Daniel Auteuil: My two years in Belgium were magical

  • The actor is revelling in his experience of directing Pagnol’s trilogy
  • Constantly busy, he will appear on stage in the fall, and make a new film with Van Dormael in 2014
  • A film version of Amélie Nothomb’s Barbe-Bleue is also in the works

 

Nursing a strong espresso, a few hours before going to see Jaco Van Dormael’s Kiss and cry at the Théâtre du Rond-Point in Paris, Daniel Auteuil asks: “Are Belgians as attached to their royal family as the British? I was told that it was different.” Every time we meet the actor, he is always delighted to use as a sounding board for all things Belgian. This is, after all, an actor who lived in the kingdom for two years during the 1990s. And not for tax reasons, either.

 

These days, he divides his time between Paris, the south of France and Corsica, and is very excited to announce that he will soon be filming with his friend Jaco again in La fille de Dieu, a comic fantasy. Before their grand reunion in 2014, he will be kept busy by promotional duties for the first two movies of the Pagnol trilogy, Marius and Fanny, which he directs and stars in, and is currently working on the third instalment, César. Now 63, and happy with his new role of director which, he claims, boost his spirits, Auteuil appears reinvigorated, although he admits that age has caught up with him a little, giving him occasional knee pain.

 

As he derives pleasure from remaining as busy as possible, he will take to the Parisian stage

(Théâtre de Paris) in the fall with Richard Berry in Eric Assous’ Nos Femmes, and to the screen again in Philippe Claudel’s drama Avant l’hiver, with Kristin Scott Thomas. He has also been finalizing the cinema adaptation of a novel by Amélie Nothomb, Barbe-Bleue, and does not rule out the idea of adapting his own collection of short stories, Il a fait l’idiot à la chapelle.

 

Le Soir: Speaking of Belgium, when are you reuniting with Jaco van Dormael?

Daniel Auteuil: Soon! I’m first going to do my own film in April and May, and I’ll do Jaco’s film after that. During the summer, I think, as there are children involved. I play God. I’m very happy because working with Jaco again is a bit like making time stop. When I think back to the years I spent in Belgium, although my life hadn’t been going all that well, it was a magical time. Personally and professionally. I was honoured to live there. I met some amazing people. My daughter was born. I filmed The Eighth Day, a work that led us to Cannes, where Pascal Duquenne and I shared the Best Actor award. Life is made up of a series of waves that lift you up high and bring you back down again; in Belgium and with Jaco, that was truly a high. By getting back together with Jaco, I feel like the high from the wave is still there, that it’s not over yet. I don’t really have a reason to go and live in Belgium again, but I’d love to do it. It was a wonderful time. Aside from the memories I have, I also feel a real connection with the country.

 

You may be a fan of Belgium, but are you not also deeply attached to the south of France?

The Provence identity has been with me since birth. I’m a Mediterranean. I was born in Algiers, but I grew up in Avignon. Pagnol is an artist who belongs to us. He tells us who we are; his values are our values. When I come up to Paris, I miss the southern sun so much that I read

Pagnol and Genêt. And it’s due to Pagnol that my career took off, after I played the role of Ugolin [in Jean de Florette and Manon des Sources]. So I know what I’m talking about when I take on Pagnol.

 

Hence the impression you give of being completely at ease; you give off a sense of great freedom.

Thank you. Pagnol is my world. There’s no taboo or fear of taking over from a master because it’s totally reasonable and logical that things be passed on. I’m also at a moment in my life where I can be the one that passes stuff on. Yes, I do feel at ease with Pagnol. I freed myself from a lot of things when I directed The Well-Digger’s Daughter. It was a great success. And if I don’t feel comfortable in my own skin by now, I doubt that I’ll ever be!

 

Hitting your 60’s appears to have given you a new lease on life.

Yes, this new role of director does make me happy. I’ve adapted Barbe-Bleue, Amélie Nothomb’s novel. I’ve changed it a bit and renamed it Curieuse. I’m trying to get funding for it. I bought the book at the Gare de l’Est in Paris. I was heading for Luxembourg – I couldn’t put it down.

 

What do you get out of this ‘new’ job?

I feel like I’m flourishing, like it’s liberated me. I reveal myself in the way I express my viewpoint. Before, as an actor, I’d say yes, yes, yes. Now, as a director, I say no politely. I need to be true to myself. I have role models, like Sautet, Pialat, Haneke and Berri. They all had a certain rigor; they’d go all the way and produce their best.

 

Pagnol raises the question of fatherhood. As a father to three children, you seem more comfortable with this status, more so than César.

Yes, because I had very loving parents. I never felt like a lost child. There’s no burden, just an absence. My father was like César. He didn’t talk much but he loved me. Being loved by my parents like that gave me confidence. I think that everything I do is a way of continuing to speak to them, of maintaining a connection with them.

 

Interview by FABIENNE BRADFER

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