Alongside frequent collaborator Mathieu Kassovitz, Vincent Cassel emerged in the mid-1990s as one of France’s most arresting and exciting new actors. He has worked in films ranging from grim urban dramas to light romantic comedies. The son of celebrated actor Jean-Pierre Cassel, who made a career out of playing seductive bourgeois men, Cassel was born in Paris’ Montmartre district in 1966. At the age of 17 he went to circus school and spent the next few years generally avoiding acting, due in part to the fact that both his parents (his mother is a journalist) didn’t want him to go into the movie business. Cassel was eventually lured into films in 1991, when he landed a small role in Philippe de Broca’s "Les Clés du Paradis."
Two years later he appeared with Kassovitz in "Métisse," an urban romantic comedy that cast Cassel as Kassovitz’s older brother, a tough Jewish boxer. Cassel again stepped in front of the camera for Kassovitz in "La Haine" ("Hate") in which he played a rough-hewn Jewish kid roaming the mean streets of Paris in the company of two friends and a gun. The film was surprise international success, winning a Best Director Award for Kassovitz at Cannes and a number of French Césars. Cassel received Céar nominations for Best Actor and Most Promising Young Actor.
Cassel began popping up in such English language productions as Merchant-Ivory’s "Jefferson in Paris" and as the leading man in a number of French films, including "L’Appartement," a romantic comedy in which he starred alongside Romane Bohringer, Jean-Philippe Ecoffey and Monica Bellucci. Cassel and Bellucci would continue to collaborate onscreen (in such films as "Come Mi Vuoi") and off, marrying in the late 1990s.
He also appeared in "Elizabeth" in which he played the mincing Duc d’Anjou and Jez Butterworth’s "Birthday Girl," a romantic drama opposite Ben Chaplin and Nicole Kidman. His latest film is the tough but uncompromisingly stunning Irreversible, again starring opposite wife Belluci in this powerful revenge drama shown in reverse order.
PAUL FISCHER caught up with Vincent in Los Angeles.
Paul Fischer: Did You Feel Ridiculous At All In Your Search For The Rectum?
CASSEL: You mean because of the name of the club? I thought that it was a comic relief in the middle of the nightmare. I always thought that it was funny, and it was just fantasy in the middle of a very serious movie.
P.F: How Do You Explore That Rage As An Actor?
CASSEL: It’s not very difficult, I have to say, maybe just because I’m a little angry in life.
CASSEL: A lot of things, but I think it’s just my nature, I would say. I’ve always comfortable with this kind of part.
P.F: Why Is That?
CASSEL: [Laughs] I don’t know. I should present you with my mother and father.
P.F: Do You Think That Philippe Destroys Everything?
CASSEL: I think that it’s a very bleak and very dark statement, but I think that in the particular case of this movie, it’s provocative, and it’s a way to push the audience to realize what they have before it’s too late. I don’t take it as a truth in itself. I think that it’s more of a way to provoke people.
P.F: What Made You Want To Do This Movie?
CASSEL: Gaspar Noe, first of all. I knew his work and I’ve known him for a long time, and I’ve seen both of his movies. The first that was a mid length movie, and the other one was a feature and I always looked up to him as, lets say, one of the most talented directors in France. I thought that he was a very pure kind of director. He doesn’t do it for fame, he doesn’t do it for money. He does it for the sake of art. I really wanted to work with him, and I was sure that I didn’t like to work actors because that maybe I had done a few movies before that and some of them were a success in Europe and I was really too glamorous for him, especially with Monica and he actually wanted to use that.
P.F: What are your feelings about the movie?
CASSEL: I actually love the movie because I think that the movie has such a subversive attitude. I’m really proud of it, but as a character and as an actor, I do like this.
P.F: Why Do You Think That This Movie Is So Brutal, And Why Are People Flocking To See This Movie?
CASSEL: Because a lot of people want to see it, it’s true. I don’t know, I think that it’s a little curious. It’s like when you look down the street and there’s an accident, you don’t want to watch, but you do. So, this movie is an accident [Laughs].
P.F: Can you talk about the scene in the bedroom, when you brutalized your wife and your reaction the first time you saw that scene?
CASSEL: First of all, I can tell you that I’ve seen the movie twice, and I don’t want to see it again, maybe in a few years, but right now, I’m not in a hurry. The first time that I saw the scene, the rape scene, I wanted to be on the set, but she didn’t want me to be on the set because she told that it would be too tough for the actor. How nice. So, I just went to the South of France to surf for a few days while she was being rapped. I knew the guy because he’s actually a European kickboxing champion and I knew the guy before he was acting because I’ve seen a lot of his fights. The floor was made out of rubber, he was controlling everything that he did, no one got hurt and so, I was cool with that.
