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Guillaume Canet

Guillaume Canet - "I have never considered myself as an actor"

By Marie Decreme

Guillaume Canet, 41 years old, has an image of a “Golden boy” in French cinema: handsome actor, successful director… His pretty face as made him one of the public’s favourites. But in Next time I’ll aim for the heart, Cedric Anger’s most recent film, he shows a darker face. The actor plays a gloomy, cold, disturbing character; a killer who happens to be a policeman. A true story, a real case, a complex and splendid role in which Guillaume Canet is terrifying. We met him last Thursday, a few hours before the premiere of his film in the UK, so that he could tell us, between two smiles that make his eyes crease, about this role that particularly affected him.

“The double and schizophrenic aspect of the character seduced me”

Cedric Anger’s thriller is faithfully based on traces with fidelity the “Oise killer”case: in the late seventies, for a few months, a policeman, Alain Lamare, tried to murder several female hitchhikers and killed one. With his squad, he was investigating his own crimes. Guillaume Canet, in the role of this violent, mentally ill military man, is astounding. “What was really attractive about this character was how we could show a serial killer but not like the ones we are used to seeing”, the actor tells. “He is a passionate, devoted policeman,  […] but his psychological disorder gets him to kill, even if that is terribly painful for him.”

Guillaume Canet in Next time I'll aim for the heart

This ambiguity is Guillaume Canet’s new signature style: looking for the dark side of his characters, like in In the name of my daughter. By getting into such a role, he is taking a risk, challenging himself. “I was really excited about going that direction, towards strong situations that are so far from my own nature.” To perform such a role, the actor explains that he had to “understand the character, […] admit and accept the fact that the guy has two sides, get into his pathology.” He immerses himself in him, to the point of thinking how to walk like him; “I am an instinctive actor, the attitude, the actions of my characters have to mean something. In the film, the movements seemed to be right and coherent”, he confides. That is also why he lost 6kg to look “colder, sharper” and concentrate his military side. Well, the result is staggering, the actor is unrecognisable, chilling… and becomes a serious competitor in the César awards race.

“I have never considered myself as an actor”

When he started in theatre in 1990, Guillaume Canet wanted to become a director: “I wanted to discover the world of the actors, see the way they worked because my dream was to make films”, he tells. But fast, his romantic lead face seduced the cameras, and he was acting alongside Di Caprio in The Beach: at the age of 27, he was posing, wearing a suit and sneakers, with the superstar of the moment.

Leonardo Di Caprio and Guillaume Canet in The Beach

After a few big roles with Sophie Marceau, Vincent Lindon or Gérard Lanvin, he directed in 2002 his first film, Whatever you say, in which he played with his wife at that time, Diane Kruger. The year after that, he shared the bill for the first time with Marion Cotillard in Love me if you dare. Their bond on screen is obvious, the two actors became real friends, and then formed a couple after he divorced Diane Kruger.

Guillaume Canet directed his second movie in 2006, Tell no one, a thriller with an extraordinary cast – François Cluzet, Kristin Scott-Thomas, André Dussollier – which offered him the César for best director. His career took off, he played many characters after that; tormented, romantic, funny or tough roles in which the actor seduces by his relevance. “The purest and most beautiful emotion is the one that gets to you. It is the one that you do not plan”, he explains. “When you are moved by a book, you have not planned it. Well, when we are shooting, it is the same, […], you have to let yourself be surprised.”

“I have this love for cinema”

He is said to be a passionate actor, a supercharged director. In 2010, he staged his best friends and girlfriend in Little white lies, which he describes as his most personal film. With more than five million cinema entries, it is a hit in France. Guillaume Canet alternates between acting great roles and directing great actors: “I have the freedom, the luck to be able to make these choices in my career, this ability to switch”, he recognises. And on both sides of the camera, he is completely in, implicated, perfectionist - just like his favourite actor, Daniel Day Lewis he says, reputed for his constant devotion to and research of his roles.  “I have this love for cinema because when you say ‘action’, you completely get yourself into the character”, he explains. That does not mean he does not like to “act the fool” on set, he tells: “That brings me energy!”

