RAPHAËL ENTHOVEN: Let’s drop the formalities, shall we?
VINCENT CASSEL: Funny, I was just about to ask you the same thing.
When one meets another for the first time, whose responsibility is it to take the first step?
VC: I’ve taken the liberty to educate myself online, to grasp what Raphaël was – the discourse, the content, the ideas – before meeting the person.
I came to this meeting with the intention of seeing a mind’s image in the flesh. It’s been more than twenty years that Vincent has been a presence in my life and, yet, we had never spoken or met. I had set up a meeting with a memory of mine! Interesting, launching your career with La Haine (a film based on one marginal’s man’s life plan to kill a cop) and, now, reincarnating as Vidocq, one of France’s first detectives…
VC: But these two men aren’t as different as one might think. If Vince [his character in Mathieu Kassovitz’ aforementioned 1995 film] hadn’t taken up the bottle…
You mean, if the police hadn’t beat him, he could’ve become one of them…
VC: I built this character as a weak man who spent all his life trying to prove to the world that he wasn’t one. Some might say, then, that he’s the opposite of Vidocq, who is willing to fight in order to survive.
VC: You know, there are actors out there for whom watching the post-filming rushes are an important part of their creative process. Me? I find that boring as hell. I’m truly not interested in seeing myself anymore…
That’s good to hear!
VC: I used to do it more in the past. I should really watch my films at least once.
I, personally, never listen nor watch anything that I’ve done. The only exception being re-reading – a text is like a young child that one must feed and tend to continuously, leading up to publication. That’s probably the only way that someone can get me to check out my own stuff. Ever heard of the Narcissus paradox? Clément Rosset explained it best: a common misconception is that Narcissus was in love with himself when, in fact, Narcissus simply chose his reflection over himself. In fact, the Narcissus paradox is that he hated himself. Much like those who prefer to reconstruct their faces rather than accepting who they really are.
VC: Perhaps that explains why so much effort is made to transform myself, to metamorphose myself, to change who I am for a role…I think that defines a character more than the words that are spoken. Wow—it seems this effort, this chase, was a way for me to avoid accepting myself. A desire to transform into someone else and, through that, to find myself in the process. Perhaps it is by wearing a mask that one can reveal the most about oneself…
You are a blend of the characters that you embody. There are actors who are chameleons (virtually unrecognizable from role to role), then there are actors who are like suns—they embody the role whilst staying themselves. Gary Oldman is a chameleon. He becomes Churchill! Or Will Smith when he embodies Mohamed Ali. When it comes to [Gerard] Depardieu, you or Romain Duris, you are the characters. We recognize the characters in you. I say that with respect and admiration. In Dobermann, Black Swan, La Haine—whatever the film—it’s you.
VC: And, yet, God knows how much time and effort I put into making sure I’m not recognized! [Laughs]. Really, being an actor means being able to use what we are, what we’d like to be and what we’re scared of being. It all depends on your own sensibilities. You can only play with your own tools.
Apparently, the Alain Delon interview in Le Monde (09/21/18) was quite beautiful…
VC: To be honest, Delon scares me sometimes…Generally, I’d say that I’m less attached to Delon as I am to [Jean-Paul] Belmondo. There’s a generosity within him that Delon has never had. Is an actor who is constantly self-deprecating—because, really, Delon reveals very little—really an actor? I often make this joke with my castmates on set: “You a comedian or an actor?” That always makes people uncomfortable. But, really, what’s the difference? They’re basically synonymous.
Maybe a comedian (like Delon, for example) is virtuous whiles an actor has more substance…what about you?
VC: I’m always working! After some time, I realized that the moments when I feel most inspired is when I let myself dream—the moment when I’m about to fall into deep asleep but I’m still awake. It’s at that moment when I’m truly liberated and I freely contemplate what I want and what could happen.
RE: That’s the paradox of dreaming. When we’re awake, we don’t see anything but we can say it all. When we sleep, we see it all but we’re not conscious. Half-way between these extremes, we have dreams. Dreams are the negotiators between sleep and the real memories of days lived. Dreams are like genies standing between the self and the self-perception. The Holy Grail of narrators. That’s probably why writers are into drugs.
Find the rest of this conversation in Issue 59 of L’Officiel Hommes, available now on stands.