With Heartbreaker, French star Romain Duris continues to capitalize on his image as a young and very talented pop star. He first came to US audiences' attention in melodramas like Cedric Klapisch's L'Auberge Espagnole and Jacques Audiard's The Beat My Heart Skipped and has since proven himself to be a versatile performer that, like American superstars like Johnny Depp, chooses his projects very carefully (his performance in Christophe Honore's Dans Paris is wonderfully nuanced). Having just starred as the titular comic book antihero Arsene Lupin, Duris stars in Heartbreaker as a man hired to break people up, specifically women that don't yet know that they're not really in love with their boyfriends/fiancés. I had a thoughtful chat with Duris about his self-image and how he makes himself cry.
Cinematical: There's a great running gag in Heartbreaker where you make a terrible grimace whenever your character needs to cry (on command). How do you cry on film normally?
Roman Duris: Exactly the same (way).
Cinematical: Really? You just make a...
Duris: (laughs) No, no. To be honest, I used to. I didn't do any school of theater so I have no method. For my first few movies, yes, when the director asked me to cry for something, I was like, "Fuck! Shit, how can I cry? I can't!" It's strange-I wasn't an actor so I think I did the same (thing). I had to put my face in a physical way to help the tears (come out). I was joking about that with (Heartbreaker) director Pascal Chaumeil when we spoke about this strange face he's (Duris's character) going to make. I said, "I know exactly what I can do. I'm going to give you that and you'll tell me if it's ok for you or not." So it was natural for me because it came from...yes...
Cinematical: Parts of the film similarly feel like they're making fun of yourself, or at least your onscreen persona in that someone that isn't so physically imposing could be such a ladykiller, like a caricature of a Don Juan that can instantly seduce someone. Were you thinking of that when you did the role? Are you conscious of your self-image when you act?
Duris: Yes. I think I want to be present in a scene, charismatic. But I don't think more than that. I just know it. I know in my life how to be discreet and simple so yes, I have this conscious(ness) but I think everybody is.
Cinematical: Do you think being pegged as this handsome young Casanova ever backfired against you when you were trying out for a role or otherwise professionally?
Duris: You know, I don't think about that. They don't tell me, "Ok, you're handsome, play that." For me, I'm...I'm...playing the characters from the inside each time, even in Heartbreaker. I was afraid about the way of being able to seduce anybody and being a James Bond of seduction I was afraid about that, trying to understand what was inside.
I spoke with Pascal Chaumeil and we added some details to show the character's fragility and doubts about the way to seduce others.
Cinematical: Did you bring any personal experience to the role in that way?
Duris: To the role? (long pause) No, I don't think so.
Cinematical: Do you watch footage of yourself while you shoot?
Duris: It depends, sometimes. It depends on the movie, maybe on the director. Sometimes I'm checking on the takes to see some things but...maybe the question of trust with the director. Sometimes I have the need to go check. I'm not sure it's a good thing though.
Cinematical: Checking yourself?
Duris: Yes. (pause) During the shoot, if you watch the footage, it forces you to become a spectator instead of acting.
Cinematical: Has there been a recent instance where you felt you needed to go back and watch because, as you said, you didn't feel confidence in a director? Like on Arsene Lupin or something else recently?
Duris: Yes. You're totally right. During Arsene Lupin, yes. It's funny that you talk about that...but I don't want to talk about that. But yes, exactly in this movie. Maybe because it was a movie with a lot of things in each shot, a lot of people, a lot of action, big production. I wanted to look about what I was doing. (pauses) No, no, I don't want to say something. I trust him in a way so it's not a question of trust. It's question of...I don't know. But you're right. You're right, in this movie I had to check. Klapisch? Klapisch, no. Klapisch I trust totally. And I don't want to check at all (in that case). "You pick what you want."
Cinematical: You must have a pretty rabid fanbase in France. Any crazy stories about stalkers?
Duris: No, it's ok, it's very kind. It's strange because it's not that natural. I'm still not used to being recognized. I have a way of living, I think, very simply so it's totally contradictory. Sometimes, it's strange but it's always kind and nice. It's just a question of availability but it's never anyone aggressive stalking me.
Cinematical: You did an interview recently where you said that your role in Heartbreaker greatly expanded your visibility and the way people recognize you and how now, it's more older women (laughs).
Duris: Yes! Of course, older and younger. I had a funny experience when I was putting some gas in my car in the middle of France, nowhere. There was a family and in the family, it's usually the young girl who is 20 years old or 16 years old that recognizes me. But I realized that the little guy, 12 years old, the guy, 40 years old, the dad 60 years old, 65, I don't know, all said: "Yes, we know you." So it was funny for me. "Wow, this is new."
Cinematical: It's funny that Arsene Lupin and Heartbreaker were made in such close proximity to one another as they're the two biggest roles you've undertaken of late and they're such polar opposites.
Duris: You think so?
Cinematical: Just in terms of their (respective) genres, yes and their audiences. One's an action film and one's a very light-hearted romance. Do you think there's a big difference between taking one type of role on than the other? Do you anticipate one is harder than the other?
Duris: (long pause) I don't know. Yes, maybe because it's lighter or...I don't know if it's because it's lighter or if it's because it's destiny to touch a lot of people. I don't know but yes, maybe, I need to know quickly which way I'm going to play the character. I need to have confidence, yes, to feel confidence in a way even if it's a bad movie at the end. In lighter films, I need to feel like I need to know right away what's going to be my role, how I'm going to play the character, just to know what's being expected of me, even if the movie's not to my taste so I can get something good out of it.
Cinematical: Do you think you get more satisfaction out of one over the other? Because it sounds like there is a varying degree (of satisfaction) depending on if it's a heavier or a lighter role.
Duris: No. I need both, I think. I need both. I need to jump.
Cinematical: How did you feel when you found out you had to match Patrick Swayze's famous dance scene from Dirty Dancing?
Duris: It was fun, a lot of fun. We love to dance with (co-star) Vanessa (Paradis). Of course it was difficult but a lot of pleasure. It was natural and more recreation than serious work. So it was great, a lot of great memories. Yes, technically we weren't perfect or entirely ready but I think that there's some grace from us but somewhere and it helps when you feel that when you do scenes like that.
Cinematical: Who would you say is your favorite cinematic man's man of all time?
Duris: Al Pacino, I think. Al Pacino in Dog Day Afternoon. The way he's totally leading his character. When he goes out of the bank, outside when he speaks to everybody, wow, I feel something very strong. Nobody can arrest the process of his character. He's totally everywhere. I love Al Pacino, I think he's wonderful. But I think Americans (above all). I think Americans because, I don't know. In France...Jean-Paul Belmondo, Jean Gabin...you know Jean Gabin?
Duris: Or (Swiss actor) Michel Simon. Because it's impossible to respond, I'll say Al Pacino.
Cinematical: Have you ever felt like taking a bigger hand in creating your role, like bringing a project together by writing or directing or possibly producing?
Duris: And play at the same time? No. I don't know if I'm able to do that. I need to be (pauses) cold, by another universe, another director's universe. It helps me to try to be different. If I'm somewhere in the process, if I wrote the script-it sounds strange for me. In the same way that to call somebody to say, "I love your cinema, I want to play in your movie with you." It's strange for me to do that. I need to be cold, I think. It helps me to be different and it's motivating me. It's part of the process.
Heartbreaker opens today at select theaters nation-wide.