If you’ve never seen a French film, you’re more likely to know him as the bad guy from Nicole Kidman’s Birthday Girl or last year’s Ocean’s 12, a tradition he continues in Derailed, the new Clive Owen-Jennifer Aniston thriller, in which Cassel plays Laroche, a thug who terrorizes and blackmails them when he learns of their affair.
ComingSoon.net talked to Monsieur Cassel about the movie and his career when he visited New York recently, and despite his bad-ass nature on screen, he’s actually quite friendly and pleasant in person.
CS: So I noticed that your name is on the poster for this one. Is this the first American movie that you got your name on the poster?
Vincent Cassel: Yeah, I’m getting there! I didn’t do much, but this is my third or fourth movie. I was in “Elizabeth,” “Ocean’s 12” and this one.
CS: How were you first approached to do this movie or how did you find about it?
Cassel: It was in a very classical way. I think somebody from Miramax called my agent and said that there’s a baddie part. I’m trying to get away from the French baddie, so I said “No.” [My agent] said I should check it out, so I read it, and I saw that there was a possibility of doing something a little different, but I didn’t know if the director was willing to go this way. We just talked, and we decided to do it together, because I had the opportunity, in a way, of doing two different characters in one.
Cassel: Well, it was a very straightforward bad guy, and that’s it. I wanted to have a more complex and strange approach to it, so the fact that he has this split personality thing going on. Altogether, the fact that I could make this a little more than what it was, I decided to do it. Even though when I was shooting the movie, I never regretted it, and now that I’ve seen it, I’m really happy to be in it.
CS: The first time you appear in the movie, it seems like you were trying to disguise your accent a bit. Was that a conscious decision to not be a French bad guy?
Cassel: The truth is that I worked on the accent, and I knew that there was something to be done between the thug and the charming guy in the living room. I never thought I would be able to really make the audience believe that I was an American thug. That’s why I really wanted to add a few French words, so we know from the beginning that this guy is not pretending to be something else. I’d rather play with what I am then pretend to be something else.
CS: The movie certainly has some similarities to “Cape Fear” and Fatal Attraction”, and you’re sort of playing the Glenn Close and Robert De Niro role. Did you watch any of those movies before coming up with this character?
Cassel: I didn’t think about it while we were doing it, but I was watching “Fatal Attraction” on TV last night, because it was showing, and I thought that there is something in that kind of thriller.
CS: In one scene, Clive comes home and finds you talking to his wife (Melissa George). You played that a bit more over-the-top as a “wacky Frenchman.” Was that fun to do?
Cassel: I loved it. All those scenes where some people know what’s going on and some people in the scene don’t know, so it’s a pleasure, because just one look means so many things.
CS: Most people would be impressed when they hear you’re working with Jennifer Aniston. Since you’re married to Monica Bellucci, who many men think is the most beautiful woman in the world, I assume working with Jennifer isn’t such a big deal?
Cassel: No, I’m not like that. I would never say something like that, of course, but I don’t like making such a big deal about kissing and nudity and all that. I think it’s not what I like the best, because once you’ve got somebody in your life, you want to kiss everybody. I don’t make such a big deal about it. Being naked on the set for me, after a beer or two, I’m sure the crew feels more awkward. No, I think it’s more an audience kind of reflection, really. For myself, I was glad to work and have any scene with Jennifer, but it’s not like I was like “Oh my God! I’m going to be kissing Jennifer!”
CS: Actually, you have a couple difficult scenes in a hotel room with Jennifer Aniston and Clive Owen. How did you guys prepare for those scenes?
Cassel: We did talk a little bit, but for myself, I’m not an actor that talks a lot about what’s going to happen. It’s like I think it’s very much about if everybody’s doing the same movie and we talk before starting the movie, it’s very much about instinct and letting yourself go in a way. Those scenes, they are difficult because there’s a lot of different camera angles and it took a long time. I always want to say that acting is not difficult, even those kinds of scenes. I think it’s much harder to have a long dialogue scene than an action scene. An action scene is long, but it’s not really hard. It’s kind of boring really. It looks good at the end, but to shoot it, it’s not the most exciting thing.
