Vincent Cassel on Black Swan, Movie Overkill and the Politics of Selling Out
One good, sprawling interview with an international cinema star deserves another, and so we return to Vincent Cassel. When the French actor spoke to Movieline over the summer about his two-part gangster epic Mesrine, he also commented a bit about a little "independent movie" he was doing with director Darren Aronofsky. Mere months later, Black Swan has captivated critics, festival audiences and not just a few Oscar voters ahead of this weekend's theatrical opening.
Swan features Cassel as Thomas Leroy, an demanding ballet director who takes a special interest in one of his prized dancers, Nina (Natalie Portman), casting her as the Swan Queen in his "stripped-down, visceral and real" interpretation of Swan Lake. The intense barrage of scenes that follows bends reality (not to mention genre) for both Nina and the viewer, culminating in a horror film as much as a classical ballet. Movieline spoke to Cassel about his role in Black Swan, his minor change of tune about the buzz for the film (not to mention his performance), when it's OK to take the money and run, and why movie writers should stop seeing so many movies.
I'm not sure Thomas always realizes some of the positions that he puts people in. Is it fair to classify him as a jerk?
Well, he's isn't very responsible for people's feelings, because he thinks what he's aiming for is more important. And I've noticed that the people that I've met in this business or otherwise, they're all like him. Look, this guy is 40-something -- he's my age -- he has this beautiful apartment, but there's nobody living with him. He has no kids. All he has is his art form, his passion. Because that's the only thing he has, he thinks that he's allowed to be very demanding with people. And that's how they are, most of the people that I've met in that particular industry.
So is he based on anyone in particular that you've come across?
My father was in A Chorus Line when I was a kid, and he was playing Zach. Zach was a character who's actually Thomas Leroy like. So I've seen a lot of rehearsals, of course. And I remember really well Mike Bennett was the actual director, and I guess that's the closest person I've seen to my character. He was really a manipulative -- same kind of guy.
Have you yourself ever emulated Thomas? Maybe taking something too far, professionally, that hurt people along the way?
A little bit, but like for stupid stuff. You know, sometimes you get a little hot on a set because you don't have time, or you don't know because you have new lines and you don't know how it's going to happen. And, suddenly, the people around you don't follow and they're slow and they're trying to hide stuff because they're not ready. And then, yeah, it did happen to me; I talked bad and people were upset. When things like that happen you're a little lost and you need help.
In August you spoke to us for a fairly comprehensive interview...:**
Yes, for Mesrine.
So... what's new?
[Laughs] Not much.
In that interview Black Swan was brought up and you said, "It's an independent movie, and I think those can be hard sells nowadays." Now we're here and it doesn't seem like a tough sell at all. Are you surprised with all of the buzz?
Well, I'm happy more than surprised. The thing is that the movie is more than what I thought it would be. It's much more accessible. I really thought we were aiming for a Roman Polanski type of film, like The Tenant -- a psychological thriller, maybe more in the vein of Pi. And there is a part like that, in the apartment with the mother and everything. But on the other hand, it's visually super-rich. It's gorgeous, actually, with the CGI effects and everything. So the movie becomes like a real horror film and people get scared, and that's not a hard sell. That's what people like.
I'm glad you said "horror film" because after I walked out, that's how I would describe it. It's one of the scariest films I've seen in awhile.
You're scared but it lures you back. It plays with you, but you can't take your eyes off of it because you don't know what's going to happen. It's good!
Your line in the film, "The was me seducing you, when it should be the other way around." Can you recommend that as a pick up line?
Well, you have to be very confident. It really depends... you can try? It's pretty risky.
But by the time we got to that scene, I didn't feel Thomas was interested in Nina sexually. There were all tests for her.
Oh, it's not about getting laid, of course. That's not what he's looking at. I don't really think he cares about that. If a woman can't get where he thinks she can go, he's not interested. Maybe at the end of the movie he would be able to fall in love with her, because she's as good as he thought.
You have this large body of pretty amazing work in France. Does it bother you that if you're recognized on the street in the U.S., someone's probably going to say, "Hey, you're the guy from Oceans 12"?
I'm really proud of Oceans 12. Of course, you do an Oceans movie, you get known all over the world. It's an incredibly powerful medium: It's a Hollywood-identified blockbuster. The cool thing about it is that it looks like it, but it's not. Because, at the end of the day, Soderbergh and Clooney and Brad Pitt and all of those guys, they're really close. And they're really having fun. It's almost like when you rob a bank, it's a... stick-up? Is it "stick-up"?
I'm not sure the expression. Anyway, they just came to rob the bank. They're having fun and they make crazy money, let's go. And they're not stupid, they're stylish. They don't take themselves seriously. So that's my only real experience with celebrity in Hollywood. For me it's people like Aronofsky, Cronenberg... it's really indie.
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