Mr. Corentin Fila is a young Parisian actor on the verge of greatness. His work with André Techiné brought him a succès d’estime that focused the gaze of the Parisian cinema world on his considerable talent and promise. French cinema insiders are already buzzing about how his upcoming role in the bigger-budget French army flick “Volontaire” (opening 6th June in France) will cement his status as a valuable new star of the French big screen. He sat down to talk with us about, among other things, television, typecasting, and Téchiné.
You have worked on television and in movies with considerable critical success. What advice would you give to a young actor about the differences and benefits of working in these two artistic fields?
I guess it depends on the projects but in general the difficulty with television is that there is a time-consuming search for results. Whereas with “auteur” cinema it’s to do fifteen or twenty takes to get a scene right, with television the same scene will be afforded a maximum of five takes. So it’s better to be good right off the bat. In the cinema you can sometimes allow yourself to experiment, to fumble on several shots, and to feel your way along by trying different things: in the cinema you are a bit more of a “researcher.”
Every actor fears the possibility of being typecast. In your own career, have you ever felt this pressure to conform to a certain kind of role? How do you avoid this possibility?
As a young mixed-race actor I could have been afraid of being limited to playing inner-city youth-type roles. But in my first film—the one that first brought me recognition on a larger scale–(“Quand on a 17 ans”) I play an adopted farmer, living in the mountains and a homosexual. This is far from the cliché of the young drug dealer. That the film was also directed by André Téchiné, who is one of the greatest film directors, has—I think—prevented from being typecast.
The trailer for “Volontaire” gives one the impression that the actors’ preparation had to be extremely grueling. How did you prepare for this role? How did you do your research?
Diane Rouxel, who is the lead actress in the film, and I did an internship with the marine commandos at their base at Forfusco in (the French department of—ed.) Lorient. It was incredible. Being “engagé” and very left-wing, politically speaking, I had a lot of prejudices about the military world, and I met great people, of great humanity. This experience will remain as a very strong memory. Physically it was pretty tough too. I box three to four times a week so I was already in good physical condition but Diane did a crazily impressive job. It’s really amazing: she barely uses any stunt doubles.
In “Mes Provinciales” you play the role of Mathias: a seductive and idealistic student who lives exclusively on high art. In your own life, in other interviews, you compared Netflix to McDonald’s food, indicating that you used the streaming site as a sleeping pill. “My Provincials” is already collecting extremely positive reviews for its austere cinematography and naturalistic play. Like Mathias, do you limit your image consumption to the highest register of intellectual culture? Or do you have guilty pleasures? What depresses you in mainstream cinema? What do you find promising or interesting in contemporary cinema?
I’m certainly not as uncompromising as my character in “Mes Provinciales.” I even think Mathias would be horrified by half of what I watch. I don’t even consider myself a true film buff, but it’s true that what touches me in “auteur” cinema is the sensitive point of view. The idea of sharing with the director a certain perspective of the world that might not be pleasant but that needs to be expressed. But I think that people should watch whatever they want and I think it’s gross to be too elitist. Fortunately, mainstream cinema exists. The last great film I saw is a Japanese film by Ryusuke Hamaguchi: “Senses 1 & 2.” It’s the kind of film that seems to educate your perception of others and of the world.
André Téchiné is known for his emotionally charged films that explore the complexities of love and desire. He is a “serious” filmmaker and yet his films have a lightness and realism that makes them extremely close. What surprised you when working with Téchiné and what did you learn about the acting profession and the world of cinema?
It is an exceptional gift to have had the chance to work with him and to become his friend, André is a great gentleman of French cinema who, at seventy-five years old, has something childish and touching about him that makes him extremely accessible, in addition to being humble and modest. He often spoke to me on the set of “Organized Chaos,” which was the perfect way of shooting scenes for him: “Organized” because one repeated the dialogue several times and “chaotic” because the little bit of extra soul that escapes an actor on, say, the tenth take will absolutely make the scene exceptional.
From morning to night, would you describe for us an ideal Saturday in Paris?
In the morning I go to my boxing session in the 10th Arrondissement, then I walk along the Canal St Martin before ending up drinking with my friends Rue du Faubourg St Denis (unless I have boxing the following morning).
What classic movie role would you like to reinterpret? Why? And how would you update it?
That’s either a very difficult question or I’m lacking imagination but, sincerely, I can’t think of one. I love all of Jim Jarmush’s films. Perhaps I would consider the first ones—such as “Permanent Vacation” or “Stranger than Paradise” as classics—but then they’re flawless and shouldn’t be changed. So I guess that’s not really an answer…
Fashion and cinema are related but very different universes. What did you learn from your years working in the fashion industry as a model?
I don’t think working in fashion has helped me as an actor. To pose and to act are very different things: modeling is mostly a question of attitude as opposed to acting, for which you really need to feel something. Above all, you shouldn’t try to be handsome when you’re acting. You really shouldn’t care.
Your mother was a teacher and your father was an artist. What did you learn from them that helped you as an artist?
My father was a Congolese director with a lot of African artist friends who came to the house, even though I was never close to him, I thank that hearing them analyse the world so many times planted a little seed in me. As a child, I was often on set, though I have only very vague memories of that. To tell the truth I think that my sensitibility comes to me from my mother, with whom I have exchanged quite a lot throughout my life.
If a fashion editor described your personal style, what words would he use?
No idea. Half dandy, half austere, or half nothing. I don’t know. Laid-back, I guess.
Which song always makes you feel better?
“Origin of Man” by The Budos Band.
When you look at a newspaper or a magazine, what makes you pessimistic about the world? What do you think is totally fucked up for the next generation?
Aside from the environment—as concerns human relations—nothing is permanently fucked up. I am not at all pessimistic. The reception given to migrants is an issue that worries me a lot. I worked a month and a half in a refugee camp and it gave me incredible hope. With the English association “Good Chance” we put together theater workshops with migrants every day and on Saturday we had improvised shows that were open to Parisians. It’s a little naive to say it but that place of intercultural exchange gave me hope and made me think that the human soul is not so bad. Even the nazis and the reactionaries who don’t even question themselves are not fatally fucked. I believe enormously in the virtues of ENCOUNTERS. One should never become embittered. Remain emphatic and live your life open to first times and new encounters.
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Talent: Corentin Fila
Interview: Matthew Hicks
Photographer Francesco Brigida
Stylist: Nicholas Galletti
Groomer: Richard Blandel @ B Agency