Cluzet’s Craft: ‘It’s Always About Your Body’

‘Intouchables’ star Francois Cluzet talks about acting and his latest film, ‘Turning Tide’

Cluzet’s Craft: 'It’s Always About Your Body'

PARIS – The lead in Guillaume Canet’s lauded thriller “Tell No One,” the highest-grossing French-language film in the U.S. in 2008, and the co-star of “The Intouchables,” which took $416.4 million worldwide, 60% outside France, Francois Cluzet is at least a recognized face if not exactly marquee name outside France. In “The Intouchables,” he played a quadriplegic. In Christophe Offenstein’s “Turning Tide,” Cluzet is a seadog faced, fleet-of-foot round-the-world solo yachtsman, who discovers a stowaway on board. At this weekend’s UniFrance Rendez-vous press junket, Cluzet sat, palms folded in lap, head largely down, and talked about “Turning Tide” and his acting craft. An extract:

How much of an athlete are you?

As a kid, when I dreamt of becoming an actor one day, I always thought it would be physical, so I’d fight at school to prepare for my coming career. But when I became an actor I was always offered roles of intellectuals or people who work with their heads and not their bodies, so it was the opposite. Coming from theater, I consider an actor is a body, and it’s always about your body, no matter what you’re supposed to act, even if it’s love at first sight, it doesn’t come from your brain, it comes from your gut. It starts from a chest and goes to the viewer’s chest, it’s not your head, no matter what emotion you’re supposed to act and provoke in your viewers. In “Turning Tide,” it’s all about running forward, running down, moving all the time. It was very physical. Just after “The Intouchables,” where I was a still body. It was gratifying to be given the role of an athlete even if in this sport rather than others there are not so many young guys, these guys are always in their 50s, and it’s less about being an athlete physically than about being very intuitive.

Then again, when the sail weighs 250 kilos and you have to pull it down to put it in the cabin, it’s very physical and you need to be in good condition. It was an interesting combination, it made me think about my approach to my craft. I read a book when I was young, ‘The Actor’s Anatomy’, about Italian comedy, which showed how everything was a matter of body, for example, if you want to be welcoming you should bend forward, or more reserved then step back. That was the approach that I used in this film.

“Turning Tide” is also about your physical and internal journey.

It’s about feeling, I think even If you’re in perfect health, your mind goes wrong. It’s all a question of feeling. I prefer the English verb “to act” rather than the French, jouer, “to play.” You’re not playing, you’re feeling…being sincere and true. When it’s about showing something organic, like desire, you can’t make it up mentally because you have been thinking about it. It’s only if you feel it, if it comes from your gut, that you can look in your partner’s eyes and say it and make it true. The truth comes from you.

Did you feel a fascination for the open sea?

I guess I did feel this fascination for the elements. Climbing Everest would have been more difficult but I would have felt similar to these guys in the middle of the ocean. But I wouldn’t do it again. I’m happy being busy. About this way of acting, I think it all comes from the body.

I remember another film, which was about an alcoholic. He wakes up in the middle of the night, opens his fridge, there’s a bottle of white wine, he drinks it. I saw it as a very emotional scene. On the shoot day, we had a lunch break but I didn’t go for lunch since digesting isn’t good for emotions. I was waiting for the emotion to come organically, but it didn’t. I had a very schizophrenic attitude, my head was addressing my body which is my instrument, telling it “the emotion’s not coming, so I’m not gonna fake it, it’s not going to be an emotional scene.” I went on the set, the d.p. was doing the lights, and I was just preparing myself, renouncing the emotion. I opened the fridge, saw the bottle, and burst into tears. Then I told the DP shot, shoot, because I didn’t know how long it was going to last, but it was there. You read the script, you know at some point your wife whom you love tells you she’s leaving you, and that day, April 12, you’ll have to feel something. You’re mentally ready but you leave your body open for what it’s going to feel that day. Maribeau said actors pretend pretending. You pretend, but you actually feel it.

 Even though you’re a veteran actor, are you still inspired or even influenced by colleagues?

I’m more of a theatergoer than a filmgoer. I like seeing actors throughout the length of a play. There’s no editing. I see how they pace themselves, acting through an hour-and-a half. There are actors I admire. Recently, I saw “The Game,” with Michael Douglas and Sean Penn. What’s interesting is Sean Penn always gave the impression that he was ahead of me and what I could perceive of him, he becomes the character. There are plenty of very good actors in France, but unfortunately many don’t work much, since the culture’s not developed enough in the country.

Your first love seems to be theater. Does cinema leave you enough time for that?

For 20 years, I did more theater than cinema. The stage is the kingdom of actors, the film set is the kingdom of the directors. But if you want to be famous, you have to do film.