Vincent Lindon is no stranger to the Cannes Film Festival. The acclaimed French star won Best Actor for 2015’s “The Measure of a Man,” and returned over the next two years with “Rodin” and “At War.” So it should come as no great shock that Lindon is back in Competition for the first edition of Cannes since the festival’s cancellation last year.
Still, even Lindon’s most loyal followers may be surprised by the muscle mass on display in Julia Ducournau’s “Titane,” which lit up the festival at its halfway point with the most shocking conversation-starter on the Croisette. The movie finds Lindon playing Vincent, a firefighter who thinks his long-lost son has arrived home after going missing in childhood. The boy is actually serial killer Alexia (Agathe Rouselle), who undergoes a dramatic physical transformation to infiltrate Vincent’s home. With Alexia also harboring a fetish for cars, one of which inexplicably gets her knocked up, “Titane” evolves into a surreal and provocative meditation on gender dynamics and family bonds.
But Lindon’s character is a part of that, too. As Alexia soon discovers, the solitary man harbors an addiction to steroids, routinely injecting his beefy buttocks to keep his cartoonish physique intact. It’s a dramatic transformation for the usually unassuming actor, who turns 62 during this year’s festival, and wasn’t an easy feat for him to pull off. “Everything is more complicated when you are 62,” Lindon told IndieWire during an interview at this year’s festival. “The skin is not the same.”
Lindon spent two years getting in shape for the role, having accepted it when Ducournau brought it to his attention after “Raw,” her attention-getting 2016 breakout. “I am too old to transform my body in three months. I need to go slowly,” he said. “I would get up early in the morning, do my sports for Julia, and go shoot another movie. It was like one and a half hours every two days. I wasn’t like Roger Federer or something.” His diet shifted as well. “I did a lot of cardio, tried not to drink or eat too much French bread,” he said.
Lindon’s performance is a jarring contrast to the more grounded, morally conscience characters he’s known for. Vincent is a macho, domineering figure, eager to do whatever it takes to rekindle his bond with his lost son. That includes a slapstick moment that finds him attempting to amuse his son with a freewheeling, improvisatory dance as he blasts The Zombies’ “She’s Not There” and spins around, much to Alexia’s chagrin.
“If I’m very frank, I didn’t understand the scene when I read it and I didn’t understand it when I was shooting it,” Lindon said. “I never danced when I was young. When Julia told me to dance drunkenly in front of all these people, inside of me, I was dying.” His perspective has shifted since the Cannes premiere. “I’m starting to understand it now,” he said. “It’s about the relationship between parents and children. It’s two people who are completely lost. Because they come together, they find out they can be strong and go somewhere together. This is something we have known since Frank Capra’s movies, Raoul Walsh’s movies. Nothing’s new in cinema. It’s how you do it that’s new.”
Lindon said he initially met Ducournau through a friend who she was dating at the time, and the filmmaker brought the role to him under unexpected social circumstances. “One night about three and a half years ago, it was about two o’clock in the morning and after one or two glasses of red wine — when I say two, it’s maybe four — she told me, ‘Vincent, I’m writing my new script and the guy who will be the lead role must be you,’” Lindon said. “So the morning after, I attributed all of that to alcohol and assumed it was not possible. She said, ‘No, I’m really thinking about you and it’s very serious.’”
He accepted once he saw the script. “She told me that she needed me to lose the control and believe everything she told me,” Lindon said. “She said, ‘I’m a young director, you’re very famous and know the job, but please let me drive you.’ I said yes without any limits.” She told Lindon that she would only told explain to him why she wanted him for the performance after the shoot was finished. “She said that if I believed in it, everyone else could, too,” he said.
Lindon waxed poetic on the multiple interpretations of the movie’s themes. “This movie is very political,” he said. “It speaks about what it is to be a father, about losing children, about getting new children who are not your own. It’s about gender. Everybody says it’s a genre movie. No! It’s a movie about love!”
While “Titane” is only one of four movies directed by women at Cannes, Lindon declined to say whether he thought the festival could improve its programming strategy. “I did 25 movies with women directors,” he said. “It’s not a question for me. It’s so natural.”
Instead, he focused on pay equality. “Equality is compulsory. It’s obligatory. I can’t think of it any differently. It’s crazy to think of it any other way,” he said. “We have to pay women and men the same price. That’s the most important thing in the world.”
Lindon recently wrapped production on “Fire,” the next drama from French auteur Claire Denis, his third collaboration with the director. “I love her,” he said. “This film has a Virgina Woolf quality to it. “It’s a couple who are very, very in love. One day, my character goes out from jail and wants to find some work. My wife tells me to contact her old boyfriend, but when we met years before, I went to a dinner at their apartment, and she fell in love with me. Now I’m going to ask that guy to help me work. Because I’m going to see that guy, she’s going to fall in love with him again. She thinks she’s not in love with him anymore. Drama will start between us. I won’t tell you what happens from there, but it’s a very beautiful love story but made by Claire Denis, which is always something special.”
Neon releases “Titane” later this year.