A MEETING WITH VINCENT MACAIGNE - CRASH Magazine
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A MEETING WITH VINCENT MACAIGNE

By Alice Butterlin

Embarking on his theater career nearly two decades ago in Michel Didym’s staged reading of Badier Grégoire at Théâtre Ouvert, Vincent Macaigne is a versatile artist with wide-ranging interests. Known as a stage director and actor, he recently ventured into film by directing his first short What We’ll Leave Behind, released in 2011. Developed directly on the stage, Macaigne’s plays inspire equal measures of admiration and confusion, which suits the director just fine as he seeks to rid himself of classical theater conventions. Undertaking a profound meditation on the dramatic form, his plays give rise to unique and confrontational performances aiming to seize audiences and rouse them from their slumber. Building on this is his work in film, which came about almost by chance as he appeared in films directed by friends like Guillaume Brac, Sébastien Betbeder, and Antonin Peretjatko. Today, Vincent Macaigne slips with remarkable ease into every new role, each time surrendering a tiny glimpse into his soul: just small enough so that it goes almost unnoticed, but bright enough to shine into the hearts of dreamers everywhere.

You are starting another run of your play Je suis un pays (“I Am A Country”) in May and June. Can you tell me a little about it?

It’s a new version with some major acting changes, since I’m replacing all the men with women. The play is going to be published by Actes Sud together with Voila ce que jamais je ne te dirai (“Here is What I Am Never Going to Tell You”) which forms a diptych with Je suis un pays. I went back to a play I wrote when I was a teenager and completely rewrote everything, while incorporating political speeches and short phrases that echo the current state of the world. The end result is something like a Shakespearean play about a country on the decline. It’s all in good fun and good humor. It ends with something like a party.

How is the country in decline?

The play follows two characters: Marie and Eddy, two children who survived an apocalypse. They live in a world that needs to be built up but instead everything is collapsing. It’s very sad, but also burlesque at the same time. It’s an epic performance. What I do is similar to écriture de plateau [“stage writing”], where the goal is to craft a story directly on the stage instead of on paper. It’s not the kind of classical theater most people have in mind. It’s more alive. The audience can come on stage, drink beers… It’s kind of punk, actually. It’s almost like a concert.

What made you want to break free from classical theater?

I’ve been doing it for twenty years. (laughs) It’s not about breaking free from anything for me, I just think it’s fun. It’s a way of reaching out to people I like, and not reaching out to others. By doing something so brutal, and that almost revels in violence, it scares off certain people and brings in others. It’s a way of tattooing my show and sending the message that theaters belong to younger generations, too. In my work for theater, I do all the things I would do if I owned a space where I could do whatever I wanted. It’s relentless: a long party that lasts an hour with loud music and free booze.

Do people play along or are some of them thrown off by this wild type of theater?

Yes, people do play along, and for the most part they like it. It’s not an interactive show at all, it’s just that it’s so chaotic. At the same time people listen to every word and pay very close attention. They’re actually a very rigorous audience. But there’s none of the educational or schoolhouse atmosphere that a lot of theater can have. That said, the kind of theater I do is much less intellectual than a lot of movies.

You said you wanted to replace all the male parts with women. Are there any actresses you consider as your muses?

I love working with friends and people I like. I’m happy because in this play there are some repeat roles, including Vimala Pons playing one of the characters. They’re all people I know very well, like Pauline Lorillard for example. I wouldn’t call them my muses, just people I have a lot of affection for. Rodolphe Poulain is another one of my fetish actors.

What do you expect from your actors?

I expect them to put something personal into the project. I want them to reveal something of their age, their anger, and their vitality. Pauline Lorillard embodies that perfectly. She’s a great actress, on screen even more so than on stage I think. She is very cinegenic. She has a very unique face that conveys a deep melancholy. She’s ageless: she can appear both very old and very young. There is something timeless about her. She’s a true heroine in that sense.

Speaking of Pauline Lorillard, was the idea to have women playing male characters inspired by Bertrand Mandico’s work in The Wild Boys?

No, it’s nothing like that actually. The parts I write are almost like energies, or music. They could all be women or men, and it would make no difference. A character’s gender is not important to me. Even in my life I don’t relate to men and women differently. In Je suis un pays, there’s a very talented actor who plays the role of Eddy. At a certain moment in the play he dresses up like a woman and I got the impression that it liberated his acting. Either way, I don’t think we should pay attention to those things. Even if we were doing a love scene it wouldn’t matter, because that’s just not what I’m interested in.

You’re not interested in the notions of gender fluidity that people talk about today?

I’m interested, but then again, not at all. I think it’s weird to get involved in a debate about gender/ungendered. I had an assistant who corrected one of my texts by making the writing more inclusive, and I didn’t like it. It’s crazy to do that. These are questions that only make sense if we ask them. The real problem is asking the question. I loved working exclusively with girls for En manque, but I could have done the exact same show with just men. But I thought girls were better actors. The older I get, the more I find that stage actresses are at a higher level than the actors. It must be because it’s harder for them.

In what sense is it harder for them?

