I was fascinated by “Trance,” Danny Boyle’s smart, assaultive psychological thriller (Fox Searchlight, April 5), which resembles Darren Aronofsky’s darkly violent ballet drama “Black Swan,” also starring Vincent Cassel, or Steven Soderbergh’s nastily twisty “Side Effects,” which also pivots on a sexily manipulative femme fatale. Boyle won the Directing Oscar in 2008 for Best Picture winner “Slumdog
Millionaire”; his last film was 2010’s Oscar-nominated “127 Hours.” He
subsequently focused his efforts in London on a stage version of “Frankenstein”
and 2012’s opening ceremony for the London Olympics.
Boyle’s stylish thrill-ride breaks genre rules as it goes. At the center of the movie is an all-is-not-what-it-seems triangle between ruthless gangster Vincent Cassel, who at first tortures London fine-art auctioneer and amnesia victim James McAvoy to find out where he has stashed a stolen Goya painting, then hires a seductive hypno-therapist (Rosario Dawson) to ferret it out of him.
Cassel, 42, is a multi-lingual, second-generation French movie star (besides his native French, he speaks Italian, Russian, Portuguese, and English); his father was Jean-Pierre Cassel (whose last film was “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly”). The younger actor’s handsome, dangerous athleticism has served him well in diverse roles, many of them violent bad guys in action. You’ve seen
him in such intense French films as “La Haine,” “Brotherhood of the Wolf,” “Irreversible” (in which he co-starred with wife Monica Belluci) and his Cesar-winning role as the title gangster in Jean-Francois Richet’s sprawling period bio-epic “Mesrine,” as
well as Steven Soderbergh’s “Oceans 12” and “13” and David Cronenberg’s Russian gangster film “Eastern Promises” (he pops up in the sequel) and Freud vs. Jung drama “A Dangerous
Method.” (My last video interview with him is here.)
Check out our Q & A and the mindblowing red band trailer below.
AT: What was your view of Danny Boyle before you did the film?
VC: Danny Boyle came up with “Trainspotting” more or less when we came out with “La Haine,” and in France there was a comparison between both because they were both movies about a lost generation, they were cult generational movies. Since then I was always watching what Danny Boyle was doing, and always thought he was pretty daring to go from one style to another and try new things. So when he called, of course 50% of me was already willing to do the movie.
Then I read the script and I really liked it. It was surprising. From the beginning to end you couldn’t tell what was going to happen, and the characters were well-written enough to literally switch from one thing to another in the middle of the movie. And I really like the idea of the gangster who falls in love. I think it’s believable and makes a gangster look a little more normal.
AT: None of the characters are sympathetic but I was rooting for you as the character I liked best. I wanted you to live. I wanted you to get the girl.
VC: Frank, the way it’s written, is the closest character to the audience. He doesn’t lie.
AT: He’s the only one who seems accessible and normal that you trust.
VC: And his reaction, even when he becomes violent with Simon, it’s because this guy double-crossed him so his reaction is pretty…
AT: He tortures him to get the truth! When you got the script did you say anything about changes you would like?
VC: We had ten days, two weeks of rehearsal before we started to shoot, so
we just clarified a few little things here and there to tune up, to change for a question of credibility. We shut down a while ago because Danny had to stop because of the Olympics. So for a year the movie didn’t move, really.
We finished the movie and everybody went wherever. I came back after the summer to do a little retake, the end of the movie…
AT: When did you see the whole film?
VC: A month
ago. I kind of forgot what we did. The movie totally got me. I was
surprised and discovering things as they were going, so I really enjoyed
the movie for what it is.
AT: How many movies do we see that are this unpredictable?
When you are in the movie it’s very hard to be surprised by it, and the
fact you took so much time to complete it, even more so.
AT: How did you map out as you were shooting what was dream, what was real?
VC: When you read the script you know. The first time I read it, I saw that I was getting shot in the head on page 15 and thought, ‘I don’t think I’m gonna do this one.’ That’s the good thing about the movie is that it starts as a normal heist movie and becomes something totally different. The moment where you don’t know what is reality and what is a dream, that’s when the movie becomes so special.
As an audience you start to be careful: ‘Where am I going? Should I believe this or not?’ And this is all about who do you trust and who you don’t, as the audience and the characters, that’s how the characters are living their lives. The minute my character accepts that he is in love with this girl and decides to trust a girl that he likes because she’s as bad as he is, he knows that this is wrong. It’s foolish but at a certain point in relationships you have to accept to trust somebody, and because he accepts it that’s why he becomes sympathetic.
AT: I was smiling; you want them to get together. We are in a volatile time for the relationship between the sexes and this movie positions itself as a dialectic on that. It’s almost about men’s fear of women.
VC: I totally agree with you, but at the end of the day the movie is interesting in the sense that the female character is the strongest. And that’s why I really liked it. I see it at home with my wife and the kinds of scripts she receives sometimes: when you are beautiful, you have to be stupid.
AT: Unfortunately, that tends to be the rule.
VC: It’s to reassure yourself. If somebody’s beautiful, looks good, and on top of it is smart, you feel bad, you feel less. Suddenly to have chosen this actress (Rosario Dawson) in particular — she’s very daring, she goes for nudity.
AT: So do you.
VC: I’m a man, it’s different. I’ve done it before.
AT: I was very happy that everybody was nude. It was fine with me.
VC: Some people get aggressive about that.
AT: Your career is moving along nicely. You are a bankable global movie star. People can get movies made because you’re in them. I bet you get a lot of offers for what I call foreign sales genre films. Formula action films.
VC: As you’ve noticed, I don’t do them. So I don’t really pay attention to that aspect.
AT: Was ‘The Monk’ a better, smarter movie than others that you were offered?
VC: Yeah of course, if I did it. I really liked the novel when I was
younger. It was so different than what I did before and actually doing
it was more different than what I thought because the director didn’t
want me to do anything. If I would just move my eyes he would say, ‘Why
would you move your eyes?’ ‘I don’t know, it felt natural.’ ‘Don’t.’ It felt
terrible for one day and then I started to enjoy it and to find a
freedom inside that. So I was really happy to do that.
AT: So when a script hits you, what has to be there for you to want to do it?
VC: I don’t have any rules about choosing a movie. Most of the time I tend to say no because I know if you are shooting a movie you are going to spend time shooting and promoting. It’s a commitment, and you need to want to do it. I did one movie since I shot that one, “Beauty and the Beast.” I’m the beast, of course.
AT: Well, you start off as a handsome prince.
VC: I’m a prince, too. I do both in the movie. It’s going to be great.
AT: Revisionist or classical?
VC: It’s more classical. The original story. But it was a revolutionary story at first. It was a metaphor about the end of aristocracy. He’s a monster, he’s rich, it’s the end of his power and the bourgeois family, losing everything. It’s gonna be a family movie for everybody. There is going to be something Miyazaki about it.
AT: The beast is done with CG?
VC: It’s me in the costume but its a digital mask mixing my expression with the face of the beast, like Zoe Saldana in “Avatar.”
AT: When will it be finished?
VC: I think it’s gonna come out around Christmas.
AT: They shot “Kon-Tiki” in Norwegian and English and they have two versions and I wonder if they would consider doing something like that.
VC: We shot in French but there is always a possibility to dub it.
AT: So you’re working with Cronenberg again?
VC: Viggo [Mortensen] and David called me again, even though this one was really short, I couldn’t say no after ‘Eastern Promises.’
AT: Did you learn Russian for ‘Eastern Promises’?
VC: I learned Russian before, for “Birthday Girl.” I’d love to make a Russian movie. It will happen. I’d love to go to Russia.