During the London Film Festival last year, Obsessed with Film was invited to interview Vincent Cassel about his role as Thomas Leroy, an obsessive and demanding ballet director, in Darren Aronofskys probable Oscar contender Black Swan. The interview was conducted at a round-table with other journalists and below is the majority of the transcript taken from that twenty minute session with the mercurial French actor, famous for roles in such films as Eastern Promises, La Haine and Mesrine. Q: Any feedback from people in ballet on your character?
VC: Up to now especially from Benjamin Millepied who is the choreographer of the movie and part of that was like really becoming a star of the ballet world. What Benjamin manages to do is be a dancer for the NYC Ballet and for the opera in Paris, which is not usually possible, and plus he directs plays in both of those places so his take on it was very important. And when he saw the movie he said no problem, youre very believable and I said I copied you.Q: Have you wanted to work with Darren Aronofsky for some time and how did you find working with him?
I never think in that sense that Ive got to work with Darren Aronofsky, but what I can tell you is that the first time I saw him I was very interested because I thought he was very European first of all and even though I didnt understand the story I loved it. Its true! I cant tell you what its about really. I kind of forgot. But I remember that there was this grainy thing about it that was kind of lost with Requiem for a Dream but it came back with The Wrestler and its present again in this one. He has a style visually and in terms of what he likes to talk about: the perversion; the control all these things. I never thought oh Ive got to work with him but when he called I was very happy. Then about his technical work, hes actually pretty simple to work with. Hes pretty demanding in the sense that he does a lot of takes, but usually when he comes and talks to you he doesnt you know because some directors when the come over and talk you just are waiting for them to stop because its very mental what they come up with and it doesnt really help. When he comes up its always with something short and pretty clear. Hes asking for pretty understandable things. Why dont you try to do it like hes a gangster? or, you know? And hes the kind of director that will eventually call you on a Sunday and say were doing a production meeting for the set and were going to talk about your apartment. Can you stop by the production office so we can choose your furniture?!Q: Is he an obsessive?
Hes very precise. He gives you a great sense of freedom where you can really come up with stuff, but then you can see that its not like he takes ideas because they look good . If he likes something he will see how it can fit and eventually let you go with it, but it seems like its not just instinctive.Q: Did you base Thomas on anybody?
Its not one person but its a bunch of people that Ive met or read about. I would say Michael Bennett who is a director a huge Broadway director and choreographer. He died and he was my step-father actually, so I really had a chance to see him work and watch rehearsals with the dancers. Then Benjamin was a good example for me to observe. Then Balanchine because thats more or less the only name that Darren told me about, that he would be a modern kind of Balanchine. So I went and tried to understand why and I did understand: he was known for having affairs with the dancers all the time and he was one of the only straight choreographers in the ballet world in those times.Q: Was the ballet world something you were familiar with beforehand?
Yes, my father was dancing a lot, he has been part of shows as an actor and a dancer. Then my stepfather, as I was telling you, so I ended up dancing too for like seven years on a daily basis in a very serious way. Not to be a dancer, I never dreamed of being a ballet dancer, but I would take Ballet as a compliment because I thought actors should know how to move actually I thought actors should know how to do everything! So I started by trying to learn everything and physical stuff was something I was attracted to because I felt comfortable with it, because I grew up in that environment I guess.Q: Was it inevitable that you would become an actor?
I dont remember wanting to do anything else really so yeah, I guess it was. But my brother is a rapper, so I couldve done that! Because I dance, because my brother is a rapper, because I hang out with musicians I am very attracted by music actually so all together Im going to end up doing a musical I guess!Q: What about the darker side of Thomas personality?
The darker side?Q: Well you could call it darker or slightly more complicated
Human!Q: that he has these relationships with ballerinas. Did you see that as him just seducing these women for the sake of the art?
I dont think its about getting laid, honestly. Lets put it this way: this guy is my age, more or less I guess. He lives in that huge apartment, which he seems to be living in by himself. He has no kids, so I guess by the end of the day the only thing he has really is his art form, which I guess is why he is so demanding with it. Im sure he dies to fall in love and have a real story with somebody, but I dont think hes capable of falling in love with somebody he doesnt admire or somebody that doesnt fascinate him, so guess its something to do with the process. Its not really a dark side. Ive met people like that, its like when they are so dedicated to what they do because its the only thing they have they think its normal to be a jerk that they have a right to be rough on the others.Q: Have you worked with people like that?
I did.Q: Writers, actors, directors?
A few directors. Very few because now I can feel it and I run the other way!Q: How do you work with someone like that?
