The actor embodies a new, haunting and captivating “Don Juan” alongside Virginie Efira. Interview.
If seduction is the very essence of acting, Tahar Rahim is a great seducer. Hard worker, stubborn, the Belfort man knew how to make his way across the Atlantic. Regardless of the American sirens, he has lost none of his buffoonery or his sympathy. The Golden Globes have nominated him twice but, for him, Cannes will always remain Cannes. And France, his native land, that of a demanding cinema. Chameleon, he refuses to wear the same colors twice. A strange phenomenon in “Samba”, a cornered prisoner in “Designated Guilty”, a chilling serial killer in “The Serpent” … This time, it is in Don Juan who turns hearts upside down. Hypnotic, madly in love with a woman who doubts – rightly – of the one he loves, he delivers a breathtaking new performance.
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Paris match. The film is a musical. You like singing?
Tahar Rahim. I am very bad. I had previously worked as an animal on Damien Chazelle’s “The Eddy”. I have three songs in “Don Juan”, and Serge Bozon, the director, wanted everything to be live, I didn’t have a backup, I jumped without a net. So I went back to school, it took hours and hours of practice.
What connection did you have with don Juan’s character?
I knew the myth. What interested me was that the script was the exact opposite of the play. Had it been a guy who gets dumped by his future wife and sets out to hook all the girls, I would have refused. Serge Bozon made a modern and free history of it. It’s a man’s pain, something you never film in the cinema. We see men crying, who stayed, but a real pain, like the ones we saw in women, Bridget Jones or whatever, I don’t remember. It is an almost female role.
The brutality of the character, who uses physical force, is however very masculine.
Gender equality today allows a woman to have several achievements without being judged. But the myth must be present! In the film, Laurent is an actor who blends into his character without even realizing it. This is what helped me find excuses for him when he had outbursts of bullying. For me, it’s not fundamentally violent. There is something rather creepy about him that is predatory, there is something feline about him, but if he hurts anyone, it will be himself.
At first I played him with a languid lover’s look and the director stopped me to death: “It must be animal, strange … Which you would never be”.
His partner Julie, played by Virginie Efira, leaves him because she criticizes him for wanting other women. She does it when there is doubt …
Were you going to say “There is no doubt”? This is crazy! So you condemn a man who has done nothing! He just stares at these women. But it’s interesting because it reveals how an intuition, a concern we have with ourselves becomes a condemnation when no rules have been broken. It reminds me of that[il montre son téléphone]. Social networks are exactly that. On a hint, you can destroy someone’s life. Justice has moved.
For you, can even a great seducer like Don Juan be satisfied?
Sure ! Laurent lines up … and then she fantasizes. So yeah, that’s not normal and I understand that she doesn’t accept him, but he doesn’t act like a seducer. Also, at first, I played him with a languid lover’s look and the director stopped me abruptly: “It must be animal, weird … Which you would never be”. He becomes an actor, it’s funny, you’ll see![Il rit.]
The film also addresses the difficulty of quitting acting. Is it easy to abandon a character when the camera turns off?
With Laurent, yes. With other roles, much less. I remember that in “Love and Bruises”, I played a cyclothymic unable to love properly. This is where I first brought a character home. People around me were telling me that I was cold, hard, that I was no longer myself. “Designated guilty”, it took me three weeks to get out. And “The Snake” could have stayed with me, but I tried everything to get rid of it as soon as possible, I didn’t want to go out with that. Finally, it rarely happens to me. Being too aware of it when you step out of the set consumes all your energy, sometimes it even inhibits you.
Do you tolerate the solitude of your job well?
It can isolate, so you need to be well surrounded. The entourage, we tend to hear that it allows you to keep your feet on the ground, but if you are over 40, if you take the cantaloupe, there is a problem! You should have understood what fame is. So, at this stage, loved ones are there to help deal with adversity, pressure, real life. We also go through the same trials as everyone else. And when your wife does the same job, the upside is that she knows what she entails. I went for eight months for “The Serpent”, then for “Designated Guilty”… It’s huge! It’s hard for me, hard for my family, and there, fortunately, she knows it.
It was when he finished seeing “The Serpent” that Ridley Scott had the idea of entrusting me with the role of Paul Barras in his “Napoleon”
In the film, Julie says, “Comedians are self-centered and shameless.” Do you agree ?