There are very few female roles. For bit parts like soldiers, obviously they will go to men. They’re tiny roles and hardly anyone notices them, but still they can only be played by men. I think the era of inequality between men and women in these types of artistic performances is over. I can’t speak for all of France, but I can speak for the small group of artists I know who don’t bother with questions of gender. I assemble my team of actors in the same way I would create a rock band. The bassist could be a woman or a man and that would have no impact on how well they played. I think Bertrand Mandico thinks much more deeply about gender. In any case he speaks about it in a way that I don’t. I think that if someone was going to remake a movie like Breathless, Belmondo’s role should probably be played by a woman. I saw Steve McQueen’s Shame and I found it interesting but super outdated. It’s a film about male sex addiction, but it seemed miles away from reality. It would be nice to see the roles reversed with a girl addicted to sex and her depressed younger brother coming to pay her a visit. Not to mention the rest of the world who mostly do not live in places like that. It’s a shame to make a movie in New York or any other cosmopolitan big city in the West and not question these gender clichés.

You got Nova Materia to do the music for your show.

Yes, they composed a few things, but I also incorporated a lot of pop and some very recognizable hits.

Do you look for experimentalism in music, just as you would in theater?

Not necessarily. I would love to do an entire play with Nova Materia. I would also like to do an opera with A Silver Mt. Zion and stage a story based on their music. They’re just ideas, so we would need to take a couple of months and come up with something together. Nova Materia did me a favor and created some amazing tracks. That said, Je suis un pays is a pop-inflected show. I’m not a fan of pop culture but, in a certain sense, that’s the world we live in. I have no fascination with Rihanna. In fact, I don’t give a damn about her at all. My decision to put hit songs in my play is purely FM. They’re songs you might here in any ordinary bar. I wanted a nostalgic dimension with music that would recall something dusty, like an outdated memory. Rihanna’s “Diamonds” is outdated. These are hymns that produce an immediate emotional response, whether it’s a block or a moment of understanding. Theater forces people to swallow bits of the world. I like the idea of having people swallow pop elements, having them digest Rihanna, the Bible, Nietzsche, and Thomas Bernhard. They’re totally different, but I can combine them and make something out of it, just like everyone else can. It’s important for theater to reflect the world.

Do you approach film differently than you do theater?

No, instead it’s my approach to distribution that’s different. We refer to film as an industry, and yet a major theater production costs just as much as the average movie in France. It’s a way of putting pressure on artists and the audience, oddly enough. People go to the movies to see a specific genre or type of film. For example, a song on the radio lasts three minutes and a movie lasts an hour and a half. Obviously Mandico’s films do not fit the standard mold, but they also have a much smaller distribution.

Do you like his type of film?

Yes, but it has nothing in common with what I do. I loved The Wild Boys, but it felt like I was watching my friends on screen since I know Pauline Lorillard and Vimala Pons so well. You relate to a film or play differently when you know the actors. I feel it more.

Are there any actors who have impressed you on stage or on set?

Pauline Lorillard was amazing when I was making the film Comfort and Consolation. I didn’t always pay attention to those things in life. It was complicated for me to make the movie because she didn’t have the lead role, and it was a very raw film made up of many different fragments of scenes. As a stage director, I’m always impressed by the actors. When I staged Dostoevsky’s The Idiot, I was impressed by Pascal Rénéric and Thibault Lacroix. They’re not very well known, but they’re still very impressive.

Do you think there is a renewal of interest in theater today?

I honestly don’t know, so I can’t say. I see more of a renewal in film. Theater is an odd world that’s very reserved in a way. You have to get around to a lot of shows to know what’s going on. I haven’t gone to see as much theater in the past two years, so I don’t have much information to go off of. New things are always coming out in the movies, but predicting how people will keep experimenting is another matter entirely. They’re two different questions. Our system welcomes new ideas at first and then it gives up on them. It’s similar to music where fresh new things are welcomed but it’s hard to keep them going or allow them to develop. Things get stale fast. I don’t know why and it’s a real struggle for artists. I did a short film with a film student named Théo Hoch. Everyone in his class had to make a film, so I went to see the screenings. It was impressive. They’re only twenty but already making powerful films. New talent is always coming up, so you just have to keep your eyes peeled.

Can you tell me about your role in Non Fiction, the next film from Olivier Assayas?

I haven’t seen the movie yet, I’m only in it. (laughs) The script is very funny but also kind of sad. It reminds me of Woody Allen’s Manhattan and Chekov. It’s very sweet. It’s about a dying world with publishers who have to edit an e-book, just like what’s happening in movies with streaming. It’s also about the start of a new world with two couples who cheat on each other but still manage to live happily together. In a strange way I find it relaxing and reassuring.

Nicola Indelicato – t-shirt in cotton
Louis Vuitton – watch tambour all black chronograph, in steel with bracelet in alligator

Photographers: Elsa & Johanna
Stylist: Andrej Skok
Make-up: Hugo Villard @airportagency
Hair: Christos Voulios @callisteagency
Photo assistant: Bryan Monaco
Stylist assistant: Pauline Grosjean

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