Nowadays I wouldnt anymore because Im a grown-up. Once you know that you can get to the same point without the suffering: why get involved? I worked with Gérard Depardieu I love Gérard Depardieu, I have a great deal of admiration for this man but at the same time he is an animal. He is instinctive. If he feels he can do it he will, whatever it is. Because hes like a kid too, so if he feels he can pick on you then hes going to end up sitting on your head. So what do you do in front of somebody like this? Youve got to put up a wall and create a distance, but the same time I wanted to be friends and so its all about how you play around. If you had a scene with a panther, youd have to work your way so it works and appears as it should on camera, but try not to be eaten by the end of the day so thats a day of shooting I guess!Q: Black Swan is pretty solidly intense. When Aronofsky shouted cut at the end of a scene was it still an intense set, or could you easily slip out of character and chat with the other actors?
What Natalie had to do in this movie was very demanding, because I think she took a year of intense training in ballet and she danced years ago so to get back to it is very hard and then between the takes she was going back to the bar and stretching again, keeping warm (because otherwise you hurt yourself). So day after day I couldnt really interfere. She was so focussed I didnt want to I knew she had things to do. But then with Mila , who is like the cool girl of the movie, there are no problems getting out of character. Its not something you carry. I think what Natalie must have carried away every night was the pain.Q: But you didnt have to carry that yourself? Are you quite easily able to slip out of character?
I always do. Im a non-suffering actor!Q: Even when you did Mesrine which was quite physically demanding?
I would throw up in the morning, because I was eating too much and it was wrong and it was going against nature. I shouldnt say this, but for me to be on the set is like a party really. Im happy to be there.Q: Youve been in a lot of American films and European films. Do you find it easy to negotiate between Hollywood and your European film career?
Well its not something I really negotiate. I do what comes up and what is interesting. But its not something I really plan. It happens because of the choices you make and you try to keep up a certain level of quality which doesnt always go with box office but since the beginning I have tried to be very careful not to do something very stupid. To always try to find things that makes sense to my if not career than path, you know? So it looks like I like edgy, dark things!Q: Is A Dangerous Method the next thing well see you in?
I dont know if its the next because I have a bunch of other stuff that might come out here in England too. I have one called Our Day Will Come by a young director and I know its been bought by an English distributor so that might come out. Then I have one that has something to do with England, its called The Monk, you know the Gothic novel from Lewis? We shot that in Spain and its going to be in French sorry guys! But I think the essence of the book is in it still. Then I guess A Dangerous Method.Q: That seems like a similarly intense film as well.
I think its going to be fun too. You see, the movie is about Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung and their relationship when they were pioneers of psychotherapy and they were crazy. They were on drugs. They were experiencing what they were talking about with sex sometimes, or with a relationship with a patient. Its really serious but its pretty wild too.Q: What was it like working with David Cronenberg again?
It was very nice again! I was very touched and flattered when he called me the first time, but the second time, its like I really though I was there.Q: Is Eastern Promises 2 happening?
Hopefully. It doesnt really depend on me actually. If its happening then Im dying to do it because of David and because of Viggo , we really got along very well. The script is very good, but you never know whats going to happen. I know that David wants to do something else before, so if it happens itll be in a year or two.Q: Whats it like working with Viggo Mortensen? Is there any competition about how far you can push each other?
Let me tell you something: its impossible to have a competition with Viggo Mortensen because hes not on that vibe, you know? And neither am I. No, no, when you work with Viggo its very warm. You get presents all the time and there is no competition on the set. Its not like Black Swan.Q: How does David compare to Darren?
Strangely I think they have things in common. I dont quite know what it is. A fascination for the body horror material and maybe he likes the same subject matter once and a while. And David is not actually American at all, hes Canadian. And Darren is not really American, hes from Brooklyn! And they both have a European quality to what they do. A dark European quality.Q: Your character is so absorbed in the ballet world, but how do you sit within the acting world? Are most of your friends actors and directors?
No, but some are. What is the question exactly?Q: Do you take an interest in the world outside of acting and film in general
Well I have more interest in the world outside of films than films. I dont watch a lot of movies anymore actually. I wish I could but I dont. You have kids, you have life, there are so many things. Id rather watch documentaries or the news than movies after a certain point because once you become what you do you are dead. So if you keep on shooting movies and then in your free time watch movies youll think thats what its all about. And I know its not. I still know its not all about movies. So yes: Im interested in the world.You can see Vincent Cassel alongside Natalie Portman, Mila Kunis and Winona Ryder in Black Swan from Friday. I caught the movie in Venice and you can read my review, HERE. Check back later this week for further interviews with Mila Kunis and director Darren Aronofsky.