ trilogy and Black Swan roles.
His breakthrough role was in Matthieu Kassovitch’s critically acclaimed La Haine and besides the French, English and Portuguese, he also learnt conversational Russian for his role in Eastern Promises.
Married to Monica Bellucci (with whom he has co-starred in several films including Brotherhood of the Wolf, Oberman, The Apartment) they live in Rio de Janeiro which he likes, probably for the sun and the beach.
“It’s a new country and it feels like everything is possible. Nothing is square, really. Everything is like, easy, more or less, though you have to be able to be flexible,” he said.
He isn’t just referring to a way of thinking, Cassel is proficient at capoeira, as he ably demonstrated in Ocean’s Twelve and his hunched, though tall, lanky and surprisingly flexible frame is a trademark.
The 46-year-old worked with director Danny Boyle on the British drama thriller, Trance, tackling the role of Franck, a criminal gang boss out to steal artwork from an auction house, but stymied by a gang member’s amnesia. Franck engages the services of a hypnotherapist to unlock the memories of Simon (played by James McAvoy).
Do you buy into hypnotherapy as a science?
I wouldn’t put it like that – buy or not. It didn’t work on me personally, but some people are susceptible to being hypnotised and some people aren’t, and maybe if some people are, but it is not at the right moment, it is not going to work.
It is pretty subtle. Sometimes it is just a detail, it’s just like in movies, you watch a movie and you don’t get into the story, but then one detail about one character, one line sometimes, one image and suddenly it touches you and you get into it and forget what time it is.
Do you think you are too strong-willed to be susceptible to hypnosis?
I guess it just wasn’t the right time. We did this workshop while we were in rehearsal, this guy came in and we were already dubious.
And he started showing us things about the history of hypnotherapy and it was very interesting.
Then it was the moment: “Who wants to try?” I guess you have to be personal with the person and you have to come with a question, so it becomes intimate.But right then, while he was talking, it was like an acting class, really.
I saw a show when I was younger, about 10 or something. It was in the South of France, and my youngest cousin, Madeleine, started to get into it. So I knew it was true – she wasn’t part of the show.
However, you must not want to be hypnotised too much, otherwise that will get in the way.
How would you describe Trance?
A twisted, psychological thriller,but there is a romance in it.
Let’s talk about genre movies.
I think if a genre movie stays in its genre it is a bad sign. Any genre film made by a good director becomes that director’s film and nothing else.
So it is a Danny Boyle movie. He takes the thing and makes something else out of it. I really think the movie doesn’t look like anything else and that is why I am so proud of it. It is particular enough to be different so we have to talk about it.
An interesting question arises in the movie about free will. Were you in any way interested in the philosophical underpinnings of the script?
I totally agree with you. In fact, this is the main subject of it. But when you are acting this is not something you think about. In fact, when you act you don’t think.
That is why you don’t need to be smart to be an actor, you just need to be sensitive on a certain level and to know how to lose yourself in the moment. Then when the movie is finished, you can find things in it.
Do you enjoy these kinds of films?
This one in particular I really liked, and I really enjoyed working on this one. If I were to find another one a bit like this, what would it be? Inception?
Yes, I do enjoy them. I enjoy watching any kind of movie when it is well made. I do not have any kind of genre that I like or dislike.
Would you take any role a director such as Danny Boyle offered you?
No. I have said “no” to directors whom I really wanted to work with because I didn’t know what to do with the role they were offering me: “I am really sorry, I have to say ‘no’, but I wish I could say ‘yes’.”
You seem to be cast in these villainous roles, do you enjoy playing darker characters?
I guess so, but it’s funny how you make choices according to what you like and what you want to do.
And when you look back you realise you have been doing really strange stuff from the beginning. Really dark-orientated kind of stories… I don’t know if “dark” is the right word… but I started in this market with La Haine and that is exactly what I wanted to do, because it wasn’t me.
It dealt with reality, but at the same time it was very cinematic in the way it was made. And that was the dream start actually. From there that is what I have been trying to keep as a standard: good directors and complex characters. You call it “baddies”, but I don’t really see them like that.
How challenging was the role of Franck?
I wouldn’t say it was the most challenging role, but you don’t have to suffer for a role to be good, or not suffer for a role to be bad. I have done quite a few gangsters in my career, after Mesrine I wasn’t in a hurry to do another one – but at the same time, along came Trance.
First, I am never really holding a gun, which is a good thing. And so I thought, ‘okay, instead of making anything gangsterish about him, in the way he walked and dressed, it would be interesting to make him normal’.
This is a businessman, so everything I wear is low profile, he doesn’t show off. He is always a bit bored when he has to be violent.
He is not a gung-ho kind of guy who wants to shoot and be violent, he wishes he could find another way. I mean, the real arc of the character for me is the gangster who falls in love.
That was the story for me.
Was travel a goal when you first started acting?
First of all, I had travelled a lot before I started acting. When I was a kid my family separated and I spent quite a lot of time in New York.
And when I decided to become an actor I thought I would never fit inside the French industry because I didn’t see anything I could be. I am part of that generation who grew up with hip-hop and Nikes.
So I was dreaming more about shooting movies in America, the actors’ studio, Marlon Brando etc. I was dreaming more about all those things.
Actually, when I starting living in the States I realised I was French. So I went back there. Instead of complaining and wanting to go somewhere else, I got into things at home.
And we started to make those movies we did in the Nineties with Gaspar Noé, Christophe Gans and Jan Kounen, we did what we wanted to see.
I think that, strangely enough, those movies, gave a different kind of idea of what French cinema could be and it has played out pretty well.
So now I can see that a lot of people, be it (Darren) Aronofsky or Danny (Boyle) or even (David) Cronenberg are calling me because of those movies. Because they really like Irreversible, La Haine, stuff like that. There is a logic somehow.
• Supplied by Fox Searchlight & Pathé.