Laurent Lafitte: the charming villain of ‘See You Up There’
Laurent Lafitte sat down with Le Courrier Australien in Melbourne while in town for the Alliance Française French Film Festival this year. While he’s a touch less jovial (on the day of this interview) than his persona Lieutenant Henri d’Aulnay-Pradelle in Albert Dupontel’s See You Up There, the actor still exudes that magnetic charm we’ve come to adore in every role he plays…
In past interviews, you’ve said that film adaptations never work, unfortunately you’d already given Pierre Lemaître’s book a read before embarking on the film. What do you think it is that makes film adaptations struggle to hit the mark?
It’s tricky. What one feels when reading a book is so intimate and personal that the Director’s presentation of the story is so often quite distant from the reader’s original interpretation. It’s subjective. Also, the novel is so dense that it was inevitable certain elements of the story would have to be left out – but which? And how? In his work I think that Albert Dupontel has succeed in the feat of keeping the story’s DNA intact.
Have you ever been impressed by a novel to film adaptation before?
The Hours, directed by Stephen Daldry (written by Michael Cunningham) was undoubtedly a success. A few years ago, I was also pleasantly surprised by Kenneth Branagh’s Hamlet because there aren’t any other films that have connected with me so effortlessly. More common these days are stage adaptations: Luchino Visconti’s The Damned, or even Renoir’s The Rules of the Game (this is currently showing at La Comédie-Francaise with Laurent Lafitte).
How were you approached for the role of Aulnay-Pradelle?
I didn’t receive a copy of the script by post because Albert Dupontel was concerned about it being circulated. Even though everyone knew he was working on the adaptation, with a million copies of the book sold and Goncourt’s infamy…he was very wary of leaks. So, the project stayed top secret for a long time. I was invited to read the script, but had to do so in one go before returning it to safety!
Were you ever concerned that this project may have been a little too ambitious?
We mustn’t confuse ambitious with over the top. For me, Albert Dupontel was always very ambitious in his work. As a Director he treats complex subjects with bizarre characters within unique circumstances. The adventure proposed by Dupontel was certainly of gargantuan proportions because of the historical reconstruction, but it was the Director’s style that was important for me. The filmmaker is what drew me to the project of Au-revoir là-haut.
Was working on a period piece a crazy experience?
It was quite moving, yes. The sets, costumes and especially the scenes in the trenches inundated with heat, mud and noise. I got to experience a kind of sensory evocation of the fury of life as a soldier at war – even if it is only a millionth on a scale with reality.
Your family fought at war too?
Yes, my ancestors went to war – as is the case with most French families. Personally though, I have a particular belief on the subject. I’m an anti-militarist in a world where, in my opinion, the army remains a necessary evil. It is similar to the notion of heroes; to me a war leaves only victims, with only some of whom acting in a heroic way.
You’ve said that you found this role as being a jubilant villain – does this make all the good guys boring?
I don’t differentiate between the good and bad. People react differently in different situations. I try to understand their motivation and give form to who they are without judging them. Albert Dupontel asked me expressly to portray the role of a guy we love to hate – but not hate in the same way we hate Amon Göth in Schindler’s List. Henri d’Aulnay-Pradelle is definitely a theatrical character, he is a flamboyant dandy who is acutely aware of the power and effect he holds over other people. It’s also him who provides the film with that comic energy.
After your time at the “Conservatoire national supérieur d’art dramatique de Paris”, you finished your education in the UK…how did the approach to acting differ from the French teaching?In England, the approach is more multi-disciplinary. You learn to become a tool that can work across styles and genres for a broad repertoire. In France, the training is very cerebral, intellectual, even political. We give more value to the authors and their vision.
You speak English perfectly…are you tempted by an international career?
I’ve already worked in English for The Love Punch (with Pierce Brosnan and Emma Thomson), and the English series Birdsong (with Eddy Redmayne and Clémence Poésy), but there aren’t a lot of opportunities. Among the French, it is really only Marion Cotillard who has managed to get an international break. But no. What interests me is to play great characters with great Directors. Also, I don’t idealise American cinema in the same way I once did – I think the industry has shifted its creative focus to television series’. That being said, the US remains a great film nation one that contributed to establishing the fantasy world of film.
Do you like the work of any Australian actors or actresses?
Cate Blanchett of course, she is such a powerful actress and I loved her in Blue Jasmine. Otherwise for other Australian films I’m less into Crocodile Dundee, and more into Muriel’s Wedding with Toni Collette – who I really love. Also Priscilla, now that’s a difficult story to tell!
You dance, you sing…is there anything you don’t know how to do?
I took dance classes, but I don’t dance. There is no way I could do a pike jump for example. I sing yes, that’s true, when filming I try to do my best. It’s generally better to stop me rather than to push me – I don’t do it for fun, but the authenticity of the character. It’s like finding the right costume or partner, it helps you give a credible portrayal. This was the cause of a lot of grief when filming ended for Au Revoir, but I can’t give too much away.
You used to do a one-man-show, now you seem more along the lines of a movie star: has your relationship with the public changed at all?
I’m still treading the boards 100 days every year! I couldn’t live without it. Preferring the cinema would be like a singer who only wanted to perform in the studio. So, I’m definitely still in contact with the audience – it’s just that my relationship with viewers changes in line with the roles I play.
Any future projects in the works?
Directing. I’m going to film an adaptation of a theatrical comedy but the script is still being developed. The casting is also still being worked on but we’re on schedule to start shooting during the first half of 2019. Also, we’re going to start filming soon for the sequel to Guillaume Canet’s Les Petits Mouchoirs; which is set 9 years later as the whole group reconnects.
Is it possible to make a sequel succeed?
Yes, but the writing must be excellent and the most difficult work comes down to the strength of the authors, not the actors.
Interview by Valentine Sabouraud, translated by Paige McNamee.
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