If there is no ego, you cannot imagine yourself as an emperor, as a seducer, you cannot dream yourself as someone else. Without ego, you can’t be an actor. You just have to make sure that it is well positioned and controlled. On the other hand, immodest, no, I would say generous. I don’t see how you can do this job without that.
What relationship do you have with your image?
Rather healthy. I was in the dark for a long time, didn’t know what I stood for, until I found my current agent. And then I realized what I was. I no longer have a problem taking on the red carpet game. At first this sort of thing was complicated for me, as if embracing the glamorous side of this medium made me deny some form of authenticity. I finally understood that it is necessary to make people dream. As a teenager I fantasized in front of those who walked the red carpets in suits and designer clothes, not in front of completely unkempt stars. This is the game.
And the rest of the celebrity package, is it for you?
You must want him to be bored … Unless you’re a global superstar. The way you manage your image, how you represent yourself on social networks, is also giving a signal to people, allowing them to touch you on the shoulder, to talk to you as if they were your friends. It’s also where you play, who you hang out with. We have a power over our image that we didn’t have before. Whether we like it or not, it’s up to us to manage it well.
I needed to work abroad when I felt that France was getting closer. And I was not wrong, the climbs of Le Pen and Zemmour proved it
Did starring in a Netflix series like “The Snake”, seen by millions of subscribers around the world, change your career?
It was a very big change. Fortunately, I am so physically transformed that I am not easily recognizable, but abroad I felt identified much more. And on a professional level, the proposals I receive in the United States are more varied than before. It was when he finished watching “The Serpent” that Ridley Scott had the idea of giving me the role of Paul Barras in his “Napoleon”. The funny thing is that he reminded me that we met in the days of “A Prophet” and that he wanted to work with me. Looking back, I was able to tell him that I hadn’t followed up because I wasn’t ready at all. He nodded, smiling. That’s great, Ridley Scott.
Is being an actor in France the same job as in the United States?
In self-sacrifice, in work, in seriousness, yes. But the way of working is different. We have fewer people on sets, everyone has to be a bit of a Swiss Army Knife, which leads to easier trades and a lot of effect. In America, everyone has a definite position and we are immediately isolated. Sometimes it’s violent, you don’t even have time to argue! But it gives you extreme concentration, unattainable on a French set. This improvisation that we have in France, this handcrafted thing where, at the last moment, you can remove a piece of furniture doesn’t exist in the United States. There, if you want to move a car that is in the way, they can attack you because you did someone else’s job. Ah! It’s another industry… And I have to say that what I felt with Serge Bozon, this bond we made, makes it my favorite photo shoot.
You’ve been going back and forth for four years to get a starring role across the Atlantic. Did you find what you were looking for there?
I needed to work abroad when I felt that France was getting closer. And I was not wrong, the climbs of Le Pen and Zemmour proved it. I decided to go everywhere, I wanted to eat the world! And I started with America. It is true that in the beginning I was essentially offered to play the role of terrorist. Yes, even an actor who is not Arab but who is vaguely Italian is offered this type of role… So imagine me! Despite everything, I recognize myself in the new Hollywood, much more than in any other cinema. I find there the social stratum of my adolescence, these people trying to make ends meet… Real people! And this, I have not seen anywhere else. When the legends of cinema are born from there, you tell yourself that there is room for you too. And I hope that, thanks to this generation that can find all the cultures of the world in its smartphone, we will be able to obtain a mix between French “mythology” – the Renaissance, philosophy, Marie Antoinette … – and the western samurai …
I would give anything to go to space
You are preparing for Cannes. Is it still a must? Even for someone who was nominated for the Golden Globes?
That my work is recognized at this level, that I am nominated in this category which is the most prestigious, between Anthony Hopkins and the late Chadwick Boseman… It was extraordinary! I was sure I wasn’t going to win, but no matter, I was there. And it did a lot of good to the man, to the actor and, I don’t like that word but it must be said, to my career. Cannes is something else. For a film, it’s a particle accelerator, immediate world exposure, a quality label. Films are presented that will not make many entries, which will not be available on the platforms. It is an ideal means of educating young people about another cinema. Thanks to Cannes, these particular films exist, they travel.
You turned 40 last July. Finally, if you were to have a midlife crisis, what would it be like?
Can we fantasize? I would like to start studying astronomy! And I would give anything to go to space. Since I was a child, the infinitely large, the infinitely small, quantum physics, string theory, the perception of time, all of this fascinated me. I read tons of books, watch documentaries … In fact, my midlife crisis would be to become Thomas Pesquet!