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Capone's tough-guy status is clearly outmatched by MESRINE's resident badass Vincent Cassel!!!

Hey everyone. Capone in Chicago here. If you don't know who the great French actor Vincent Cassel is, then you need to get out of my face. First off, even from his earliest days, the man has been a stone-cold badass. Just check out LA HAINE, DOBERMANN, THE CRIMSON RIVERS, or BROTHERHOOD OF THE WOLF for proof. He's also married to the single most beautiful woman on the face of the earth (in my humble estimation), Monica Bellucci. The one thing many of Cassel's characters have in common is a sense of danger and impending (or actual) violence--BIRTHDAY GIRL, DERAILED, EASTERN PROMISES. But he counters that on occasion with interesting roles that show us something less nasty with films like ELIZABETH and THE MESSENGER. For years, when a Hugh Grant movie opened in France, Cassel was tapped to dub his dialogue. Stateside, Cassel (the son of the late French actor Jean-Pierre Cassel) is probably best known for an eclectic mix of roles, including playing Bellucci's avenging husband in IRREVERSIBLE (he opens the movie caving a man's head in with a fire extinguisher); as the Night Fox Francois Toulour in OCEAN'S TWELVE and THIRTEEN; and the fucking scariest man on the planet, Kirill, in David Cronenberg's EASTERN PROMISES (a role he will reprise in the recently announced sequel). Cassel will also be featured in two eagerly anticipated films--Darren Aronofsky's BLACK SWAN and his reunion with Cronenberg and Viggo Mortensen, A DANGEROUS METHOD. But the reason for our all-too-brief chat is the two part crime biopic MESRINE: KILLER INSTINCT and MESRINE: PUBLIC ENEMY #1, in which he plays Jacques Mesrine, one of the France's most notorious/beloved criminals and probably the first to ever use the media to further his reputation and fan base. Directed by Jean-François Richet (who made the quite good ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13 remake), the MESRINE films mark a real turning point for Cassel; he absolutely owns this character and he goes through the most radical physical transformations of his career to get the man's build correct. The film's are fantastic, violent, funny, sexy, and a disturbing statement about the French government and police force. Cassel may not be well known in America, but I think that is changing with each new film. He's one of the best actors in the world, and every time he pops up in something on this side of the pond, I want to see it. Enjoy my conversation with the great Vincent Cassel…
Vincent Cassel: Hello. Capone: Hello, Vincent. how are you? VC: I’m good. Thanks a lot. Ain’t it Cool? Capone: Yes, Ain’t It Cool News, exactly. VC: Alright! Capone: Have you heard of us? VC: Of course, are you kidding me? Capone: No, but that’s… VC: It’s the most important blog, cinema-wise, on the Internet. Capone: It's wonderful for you to say. I know we’ve been around the longest, so I guess that means something. VC: No, no, it's more than that. When I need to check information about movies, I go on your site all of the time. Capone: Wow, that’s great. Thank you. And I’ll return the compliment. I have been a very longtime admirer of your work, even before you started making English-language movies. VC: That’s why I’m going on your site. [Both Laugh] VC: Just kidding. Capone: It’s interesting, even just the statement that your character makes in this film “No one kills me until I say so,” there’s such a wonderful arrogance about that statement. VC: Can I tell you something about that line? That’s improvisation. Capone: Oh, wow. VC: Yes, it never said that in his life, actually, and the funny thing is that now it’s like in the trailer and it’s signed with his name and it’s just like something that came up in one take and it ended up being like a tagline. Capone: But I truly believe that that’s probably something he thought. I assume that’s why you said it. VC: I think that it really embodies the character. Capone: And there’s such a point of trying to make sure that everything in this movie is very accurate to the actual events and yet that line is made up, that’s really funny. VC: Well you know reality and movie making are different. You have to look real and sound real. If it is real or not is not really the point. Capone: And Americans probably aren’t going to know who this man is, but this is fairly recent history. You were alive when he was killed, right? VC: Of course. Capone: Do you have a memory of that day? How old were you? VC: Totally. I was 12, actually it was in my neighborhood, because I’m born and raised a walkable distance from where he was killed, and that night my brother came back--and he’s three years younger, he was nine--and he came back from school and the soccer field. He said, “We were coming back from the soccer field with the class and we had to jump and lay on the floor and we heard gunshots. They killed