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Film  |  Paris


Risk-taking, roguishly charismatic and simply electrifying on the screen, the multi-talented French film star Vincent Cassel has the power to captivate audiences every time with his vastly eclectic and multi-layered character portrayals.


As one of the most enigmatic contemporary film stars of our time, award-winning French actor Vincent Cassel has starred alongside the crème de la crème of the French and international film industry, notably Natalie Portman, George Clooney and Michael Fassbender, and has worked with top international film directors such as Darren Aronofsky, Steven Soderbergh and David Cronenberg. With rugged good looks, a devilish smile and a razor-sharp sense of wit, Vincent Cassel is described as a man of hidden depth who is disarmingly charismatic, often outspoken and a bundle of nervous energy.

Traversing the spectrum of film roles, Vincent Cassel is renowned for his ability to transform from a terrifying villain, to a roguishly handsome lover, or a gut-wrenchingly violent criminal from one successive film to the next. Whether playing the anarchic disciple of Sigmund Freud in A Dangerous Method, a controlling and lascivious artistic director in the award-winning Black Swan, or a limber jewel thief in Ocean’s Twelve and Ocean’s Thirteen, he brings passionate intensity, intellect and deep commitment to his performances. Drawn to dark and complex roles, he thrives in the challenge of playing real-life characters with conflicting personalities. He gained a grueling 10 kilograms for his role in Mesrine as notorious French gangster, Jacques Mesrine; he spent 2 months learning Russian for Eastern Promises, and he even perfected Austrian-accented English for A Dangerous Method

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In spite of this, Vincent Cassel defies the Hollywood star archetype by remaining out of the glare of the Hollywood spotlight. Born in Paris in September 1966 into an artistic household, his mother was a journalist and his father was French film actor, Jean-Pierre Cassel, otherwise known as “the French Fred Astaire”, who starred alongside screen legends such as Gene Kelly, Brigitte Bardot and Catherine Deneuve. Cassel spent his early childhood backstage in film sets and theatres, then became a rebel in his teenage years when he ran away from three boarding schools. Fleeing to New York when his parents divorced, he trained as a ballet dancer and circus performer, then launched his film career in the 1990s. Success arrived early with a César award nomination in 1995 for his breakthrough role as a troubled hoodlum growing up in the outskirts of Paris in Mathieu Kassovitz’s critically-acclaimed French film, La Haine

He then went on to star opposite the ravishingly beautiful Italian actress, Monica Bellucci—who later became his wife and the mother of their two daughters—in the moody L’Appartement (1996), and the highly controversial rape-revenge drama, Irréversible (2002), where incidentally he appears fully nude. He went on to win a César and other awards in 2008 for his gripping portrayal of notorious French gangster in the two-part French film series directed by Jean-Francois Richet, Mesrine, which set his trajectory to star status on an international scale. He worked with Bellucci on ten film projects during their relationship; the couple split amicably in late 2013.

As one of the industry’s most in-demand French actors, he has also been featured in a number of English-language films, including Ocean’s Twelve and Ocean’s ThirteenElizabethEastern Promises, and was also the voice of Monsieur Hood in Shrek. French film historian, Tim Palmer, describes Cassel as, “one of the most charismatic and idiosyncratic of all France’s contemporary stars, working in both popular and more intellectual modes of cinema, typically playing characters that veer unpredictably between positive/alluring and negative/grotesque—often, in fact, within a single role and performance”. 

In addition to his impressive film career, he also runs his own film production company, 120 Films, which produces film and music video projects in collaboration with cutting-edge young talent, such as Romain Gavras (the son of acclaimed Greek-born director, Costa Gavras). Cassel is also a trained ballet dancer, speaks multiple languages—including French, English, Italian, Portuguese—and can even throw down a serious capoeira challenge. With his sharp, yet understated sense of style, Vincent Cassel exudes a roguish charisma that landed him a campaign in 2008 as the face of Yves Saint Laurent’s men’s fragrance, La Nuit de l’Homme

Yet refreshingly, and despite his highly accomplished credentials, Vincent Cassel seems to shun the celebrity spotlight, where you could still walk past him on the street without really knowing it was him. His Black Swan director Darren Aronofsky claims that, “Vincent Cassel is just the freest of spirits. He has a dancer’s soul”.

With a raft of international film projects currently in production, he is currently filming Rien Ne Sert de Courir with Emmanuelle Bercot and director Maïwenn, and is also set to star in two-time Festival de Cannes award-winning director Matteo Garrone’s The Tale of Tales with Salma Hayek, which will start filming in Italy this summer. He also has several films in post-production, including Partisan directed by Ariel Kleiman, Daniel Espinosa’s Child 44, and Rio, Eu Te Amo (Rio, I Love You) directed by Fernando Meirelles. A global nomad travelling with his family between his homes in Paris’s eclectic Menilmontant neighbourhood, Rome, Rio de Janeiro and film sets all over the world, Vincent Cassel is nonetheless a quintessential Parisian at heart who makes sure to never sit still for too long.

Portrait: Kimberley McLoughlin
Photography: Marcel Hartmann

Portrait first published in RedVisitor Magazine: Issue One - Purchase Now

M O R E   I N T E R V I E W S  . . .