| P E O P L E |
Actor | Paris
Discovered at the age of 10 years old by film director Raúl Ruiz, celebrated French actor Melvil Poupaud is one of the hottest actors in France and has worked with generations of filmmakers. With an impressive list of film credits to his name, you will see him on the big screen this autumn in his role as a murderous priest in Mad Love (Fou d'amour), wheeling and dealing with the Bulgarian mafia in Face Down (Tête baissée), and appearing with Mélanie Laurent in the autobiographical film, By The Sea, directed by Angelina Jolie and starring her husband Brad Pitt. We catch up with the limit-pushing actor, who is an eternal traveller yet ultimately a Parisian at heart.
RV: You first started acting when you were a child, where you worked with director Raúl Ruiz. At what point did you realise that you wanted to be an actor, or that you had actually become one?
MP: I was always a bit scared to admit that I was an actor when I was a child, because I used to be convinced that it was all going to come to an end – that I was going to grow up and Ruiz wasn’t going to cast me any more because I was going to change physically. So I was always holding back, even though I loved filming and really enjoyed it because it was always such an amazing adventure. When I made The 15 Year Old Girl (La fille de quinze ans) by Doillon, everything changed. First of all, because he had a way of working that was totally different from Ruiz, with lots of takes, lots of work on the script and with the actors. Ruiz was more about the staging, he didn’t direct as much. With Doillon, I managed to find all of these emotions I hadn’t realised that I was capable of. I could see that he was pleased with me. I was 15, so that gave me some confidence. Then I was nominated for a César for that film, so it all became real. I also carried on working with Ruiz.
RV: How did you meet Ruiz?
MP: My mother was a press agent and only dealt with independent films. She had worked with him on his previous film. Raúl said that he’d seen me at a conference my mother had taken me to, and that everybody had fallen asleep apart from me, and that I was still listening to him. Then he asked me if I wanted to “go off in a boat to make a film about pirates?” Of course, I said yes!
RV: It feels as though you haven’t stopped making films over the last two years...
MP: I’ve always had periods of intense work followed by long breaks. After Xavier Dolan’s film, Laurence Anyways, I didn’t work for two years. Then all of a sudden, it all kicked off: a film in China with Charles de Meaux, Fidelio with Lucie Borleteau, and then four films in a row. It’s because I liked these films, they fit with my interests, and I’ve always liked making independent films. Now, there's a new generation of filmmakers such as Nicolas Pariser and Justine Triet. I’ve been in cinema for a long time, so now I tend to work with people who are making their first film and who are the same age as me. It’s like I’ve got a second wind. I’ve also become more confident in my abilities as an actor.
RV: When did that happen?
MP: It was thanks in no small part to Xavier Dolan and Laurence Anyways. Every ten years, I’ve been lucky enough to have had some noteworthy roles. When I was 10, it was with Ruiz; then at 20, it was with Rohmer; at 30, with François Ozon and also Desplechin, but in a secondary role. In Ozon’s film, Time to Leave (Le Temps Qui Reste), I died, so after filming it was a kind of rebirth. Then with Dolan when I was 40 years old, when I went into a whole other dimension by playing a woman. It was really demanding, that experience took a lot out of me.
RV: You've also had your fair share of American adventures. You’ve worked with the Wachowskis and more recently with Angelina Jolie...
MP: I was actually only on set with the Wachowskis for Speed Racer for a few days. The role was fun, even though the film was a flop. I think it’s a great film for kids. I let myself do things in America that I wouldn’t do here. If I was offered an action film, I’d do it. What’s difficult is that they ask you to film yourself, they call it “putting yourself on tape”, where you say the other person’s lines as well, in your bathroom – it’s crazy. It only worked once, with the Wachowskis actually. For Angelina Jolie’s film, it was Mélanie Laurent who recommended me, because they’re friends, and Mélanie and I have been friends for a long time too. I hadn’t met Angelina previously. She trusted Mélanie and asked her to choose a French actor to play her husband. I didn't have to do any screen tests. She took a risk, although she had seen
Laurence Anyways which she liked a lot.
RV: How was it working with Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt?
MP: They’re really nice, and they manage to keep things “simple” with their children buzzing around and all of the security guys. We had to film on a small island near Malta, although the film was set in the south of France, and there were bodyguards keeping an eye on the paparazzi who were dressed up in diving gear. Brad Pitt was also stalking them!
RV: You’ve also been making short films since you were a teenager. What’s the latest with your personal projects at the moment?
MP: I’m carrying on doing my own thing. I do a fair bit of drawing and photography. I try out lots of things, I put it in a big box and if someone asks me to, I’ll open it. I did an exhibition at the Emmanuel Perrotin gallery in 2003 and we released a DVD. It was at a time when I was meeting all of these contemporary artists, such as Pierre Huyghe and Philippe Parreno, who I’m really close to now. I’ve realised that film projects can also be showcased in galleries too.
RV: Which galleries do you like to go to?
MP: The best gallery in Paris is Air de Paris on Rue Louise Weiss, which is managed by Edouard Merino. The gallery has supported the Philippe Parreno and Carsten Höller generation. That’s the most stunning gallery for me.
RV: It’s funny, you were born in Paris and for many people you embody the Parisian spirit, yet you hardly ever make films in Paris. Why is that?
MP: First of all, I do love travelling. When I was very young, I had a complex about being seen as a Parisian by the film industry, about being what they defined as “germanopratin” [someone from Saint-Germain-des-Prés]. And for personal reasons, I felt like I needed to move away from the 5th arrondissement to have other experiences. Except, when I did that, I got a taste for it, and as soon as I was given the chance to make a film abroad, I jumped at the chance.
RV: You make music with your brother too, in a band called Black Minou...
MP: We’re doing a gig at the Bus Palladium on the 7th January, 2016. We’ve always made music together when our agendas allow us to – that is, when he’s not playing with Fédération Française de Funk (FFF) or Johnny Hallyday. We get together and make music, because it’s what we’ve always done. I started on the drums, then the guitar. We’re like little kids. Black Minou is all about live gigs, and we’ve been playing in Pigalle every Thursday for the last 3 years, in a bar called Le Lautrec.
RV: You now live in the 9th arrondissement in Paris. When did you decide to leave the Left Bank, your childhood home, and move over to the Right Bank?
MP: I’ve lived in lots of different places; a lot on the Left Bank, right at the bottom of the 14th. Then in the 18th, at my brother’s home, where I squatted for a long time. I’ve been living in the Right Bank for more than 15 years now. I like my neighbourhood, near the Place d'Anvers, even though it’s changing and gentrifying. The Avenue Trudaine is great, the light there is always fantastic; in winter as well as summer, it’s always changing. I love Montmartre too. I have a friend who has a restaurant there, La Bonne Franquette (18 rue Saint-Rustique, 75018), which I love. It’s really touristy, but that’s what I like about Montmartre; there are the tourists, but then there’s also a real community.
RV: Where do you like to go out in Paris?
MP: I used to go out a lot, but less so now. It depends if I’m seeing anyone (laughs). At one point, I was going out every night. But since Ruiz passed away, I’ve started reading. It’s like it has liberated me from something, it’s funny.
Interview: Romain Charbon
Photography: Philippe Levy
Interview first published in RedVisitor Magazine Issue Three - Purchase Now
M O R E I N T E R V I E W S . . .