When Melvil Poupaud approaches, the immediate sensation is that he's just a little too gorgeous - tall, slight, open and friendly, with an intense but unthreatening stare. He looks you right in the eye as he talks, unafraid to say what he thinks (including dissing his costars), casually lighting a cigarette in a way only a Frenchman could make look cool (it dangles from his lips for about five minutes before he lights it). Hollywood stardom hasn't hit him yet. But it probably will, unless he continues to make daring choices in the films he makes. Whatever happens, he'll remain a serious heartthrob for both boys and girls for a long time...
How did you get involved with Francois Ozon and Time to Leave?
I met Ozon and he told me about the film and talked to me about the character. So I was involved before there was a script. Some of the character is like me, the way he holds on to relationships and thinks through issues, but I'm a lot more relaxed and easy going.
Did you hesitate about playing a gay character, especially when it came to the sex scenes?
I was nervous as it came time to film the first sex scene, being naked with someone else on the set. It was my first real sex scene, but once we got there the boy was more nervous that I was, so I had to help him through it. Ozon had planned it very carefully, it wasn't vulgar at all, there was no peeping tom attitude on the set. But it was hard to film. It took a long time, and Ozon had to keep us relaxed.
I had no hesitation about taking a gay role like this. My mother's gay and I grew up around transvestites. It was crazy! When I was younger I was more frightened about what roles I took. Several years ago I started to pursue a role in Ozon's Water Drops on Burning Rocks, but it was too gay and too intense. I'm older now. But I went through that stage, questioning it and working it out. Now I'm married and we have a child. But I still identify with a good role. It's about the script, not my career.
The hardest thing about the film was losing the weight as we went along. I had a planned diet, because as the story progresses I had to get thinner, because the character was ill. So I really felt tired and weak, which helped get me into the character.
Describe working with screen icon Jeanne Moreau.
It was quite intimidating to go onto a set with her, but she's a pure professional and it was great. She was thoroughly involved in her character and the film, and even worked with Ozon to rewrite some of her scenes. We filmed that sequence at a house out in the country -- the movie was shot in sequence -- and we had a good time together talking during dinner, telling stories. She told stories about Antonioni, everyone.
How have audiences reacted to the film?
In France it has done very well. The people there love Ozon. Europeans have been overwhelmingly positive about it. I have no idea how the Americans will react. Next month I'm going with the film to a festival in Miami, so we will see.
What was your experience like on the Merchant-Ivory film Le Divorce?
It's the biggest film I've ever made, and it was so slow! There were too many people on the set. Ismael Merchant had so much energy; it's a shame that he died so young. But James Ivory is old, so nothing moves quickly.
The best part of the film was taking it to Venice. They hired a whole palazzo for us. It was amazing. I spent more time there than I did making the film. I really loved working with Naomi Watts -- she's great. I would love to work with her again. The other one was a Hollywood star with her entourage.
How did you get into acting?
I started acting at the age of 9, although I never really thought about becoming an actor. It just happened. I wanted to be a musician, but I'm not very good. I'm in a band with my brother and we have released two CDs, and I have a solo CD. We've played lots of clubs and even large concert halls opening for other bands. I love it. French music is mostly terrible now, though. There are only a few good bands, mainly very young people.
You're also making short films.
I love making them. MK2 has just released a disc with six films I made from 1983 to 2003. They're impressionistic style films I made on my own, mostly about my own childhood obsessions. Seeing them together I can see running themes I hadn't noticed. I filmed another one on the set of Time to Leave about me and my character. It was filmed mostly in my hotel room. I love hotel rooms. This hotel is amazing! Is it French?
I don't know, but practically the entire French film industry is here for the weekend -- Tavernier, Dominic Moll, Cedric Klapisch, Marie Gillain.
Yes, before I came to talk to you I was having a political discussion with Tavernier. I hope I can get out some more in London. I love this city. While I'm here I'm also going around with Raul Ruiz to producers and financiers. The film is set in ancient Greece, about Pythagoras. But I'd like to make a film here in London too.
What about your next step?
My next job is filming in New York for three weeks, a romantic comedy directed by Zoe Cassavettes. It's my first American film. Parker Posey is the main actress -- do you know her? What's she like? I've never seen any of her films. I hardly ever see movies.
I'd love to work with Ozon again -- he makes so many films in different genres, from a musical comedy to a thriller to an intensely personal drama, all in a year.
I'd like to make a Hollywood blockbuster just to see what it's like. I've never even been to Los Angeles. But the filmmakers I'd like to work with are mostly the French ones, and also Michael Winterbottom, Neil Jordan, Aki Kaurismaki, the kinds of directors who make many different kinds of films. If I was planning my career, I guess I'd want to be like James Dean. Except that I'd be dead already.
SOFITEL, LONDON • 2.MAR.06
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