Guillaume Canet and Marion Cotillard for Little White Lies (©EuropaCorp Distribution)

It is true that he has some energy. In twenty-five years, Guillaume Canet has played about forty characters. With his group of friends, he is reigning on the French cinema. His next rendezvous? It will be with the British director Stephen Frears: he’ll play Lance Armstrong’s crazy doctor, in Icon, another role that promises to be full of depth and colour.


10/02/2015 - writers_reign said :

Guillaume Canet and partner Marion Cotillard are merely the latest manifestation of a phenomena that runs through French cinema like coloured thread through the Bayeux Tapestry, namely an unbroken succession of partners - married and/or un - who have collectively amassed a body of at worst above average, at best Classic films. We can trace it back to the Silent era and the marriage, in 1917, of Jacques Feyder and Francoise Rosay, active in the era with titles like Grabiche, who subsequently unleashed in the mid-thirties three outstanding titles in a row, Pension Mimosa, Le Grand Jeu and La Kermisse Heroique. With a nice regard for coincidence Danielle Darrieux was born the year Feyder and Rosay tied the knot. By the mid-thirties she was rapidly becoming one of the most popular female vedettes and in 1935 she not only starred in La Domino Vert but married her director Henri Decoin with whom she made a total of nine films - six during their marriage and three in the wake of their divorce. It would be foolish to claim 'classic' status for any of them but it is equally true to say that delightful confections like Battement du Coeur and Premier Rendez-vous can still enchant today. Just as Decoin/Darrieux overlapped Feyder/Rosay so they themselves were overlapped by husband and wife team Christian Jacque and Martine Carol. Although the films they made together - Nana, Madame DuBarry, Adorable Creatures - were largely 'costume' dramas designed to exploit Carol's voluptuous appeal they were hugely popular at the box office and separately both were capable of better things. The sadly underrated Carol was outstanding in La Ferme aux loups with Paul Meurisse and also, of course, played Lola Montez memorably for Max Ophuls whist Jacque directed a string of fine movies over two decades. So far the partnerships have comprised director/actress but in 1951 Yves Montand, still known largely as a singer despite a handful of films, married Simone Signoret and although they appeared together only sparingly - Le Sorciers de Salem, Compartiment tuers, L'Aveu, Police Python 357 - whilst married they made, individually, some of the most iconic films in French cinema. The end of the decade saw the emergence of the much hyped short lived Nouvelle Vague. Closely associated with it was Claude Chabrol who soon graduated to pre-Nouvelle Vague product, in many cases starring his wife Stephane Audran. Like Chabrol Alain Resnais (who passed away last year) was both associated briefly with the Nouvelle Vague and also turned to more mainstream fodder (no less than three adaptations of Alan Ayckbourn plays) and with a repertory company featuring his long-time partner Sabine Azema he turned out a string of both critical and popular successes, the last of which - his third and final Ayckbourn adaptation The Life of Riley - is being screened at the Southbank even as I write. The last two partnerships are still very much active; Agnes Jaoui and Jean-Pierre Bacri are slightly unique inasmuch as they are writer-actors with Jaoui donning a third hat, that of director with the Cesar-winning Le Gout des autres. Sadly they recently severed their long-standing domestic ties but continue to collaborate as writers-actors. The last couple are also very much active in fact only last year Robert Guideguian directed his wife Ariane Ascarides in a loving tribute to her as both actress and wife. Together they have enriched the French film industry time and again with such titles as La Ville est tranquille, Marie-Jo And Her Two Loves etc.
Two other superb actors Vincent Lindon and Sandrine Kiberlain are now separated though still married and though they have worked together their major contribution to French culture has been in films they made as individuals whilst married. Now Guillaume Canet and Marion Cotillard have taken up the baton and, if you have a taste for mixed metaphors, are carrying the torch to the back of the cave. Both outstanding talents - Cotillard was in fact robbed of a BAFTA only two days ago - they can only get better as time goes on and if at this particular moment it is difficult to see how they could respectively eclipse Tell No One and La Mome I for one believe they will accomplish this, possibly even working together.


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