Written by Nikki Baughan Wednesday, 05 August 2009 14:21
We catch up with Vincent Cassel, star of French gangster movie Mesrine: Killer Instinct to find out why playing an iconic mobster was so appealing...
Firstly, could you please tell us exactly who Jacques Mesrine, the character you play, was?
Jacques Mesrine is a very famous gangster in France who died in 1979, shot down by the police in the middle of the street. His body was displayed on TV as a statement from the government. He was one of the first gangsters to use the media for his own sake. In that sense he became like a rock star in France. In 1979, the year he died, he was the favourite celebrity of the French people. I think he really tried to find a lot of excuses for his actions, but I think he really wanted to be a gangster since his childhood.
He sounds like a horrible character; what was the appeal for you?
Well the fact that it wasn’t that clear, that he was ambiguous, full of paradoxes and antagonism. I never wanted to judge the character ever but we wanted to do it in a way which showed all the different aspects of his character, letting the audience judge him if they wanted to. He is a bad guy, but not as bad as we read in the media. He left behind him this image of being a Robin Hood-style figure, but he wasn’t because he never gave anything back to the poor. He was a showman. He really controlled the media for his own sake, creating a persona, the only positive thing about this is that he had the courage to live up to the persona he created.
You had to put on 20 kilos to play Mesrine; how did you cope with such a severe physical transformation?
Well I think that it is always a dream for an actor to go through a drastic transformation like that, the only problem is that you have to find the right movie to do that in otherwise it’s ridiculous. This was definitely the film for me. [Look at] Eric Bana in Chopper, or Tom Hardy in Bronson, I mean it’s one way of acting. I’m always very impressed when I see somebody do that and do it properly, it was something I really wanted to do. But now I know it’s really bad for you physically, I don’t think I will do it again.
You spent nine months shooting this film and the sequel, Mesrine: Public Enemy Number One, back to back. Was that a draining schedule?
Well, I have always looked at this whole adventure as good luck really, I never thought to complain about anything. Many times I came back home to my hotel room and I would get on my computer and Jean-Francois Richet the director and myself would debrief online. I remember on many occasions we were talking about the scenes we’d shot that day and what we were supposed to do the next day but so many times at the end we’d have to remind ourselves the luck we had making this movie. Because it is true, when you are an actor and you make movies with a strong subject matter and you have the money to shoot it the way you want to with an incredible cast in different countries you know its luck, I think. I consider myself as being really lucky with this project and I’m trying not to forget about it.
You're won a French Cesar for this performance; do you think this will affect your career at all?
No I don’t think anything will change as a result of the Cesar, but I think things have changed because I am getting older and I know a little more about what I like and what I don’t like. You know, the more you grow the more you master your thing – especially if it’s really personal - acting is very personal for me and I started 20 years ago so you know I grow as I get older, I’m like a French wine hopefully.
Mesrine: Killer Instinct opens on August 7