a very famous gangster in the street.” We turned on the TV and we saw the body of Jacques Mesrine exposed prime time at the newsbreak. It was a really violent statement. Actually, I never forgot that image of the bloody body on TV, and that’s really when I became aware of who Jacques Mesrine was. Capone: Do you now have an opinion about that moment, that glorification of his death on television and by the police? VC: Well, I don’t think they really wanted to glorify it when they showed it. It was more like a statement saying, “This guy has been making fun of the government for so long, and look how it ends.” It was more like this. The funny thing is they thought it would terminate the Mesrine legend. That’s actually when it started really, you know? Capone: Did it make him a martyr? VC: It’s actually true, because when you think about it none of the crimes or murders he’s been accused of have been proven till today. So when you really look at it, this guy has been executed in the street without proof and without a trial, even though nobody was sure of what he did. It’s terrible. It means a lot. The truth is that he died because he used the media too much, and he was making fun of the government and at the time they just couldn’t afford it. They had to terminate him, because they were looking ridiculous. That, I think, is a an interesting point, because a lot of real murderers are not literally executed like this, actually they are still in jail and eventually will be able to get out of it, but to turn the government into ridicule is just something you cannot do. Capone: That sort of folk hero status that he had, it usually is reserved for criminals who give something back to the public. VC: And he never did. Capone: He didn’t do that, so it’s even more curious. But then you’re right, he did become more of almost a celebrity than anything else. VC: Plus he really used the media and that was very new at the time. None of the gangsters that were before him ever did that. He was the first one. He was on the cover of "Paris Match" magazine. He was the favorite celebrity of the French people in '78, the year before he died. It means a lot. He was taking up too much space, I guess. [Both Laugh] Capone: Maybe so. Let’s talk a little bit about your director, because I know you have been going back and forth on playing this part for several years. Was there something about Jean-François [Richet]’s vision of these two films that made you feel like you could come back to this character and really work with him? VC: Well I knew Jean-François for a long time, because actually my brother, who is a rapper, wrote the music for his first feature. So that’s how we met, like literally like 20 years ago. The thing is that the first team we had on this thing was seeing the character too much as a hero, and the bad guys would have been the cops. I couldn’t relate to that and I couldn’t see the point of making a movie about this guy and saying “He was a great man,” you know? The idea of Jean-François was actually to, through the life of a very normal character, to take a snapshot of France in that period. I think that was much more interesting, not to hide anything about the character. When he’s racist, he’s racist. When he’s violent to women, he’s violent to women. When he kills people, he kills people. When he’s too violent and he wants to take revenge on a journalist, we show it and it’s horrible, and it’s not a likable character, but all together I think by the end of the two movies, you will root for him in a very weird way you know. That’s the kind of magic he did while he was alive and that was the challenge, to recreate that magic trick on an audience with the two movies. Capone: Was there anything that you personally admired about him and his style? VC: Well, he was definitely very brave and he was a man of honor, meaning that when he gave his word as you saw in the movie when he comes back to free the other inmates in Canada, the guy is ready to die for his word, and that’s very rare actually. So I think you have to admire that, but then on the other hand I don’t think I would have like him as a friend, because this guy was totally nuts. Capone: I love both the physical and the mental transformation that you make with him from this sort of common thug to almost a super villain after the jailbreak, and then when he pulls that double bank robbery--I almost didn’t believe that that happened and yet I know that it did. It all adds to the mythos. On top of that, it looks like you gained a lot of weight for this. VC: Yes, I did. Capone: How fast did you have to gain that? VC: Well it took me almost three months to gain it, and then I lost it slowly because we shot the movie backwards, so I could lose it while we were shooting, because it’s impossible to gain weight on set. You don’t have enough sleep, you don’t eat properly and you are stressed out, so I have a tendency to lose weight when I’m in that state of mind. So