Vincent Lindon has won a Cèsar for his starring role as Thierry Thaugardeau in Loi du marchè, having made its way to the States now as The Measure of a Man, playing through the 21st of April at the Metrograph and Lincoln Plaza theaters. Sitting down with the veteran French actor on a bustling Thursday afternoon, we settled in for a chat that soon revealed Lindon as not only a brilliant artist, but one passionate about his craft and his cause.
I know we’re here for Loi du marchè, but I just saw Pater actually last night at the Metrograph. It made me think. You mention in that film, since you are playing yourself, you mention- that people always think in the short term, never in the long term. You have a very varied filmography. So when you accept roles do you think about the longterm effects on your career or do you just take them as they go?
It’s kind of a way of thinking. It’s not a long term or a small term, it’s something about organic. I can’t present myself on set if I am not crazy about the story and the character. It’s cinema, and what you do and the picture in which you are is too important. It’s not a game, it’s my job. It’s not like I have nothing to do these two months, I’m going to do that shit movie, maybe I can build my swimming pool this summer to pay my bill, and after I will do a good movie, I hope I will receive a good movie. No. I don’t think like that. When I choose a movie, I can die for the story. I have to go in my room before sleeping and say how lucky I’m going to be that guy. And even if the producer says to me, I’m sorry Vincent, we don’t have too much money to pay you, I want to be able to answer him: I don’t care. I take what you have. I don’t care. I want to be in this story. I want to share a month with this director, those actors. That’s my life. In the cinema, if you don’t succeed, everyone knows it. Not just your family. Someone will be walking in the street and say, Oh, etc. Sometimes a friend comes to me and says, I have a small part, three days, come, do it, we’ll have a good time. I don’t want to have a good time. It’s my job, I want to do a good movie. I want to live a good movie day to day. And I want my son and daughter to pick up the one they want and say anyways, my father only did good movies, to at least movies in which he believed before doing them. It’s a way of looking at [the] long term. But in Pater, I was speaking about politics. If you want to change the world, make big changes, it will be an unpopular decision. If you take decision that you want to see the results in two or three years to be reelected, it’s small decisions. It’s small moving and the world is worse and worse. It’s just an adjustment. You can’t leave your name in the history of France or history of America if you just do small things. If you want to be in a history book, do something. Do something heavy, and to do something heavy it’s going to be a big change. It’s going to be very unpopular, and people don’t like change. But maybe, in thirty to forty five years, people will speak about you the way they speak about Churchill. But Churchill did things very difficult to do- and he succeeded, but he said something I think everyone should print in his wallet or put on the wall of his kitchen, he said… You have the choice between the war and the dishonor. You choose the dishonor, and you will have the war…that’s the long term. Don’t bend. Stay like that (gestures). It’s gonna hurt, but watch more than the end of your nose. The best champion skier, he is never looking at the signs he passes. This is sometimes what I want to say to people, and many times to my children…hey, wake up. Look over. Stop complaining about what’s going on just right now, what’s around you. Think about what you will think about that in one year.
Speaking of the long term now, I’ve noticed that a lot of your films had a theme of inequality, including Measure of a Man. Is that a specific choice you’ve made, or just something you keep coming back to?
No, it’s a mix. I’m well known for doing movies like that, so directors bring me films like that, and because I like when the movie makes a jump between culture and society. I think to do a movie today, to play a movie, art in general, is a way of doing politics. By the arts, you can try to say to most people: here is what I think. I am not more clever in the world, and I’m not the owner of the truth. That’s my thinking, just watch it. Maybe it’s gonna ring a bell in your head. Like Mustang, a film like that? Even if one person, just one human being, changes because of a movie, it’ll be a good reason to have done the movie. You understand? Everything is good to do if you can just change one mind. Better to change a lot of minds, but just one. Someone comes to you and says once I was thinking like that, and I saw a movie, and it grabs my attention…whoa. Je sais à quelque chose– I’m useful for something. I have a purpose. That’s the best.
Along those lines, I noticed [The Measure of a Man] is a little fatalist. It’s more like a psychological exploration than it is really inspirational. Do you think it’ll be received differently than it was in France?
