Heartbreaker - Romain Duris interview
Interview by Rob Carnevale
ACCLAIMED French actor Romain Duris [The Beat That My Heart Skipped] talks about playing a professional splitter-upper in comedy hit Heartbreaker, working with Vanessa Paradis, performing key scenes from Dirty Dancing and how he goes about mixing up his roles.
He also reveals how he’s coping with celebrity and why he’s not interested in playing the French lover for Hollywood.
Q. I gather you were a little bit reluctant to take on the role of Alex, a professional splitter-upper, in Heartbreaker initially?
Romain Duris: Yes, because I didn’t want to be stuck in a formulaic comedy. I need to trust the director and to be able to maybe re-write some stuff… to be involved. When you read a script like that I’m always afraid of where I’m going to be. I have to be able to feel where it’s going and how much I can contribute.
Q. Did the character change much once you came on board?
Romain Duris: Well, I didn’t know, at the beginning, how to play this guy who can pretend to seduce anyone. I had to find an angle. So, I tried to add some fragility and some doubts in him to make him more human and put some reality in him. So, maybe that got changed about him.
Q. How was working with Vanessa Paradis? Did you get much time to work on your chemistry beforehand?
Romain Duris: On the phone, yes, a lot. But it was great because we agreed together about what we wanted to add to the script to make it more romantic and what we didn’t like. So, we were on the same wavelength from the start and it was a great meeting of minds.
Q. Were you a fan of Dirty Dancing before you did Heartbreaker?
Romain Duris: No [laughs] but I like those kind of movies from the 1980s in the US. I like the style of them. But I didn’t know Dirty Dancing beforehand…
Q. So, how was it recreating the dance moves from The Time of Your Life?
Romain Duris: It was great. I love to dance, you know, so I loved the choreography of it all. It was a real pleasure to pretend to recreate that and Vanessa loved it too.
Q. Who was the better dance partner: Vanessa or Francois Damiens?
Romain Duris: It was so funny with Francois. It was difficult to stay serious in front of him anytime. But it was great because it was so different when performing that routine with both of them. It kept it fresh and fun.
Q. There’s a terrific sequence where you’re held over a balcony overlooking the famous Monaco skyline. Did you do that for real?
Romain Duris: I was suspended with a cable. But it was like that [gestures a thin size and breathes a sigh of relief]… I don’t remember how high but I remember thinking: “Why am I here?” I couldn’t see who had knocked it all up to make it safe, so goodness knows why I trusted those guys [laughs]. It’s funny because I still had to perform but there’s this massive drop and so it’s quite frightening. It’s a strange scene to perform.
Q. Was it all done in one take?
Romain Duris: No, no, no! I think we did three [raises eyebrows]!
Q. It could be said that the bad guy wins in Heartbreaker… were you surprised by that? And was that always the way things worked out?
Romain Duris: It’s true… but the end was always like that, although we tried to put more love at the end, to make it more real.
Q. The film has done exceptionally well in France. Do you think the time was right for this kind of romantic comedy?
Romain Duris: Yes, I think so. I can see that the people need to see this kind of movie. It makes them happy. It’s refreshing and, yes, it’s one of the best films in the cinema. But I was still surprised at how much of a success it was. People do need light movies, I guess.
Q. There’s a lot of talk surrounding the English-language remake. Are you tempted to throw your hat into the ring?
Romain Duris: [Laughs] No… I’ll leave it to Will Smith [laughs].
Q. You’ve made 34 films to date, so how do you go about choosing your projects because they’re all so diverse? What do you look for in a script?
Romain Duris: I try to read a script in the same way you read a book. Sometimes you love something in your mind and you want to play this guy. I try not to think about a career plan or anything like that. I just try to be fresh and to read the story and understand what inspired me. I need to be challenged by something. Sometimes you don’t know why something appeals to you, but you go for it. It can also be because of the director, because we have some interesting directors in France. Sometimes the story can be less exciting, but the director is exciting.
Q. What do you find more challenging as an actor? Dramatic roles such as The Beat That My Heart Skipped or comedies like Heartbreaker? Do you agree that comedy is often under-rated?
Romain Duris: Comedy is difficult to be good. When you read the script, you can’t say if it’s going to work or not. It’s difficult to judge a comedy on paper. But I need to do both and I like both.
Q. You’re often described as the reluctant actor, having been discovered by a casting director while waiting for someone outside a Parisian high school. So, how are you coping with your celebrity now?
Romain Duris: The difficult thing is to try to stay normal. I think I’m living in a very simple way. I don’t have big wishes, or a big car or a big flat just because I’m an actor. I have the same needs as when I wasn’t an actor. But things have changed in that I’m being recognised more and more when I walk along the street by people and that’s not very natural to me. So, I think that’s what’s changed the most.
Q. Does it make you uncomfortable being recognised?
Romain Duris: Yes, of course. It depends… some days you feel an element of power and it’s very flattering, so it’s not a problem. But some days, you don’t feel that way and it can be strange.
Q. Did you find yourself discussing celebrity and how to handle it with Vanessa? Because obviously she’s such a huge star in France, and there’s the Johnny Depp factor…
Romain Duris: In Vanessa’s case, it’s very organised. From the beginning, she had to get into the habit to live with that, and so it’s structured for her. In my case, I’m always trying to be like everyone else, so it’s strange for me.
Q. Would you consider going to Hollywood? You’ve already made one English language film with John Malkovich [Afterwards]. But does America beckon?
Romain Duris: I don’t know. I don’t want to be the French lover. I say that because it’s true [smiles]. I’ve received a lot of scripts and sometimes it’s the French lover. They just want me to bring my French charm. But I don’t want to do that. I need, like in France, to be inspired by a role. It’s not so much a question of language in that process. But if it happens, then I would definitely be interested.