we just decided to shoot the movie backwards, so I could gain the weight and then loose it. That was the only way, honestly. Capone: I also love in the first film those scenes with Gerard Depardieu. They are some of my favorites. Was there a sense of passing the torch or was he a hero of yours? VC: Oh totally. Gerard is definitely one of the greatest in French cinema today, and as a young actor, he was my favorite. I loved 1900. I love all the [Maurice] Pialat movies. He was wild. He was unpredictable. He was totally escaping all of the rules of this business, and that’s what I really liked about him--he was totally wild and unpredictable. So I really related to him and we had a bunch of opportunities to work together in the past, but I always said no, because I thought that the movies were not good enough and I wanted to meet him on something where I could really have a proper duel with him, and suddenly this movie was the perfect occasion for us to work together, but he’s somebody I really admire a lot. Capone: Those scenes did seem like great iconic moments where these two actors who are very much of their generation are doing something really wonderful together. VC: Exactly. Honestly, I think I know who Gerard Depardieu is, but I love him. [laughs] Capone: I’m always fascinated by the English-speaking roles that you have taken, because you've never seemed interested in being coerced by Hollywood. And yet, you have made some fascinating film's with English-language productions over the years. VC: For me, it’s important to make movies with personality, so David Cronenberg, Darren Aronofsky, Steven Soderbergh, of course. Then just to end up in some movie directed by some maker, no, I honestly don’t have time for that. I mean, life is too short, and I’d rather work on smaller movies that eventually would fill me up with something. Capone: I wanted to ask you about the OCEANS movies, because I remember in the first one that you were in that I was really surprised to see you. I didn’t know you were in it and I thought Wow, this is the most mainstream American thing that you had ever done, and I’m wondering why you chose to do that. VC: I think Steven Soderbergh is actually a very interesting director and, yes, even though it looks like a very Hollywood movie, it’s not really, actually. Steven Soderbergh is a very particular director in the Hollywood world; he does more or less what he wants to. On a set like the OCEANS movie, he does everything. He’s producing, he’s directing, he’s the DP, he’s filming with the camera, he wrote the script, so it’s the most like an auteur movie in terms of the kind of freedom he has. He knows many of his cast on those films like forever, and I can tell you that he really gave me a lot of freedom in that thing, in particular, up to the point where that scene with the laser beams and where I have to dance my way to get the egg. It wasn’t written like that at all. It’s actually because I was reading the script while I was in Brazil and when I saw that acrobatic possibility, you know, I thought about [the Afro-Brazilian performance art] capoeria, because I’m a big fan of Brazil, and I’ve spent a lot of time over there, and I said “Have you heard about that?” He said, “No” and I started showing him the moves in the hotel room, and he just bought it. From that point, he really let me choreograph that scene and he just would ask me to show him and then he’d put his camera to film it, but he never asked me to change anything for it. Capone: That's a beautiful scenes. You mentioned Aronofsky, and I know you’ve got BLACK SWAN coming out. Can you tell me what your role is in that film? VC: Well you know [George] Balanchine? Capone: Yes. VC: Literally, I’m a modern Balanchine. I’m the director of the New York City Ballet, I’m a great choreographer, and I’m not gay. [laughs] Just like Balanchine was, you know, and actually I’m a man who uses his sexuality to direct my dancers, especially female ones, of course. So I get into a relationship with the character that Natalie Portman is portraying, and I guess sometimes it’s a little bit too much pressure, and she just kind of loses it at some point. Capone: All right, and also you are back with Cronenberg and Viggo Mortensen again, which is also very exciting. VC: And Michael Fassbender. Capone: Yes. I know it’s about Freud and Carl Jung, but I know you are not playing either one of those, who are you playing? VC: No, no I’m actually the spiritual son of Freud, but I’m a sick person, too. Capone: Was this guy a real person? VC: Oh yeah, this guy was called Otto Gross. He actually really existed. He was a psychologist, too. Capone: I’m always excited when Cronenberg has something new coming out. VC: Of course. Me too. Capone: Well Vincent, thank you so much for taking the time to talk. VC: You’re welcome. Capone: I love the MESRINE movies. Thanks a lot. VC: Thanks a lot. Bye bye.
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