I don’t know. I don’t know because I don’t think like you. I think there is a lot of open [endedness] in the movie. I think that guy, he is so courageous, more than not having a job, more than being in misery, I think unconsciously people can say it’s worth it to have problems like him, if I am sure I would behave like him. He is a kind of hero. When I see that guy, sometimes I think to myself I would like to be him. He is better than me. He doesn’t have any job, and I am a very famous actor, but if I can change, why not? Why not? He has a big space of progression, which is not my case. Everything just arrives for that guy. He is so down, so near the ground. What do you want worth from him? Nothing. And he’s rich, isn’t he? He has a wife. They are in love since twenty-two years, which is very sexy now. Everybody is divorced, everybody is going from here to there, the children are going- so now, today, when you see a couple and say how much time have you been together? And one of them says, well tomorrow it’s going to be twenty-five years-wow. It’s sexy. So he’s rich, and he’s crazy about his son, he loves him so much. He likes himself, he’s in love with himself watching what he’s doing for the other one. When you love people, when you give love to somebody, you get it back. So I think that guy is very proud about the image he sees of himself coming back from other people. So he is lucky. He is lucky to be like this. So I don’t know how American people will get the movie. But if people see that, maybe it will be a success like it was in France- and in France it was a huge, huge success.
Yes, and I know part of the reason is because it speaks to the economic downturn. So do you think this film could have been made a few years ago, do you think it’s a sort of movie that will remain relevant in our time?
Well, I think if you make this movie in fifteen years, it will work too. It’s really a pity, because the dream is that this movie will be completely unfashionable because that would mean everyone has found a job. Unfortunately, in fifteen years, people will see the movie and say wow, it’s exactly h same now. And there will be people who say, no, it’s worse. It’s the way or the world. I think, what is more desperate- not the movie, it’s our lives. You asked me do I think the movie will work in the United States. It depends on the way you are living in your lives. Do you think people want to go and see a movie like that, with the life they have in real life? Are you okay after your day job to go back to your house, take yourwife or your husband and see Measure of a Man? Oh no, come on darling, you sure? But the moment you are in the theatre. It’s like running. Before, you don’t want to go. You say, oh s—, I have to run 55 min, I’m so f—— tired. But when you finish, you say wow, I’m happy. You did the footing [running]. But the day after, it’s the same problem. You don’t have any memory. It’s crazy. People are crazy. It’s like Mustang. People go and they say wow, I want to see movies like that. But the next day, they forgot. It’s the effort. So I don’t know whether people will make the effort or not. If they do, yeah. It will work. If not, it will not work.
You were speaking about how you admire the main character of this film. So when you were playing him, did it make you reflect back on your own life and the sacrifices you’ve had to make?
It’s not exactly like-I will explain. It’s like doing that character, plus the one in Pater, plus the one in Welcome, it’s like a tree. In my own country, when you are all of those characters, I am obliged to a certain way of living in my own life. If I am Thierry in Loi du marchè (Measure of a Man) and afterwards I drive a Porsche, and I go to the Ritz, and afterwards I speak to the waiter like hey! I asked for whiskey, come on. People will ask, who’s that f- a-? Who’s that guy? He wants to be Thierry, but not in real life. And it’s bad for me, it’s bad for Thierry, it’s bad for the director, very bad for the movie. It comforts people in their idea that everything is fake, everything I people, everything is s—. That’s what those movies change in my life. They oblige me- I don’t need them to try to be a good man, but plus those movies, if ne second I thought of doing something quite silly, the movies are here to say hey Vincent, wake up. What are you f- doing? Oh sorry, and put me back on the path. That’s good. I like that. But sometimes, there is stupid reflection. Once I was in the restaurant for my son’s birthday. We went to a quite good restaurant…two days after, they said Vincent Lindon, Loi du marche, in real life he was in this restraurant….that day I was sad. But I don’t care about that day. I am happy to be obliged to follow a certain way of life. I’m sure that unconsciously I do movies like that to keep me awake.
Stay woke, cinephiles. Such awareness comes highly recommended.