After earning a reputation as Cedric Klapisch's muse in the mid '90s, Romain Duris shot to prominence across Europe after commanding performances in 2005's Russian Dolls and The Beat That My Heart Skipped. Now, however, his days as the poster boy of the French arthouse might well be over. Alongside Vanessa Paradis in the charming new rom-com Heartbreaker, the versatile Parisian actor looks set to take the mainstream by storm, unless he can help it, that is. Here LWLies chats to Duris about how he fell in love with acting and why popular cinema doesn't appeal to him.
LWLies: At what point did you realise that cinema was something that was important to your life?
Duris: No, I didn’t know if I wanted to do it like a job, but when I saw all the American comedies from the ’60s and ’50s with Cary Grant or James Stewart, Billy Wilder or Joseph Mankiewicz I was 15-years-old and I was very excited. I love this kind of cinema. But to be honest, no, I didn’t know if I wanted to do it as a job.
And what changed your mind?
It was by chance. It’s just because I met Cedric Klapisch, and when I met him I liked the way he was making movies so we shot my first movie – in English I don’t remember the title, I think it’s Good Old Daze – and that’s it. After, I mean, I like the job but when I did it before I didn’t know.
Even back then, from your first job, would you have called yourself an actor or do you think that’s a title you’ve had to earn?
Yes it’s later, later, when I did this movie called L’Auberge Espangole, in English it’s Pot Luck. When I did this movie I remember working on my character and he was not so close to me, and I had to do some research to understand the character and to create his own life with my imagination. At this moment I told myself, ‘Okay, that’s a real job. I am an actor.’ So it’s later, I mean, eight years ago I think.
Previously you've said you don’t like popular French films, only the Nouvelle Vague. How much of a shadow does that cast over you, knowing the history that you’ll be compared to? Is it intimidating?
No because I think the Nouvelle Vague inspired a lot of cinema. In New York, the directors from the ’70s were inspired by the Nouvelle Vague. So I think it’s big, you know, the way they were shooting movies – Godard or Truffaut – so big that now it’s a part of all cinema. It’s not 10 years ago, I mean, it’s 30 years ago. For me, it’s not intimidating, it’s a hope. Yes, it’s powerful. For me, it’s another way. I believe in the cinema. I like the way suddenly the cinema can change and can show another way of shooting. Maybe we are going to have another like that. I don’t know.
In England we struggle to explain what we mean by British film, but in France, the French seem to be really certain about the identity of French cinema. Why are the French so clear about that?
Maybe because there are a lot of productions in French. We have sometimes too much, you know? I don’t know the number but it’s incredible, like 300 movies per year. I don’t remember the right number. So I think in our spirit we have… My English, it’s difficult for me. My mind is not so clear, even in French.
To be clearer, it’s good that French cinema has a clear identity but perhaps it’s because it’s too insular and isolated, and maybe that’s a bad thing too.
Yes, it could be a bad thing because sometimes it’s too inward-looking, too closed. Often, the director forgets the audience and they want to shoot their life but what is interesting in their life, they forget the audience. We are the audience and we are supposed to be captivated or interested by what is happening. So that’s a bad thing about French cinema. Maybe it's because they want to do the Nouvelle Vague once again. It’s too inward-looking, there are too many films, too many movies and they are talking too much about their own life, not enough universal, you know?
When you’re playing a romantic character like Alex, how much does your preparation differ than if you were playing a gangster or a comic role like Moliere?
The most important thing is to trust – to have the faith in your character. So to have the faith in your character, for me it gives me a lot of freedom and inspiration. The most important thing in my work is to work enough to have faith in the characters. And after to feel free to create what I want with my spontaneity, you know, to feel free and to create in the moment. For this kind of movie it was very important to feel that. And it was not so easy because at the beginning I had a lot of doubt. I was like, ‘Wow, what is this kind of movie? What are we talking about? What is this? So it’s a work, a process with the script and what we want to change in the script, and a lot of discussion with the director, with Vanessa Paradis, we wanted to add some romantic, not just comedy but more romantic things in the movie so that’s the process.
Alex himself is an actor, and he almost forgets who he is in all those roles. Is that something you can relate to? Is it almost a risk of being an actor?
No, no. I never forget what is my life, you know? That’s why I don’t want to work too much because I know that before a movie and after a movie I need to be me. I need to see my friends, I need to see my life. I don’t want to hide behind this kind of world. It’s a special world, it’s a very strange world. So I need to find the simplicity.
Where do you find that simplicity?
It’s easy, you know? It’s just to live your life with your habits, in your town, and your friends it’s really simple. Have a beer somewhere and speak with the people you like and that’s it.
Of all genres, the romantic-comedy has some of the laziest and most clichéd work in the whole of cinema. Why do you think that is? And what is the secret to making a good one?
The writing is very important because, you know, the script says a lot of things. And after, I think, it is the cast. Find a good couple, a girl and a boy. We need to dream with them. But after, I don’t know why there is so much shit. I don’t know why. Maybe because the people who are making them are not making them for good reasons.
Do you think that what Alex does to Juliette is immoral?
This is the kind of thing that the writing saves in the movie. We don’t have the time to think, ‘Is it immoral or not?’ Yes, it’s partly immoral but it’s not a big deal. I think the writing and the style of the movie saves Alex.
How long did it take you to learn the Dirty Dancing routine and have you performed it since?
No, no, no. Maybe later. Maybe I should. I can’t answer you about the time. Many hours with Vanessa but I don’t remember because we were dancing on the set. Sometimes several times but I don’t remember. We loved to dance, with Vanessa, when you love something like that you are not, ‘Oh, it’s one hours, it’s two hours’. I don’t remember but, yes, it was a long process during the movie.