Cassel: No, I didn’t really enjoy that. I was aware that it must have been really hard for him to be coming back on set and have blood put on his face and to be kicked once again. Even though it’s just acting, day after day it can get a little depressing.
CS: Is it true that you have a martial arts background?
Cassel: No, not really. I have a physical background. It’s not like I’m a kung fu master, but my real training was dance school, and through that I move to this thing called Capruera that I used in “Ocean’s 12.” I can pretend that I can do a lot of things, but then, I don’t really master anything. I think it’s important for me.
CS: Can you talk about why you like playing the bad guy so much and are you worried about being typecast?
Cassel: Actually, you have to be careful coming to America if you’re a foreigner, because otherwise, you can really end up I’ve been called to do a bad Russian again or a bad this or bad that. I don’t mind playing the bad guy, as long as I have a choice. In France, I don’t have any problems doing a bad guy. I love it, I really do, but the only thing is that I don’t want to be caught in that, so I turn down more or less everything, and when I do accept the part of a bad guy, what I try to do is I always try to make it a little different and with a twist in it always. For example, I don’t think in “Ocean’s 12” this guy is really bad. I think he’s exactly like them but he’s the competition. He could be part of the gang, for example, and he might be one day, by the way.
CS: Is that going to happen in “Ocean’s 13”?
Cassel: (Smiles) You never know.
CS: What would you consider your status to be in France? Are you considered more like a Tom Cruise type of actor there?
Cassel: I don’t really know if there’s a way to compare, but I don’t think I’m perceived as a Tom Cruise of France. Of course, the industry is much smaller over there. What I think I’m perceived as in France is like I’m this leading man always doing strange movies, because most of the movies I did, like “Irreversible” or “Brotherhood of the Wolf” and a bunch of others, and even in France, they always come out as a particular movie, not like the typical French kind of movies that people know most of the time. I’m kind of an expensive outsider in France. Here, I don’t know. It’s like people who go to art houses know me for what I am, the others just think I’m the guy from “Ocean’s Twelve.”
CS: Do you use different sensibilities as an actor when you’re doing an American or a French film and is it hard to switch gears?
Cassel: Not really. It’s a different system around the making of the movie, you know, it’s like the production things and the publicist and the agent things going on. That’s a little different than in France, but when you’re on the set, between “action” and “cut”, it’s the same all over the world. Suddenly, it’s you and your skills.
CS: Are you comfortable enough with your English now that you don’t have to worry about your accent and can just deal with the acting part of it?
Cassel: I think it really depends on what kind of movie. For this one, the character’s French, and so that’s much easier because I don’t have to think about it. If I have to pretend to be anything else than French, then I know it’s work for me. It’s not that it scares me, but it’s work. I cannot just pop-up on the set and say “Okay, today I’m Italian!”
Cassel: “Death Instinct” and “Public Enemy Number 1” are two movies about Jacques Mesrine, the public enemy #1 in the ’70s, a very crazy character. It’s going to be two movies we’re going to shoot next summer. It’s going to be in English, but in France, it’s going to be a big thing. The thing is that the way it’s written is that even if you don’t know the character, it’s okay, because what it does is so over the top and incredible that I think it’s interesting for anybody. It’s a French director who did the American movie “Assault on Precinct 13”, Jean-Francois Richet, who I’ve known for years. The first movie he did was incredible. It was called “État des lieux.” My brother did the music, that’s why I was aware of it. I remember that, because it was about the suburbs of Paris, too. Before we shot “La Haine,” we saw that and said “Ah, somebody’s on the case.”
CS: Was it weird for you that they turned your movie “L’Appartement” into “Wicker Park”?
Cassel: They’re remaking another movie I did in France called “Read My Lips.” Anyway, I’d never redo a movie that I already did. I think it would be really boring.
CS: It must be somewhat flattering that some of the movies you did are finally being discovered by Hollywood.
Cassel: But you know what? Not really. I mean, I’m glad for the author and everything, but I think remakes–except if the original movie wasn’t good–is a letdown. You gotta remake a good script that has been ruined by the director, but if it’s been well done already, I don’t really see the point. It’s like “Scent of a Woman” when they remade it, I think it’s a shame, honestly. Even though I really love Al Pacino, it becomes a sweet movie, and the original is anything but sweet.
Derailed opens on Friday.