P.F: What about when you see her being taken to the ambulance, was your reaction that of an actor?
CASSEL: Honestly, yes, it was as an actor because to make a movie is so different than watching a movie. My concern that night was that because it’s all improv and because everything was building up on the set, because it was an emotional scene and I had to do it twenty times in a row, actually, from the fifth to the twentieth take, I was angry at Gaspar more than anything else especially because he was asking me to be so emotional, but the camera was on my back and no one would see what I was doing as an actor. I’m sorry to deceive you, but I was going like this [fake crying], but it was enough for the scene to work.
P.F: Have you ever tried to get revenge in your life?
CASSEL: Have I tried to get revenge in my life, yes, I did.
P.F: What was it?
CASSEL: I’m not going to tell you the story of my life, but sometime, I did, and it’s not the best thing that I did. When I resent something, I try to?ÄI don’t think that it’s the solution to anything.
P.F: Overall, what was this experience like, and would you do it again?
CASSEL: It was an incredible experience and I would do it again tomorrow. It was quick, it was eight weeks which is kind of quick, but I think that because it was all improvised, it was really improvised, the lines, the length of the scene, how it would go on the set and everything. It was very tiring just because, and I learned something on this movie that when you work like that, you cannot do the same thing twice, it doesn’t work. It’s not as interesting. So, you do something, you’re surprised at what you did and if you try to do it again, recycle it in the next take, it doesn’t work as well. So, you have to come up with something new. So, you have to be very awake all the time. That’s what, I think, is so tiring.
P.F:How Does The European Media Treat Your Marriage?
CASSEL: Oh, well you know, all European media is not the same. I’m sure that like in England, they can be much more bothering than in France, for example. In Paris, it’s okay. We have very separate lives when we’re working, working wise. I think that it’s fine.
P.F: So, there was no script for this?
CASSEL: Yeah, there was a script, but there was no dialogue. It was just, ‘They get into the club, they’re looking for the guy,’ that’s one scene. That’s a script.
P.F: What was the challenge as an actor with something like this?
CASSEL: The challenge, as an actor, is to make the scene interesting when you have nothing to lay on, I guess, and there were a lot of different challenges. I think that the main challenge in this movie was to blur the border between reality and fiction. At some point, when we’re at the party, I’m walk to the girl, Monica [Bellucci] is dancing with a girl and I start to do the French thing, and I go, ‘Hey, what’s your name,’ and she goes, ‘What’s yours,’ and I said, ‘Marcus, uh, Vincent,’ and he kept it. I think that’s a little detail, but I think that tells you a lot about what we were trying to do with this movie. We blurred everything, and apart from Albert [Dupontel], Monica and I, there were no actors in this movie.
Pimps are pimps, whores are whores, transvestites are transvestites, drugs are not drugs actually, it was lactose.
P.F: Do You Feel That You Can Relate To Your Character?
CASSEL: Can I relate to my character? Yes, I think that I can relate to my character in the sense that, as I was saying, if something like that happened to us, I mean, I don’t know how?ÄI mean, you don’t know, it’s so horrible if someone, to anyone, by the way, but I think that if someone does something like that to your wife, to your kid, if you had a chance to catch the guy, I know it’s wrong once again, but it’s better. Yeah, I think that there is something saying, I say the line, that revenge is a human right.Ý I don’t think that it’s a human right, but it’s a normal reaction.
P.F: Do you plan to work with your wife again?
CASSEL: Actually, we have to go back to France because we’re starting a movie next week. It’s the eighth movie that we did together. It’s about spies. It’s a very realistic movie about being a spy. Being a spy is not glamorous at all. If you really look at it, it’s really sad, it’s lonely, it’s very dangerous and it’s the opposite. I have one suit in the whole movie, and I have one gun, but I have a beautiful wife.
P.F:Do you learn new things every time that you work with Monica?
CASSEL: I started to make movies and wanted to be an actor because of the movies ??? in Italy in the sixties or in America in the seventies and I thought that those people working together over and over again, exploring what they had to do in common was very inspiring. So, I’ve always dreamed about this. So, to work with Monica, all those people, and Monica is not French, but she’s been around for a while now, but yeah, I like it. Honestly, I think that it’s a very nice way to make movies, you know. If you can make movies that you can go and eat with, it’s pretty cool.
IRREVERSIBLE OPENS IN LIMITED RELEASE ON FRIDAY