Swann Arlaud at the premiere of <em>farmer</em>, which earned him a César for the best performer in 2018.
July 8, 2020
Updated July 10, 2020 at 4h06
Swann Arlaud: the metamorphosis of the ugly duckling
PARIS — Swann Arlaud has experienced a late onset, to paraphrase an English expression. But it is required since five years as one of the most solid interpreters of the French cinema — a period during which he was awarded the César for best actor (farmer, 2018) and the second part (by the Grace of God, 2020). The Sun met him in Paris in January to discuss his career and Partridge, film jolly iconoclast and unclassifiable in which he plays a captain of gendarmerie is investigating a band of nudists revolutionary!
Q You were born in a family with a long tradition of cinema, yet it took you time before embracing the career of an actor?
R Yes, it took me a long time. When you have a family who works in the cinema, we say we’ll do something else. I made a school of art. I then turned of small things and then gradually, I started taking a lot more fun and especially understand this business, that there was work behind some of the roles. It is this dimension that has proven to be the most exciting. We plunge into time periods, stories, crafts… We catch up a little lost time in the last rows of the school where we were doing something other than listening (laughter).
Q Your career has been built little by little. Is it that there have been moments of discouragement?
R Yes and no. I was always told in my family: do not choose this profession then. So I was in this line of reasoning, and I continued to do other things and saying to myself, “If it works, so much the better. Otherwise, should not be baited.” There are a few elected, and it has nothing to do with the work and the talent in reality. What is strange in this business, it is that the will is not sufficient. Something has to come of the other. At one point, things took. And as it has taken time, I felt a lot more solid when it happened. I continued to paint, to write. Now I have the taste of making movies. I’ve made short. I’m not in a hurry, I am a hard-working.
Q Is it that it is the Caesar of Small farmer who has confirmed that the cement was taken?
R In any case, it has changed something. From that moment, I said to myself: “Here, you can make only the films that you want to do.” It is a great luxury, that of an immense freedom to be cherished. I was not worried, but it reassured me. Even if we know it may not last. Which was very happy, it was that it happens with this film. It was a small film that might have passed completely unnoticed. Even if we knew that we were doing something that was worthwhile. But it was at a thousand leagues from suspecting that it would be such a success [with the Caesar from the first film, among others]. It is very gratifying. This is not the same thing as with [Thanks to God] by François Ozon, who is a great director. We were the first surprised. The film passed on tv last week, it has been more than four million spectators. We couldn’t believe it. It is almost scary (laughs).
Q Speaking of the film for Ozon, it appeared to me as a difficult role, that of a victim of pedophile who keeps a heavy legacy?
R which was a little heavy, it was the preparation, read testimonials and dive in. These are things that we don’t have the taste to hear, read, images that one has not the taste to have. At one point, I said : “Stop”. Because it really affected me. Oddly enough, the filming was quite happy. When you do a job that you love, it is always a joy to be at work. And that working with François Ozon, it’s really great. I felt a shot of how very benevolent. And the scenario was so strong that by saying the words, the emotion follows. I have not really suffered nor sought of things deep in me. It is almost unconscious. […] But the fact that the clergy has wanted us to trial it, we lived it rather painfully. There were bailiffs in the front first to note what everyone was saying…
Q Small peasant was a first film, Partridge also. You were on a roll. Why have you accepted this role?
R I had never really done a film like this: I am a bit of a subscriber to the tragedies. Me, in life, I’m not a poète maudit, who has existential problems, very strong (laughter). I have something lighter, more simple. This scenario has me completely won over. Especially that in France, in comedy, there has been a lot of movies low end. There, it was quite removed, and shiny. This offbeat, absurd, me a lot more, and it was a game place where I had never been, and was, therefore, less comfortable. The negative emotions are easier to play than the positive. For that the laugh is genuine, you have to get somewhere. And I like to be able to navigate between worlds strong different. I didn’t know how to play it. I was watching the other actors [Maud Wyler, Fanny Ardant] that I found fantastic and I was wondering what I was doing there.