An Afternoon Spent Smoking With France's Sexiest Actor, Louis Garrel
There’s a certain protocol you should adhere to when meeting one of French cinema’s most charming and handsome talents, but all I could think to do was keep my arms tucked so I didn’t sweat too much. I’d spent years watching Louis Garrel grapple with love and heartbreak in films like The Dreamers and La Belle Personne and watched Les Chansons d’Amour more times than I care to admit. The elevator ride up to the studio to meet him for our interview should’ve been the time to quiet the internal screaming you get when you’re about to meet one of your idols but, instead, I was trying to figure out the best way not to embarrass myself.
Somehow, it worked. As he sat down on the couch after his shoot and took a drag from his vape, I felt as calm as the smoke-like substance drifted through the air. The son of famed New Wave French director Philippe Garrel and actress Brigitte Sy, Louis has long been a staple of the French acting scene, thanks to starring roles in a number of films by his dad as well as longtime collaborator Christophe Honoré. Now, he’s pulling double duty on two big projects. He made his directorial debut with Two Friends (Les deux amis)—for which he also acted and cowrote the script alongside Honoré—and acted in the powerful new drama from Maïwenn, My King (Mon roi). As I accidentally looked deep into his eyes, we talked the new films, where he gets relationship advice, and why he’s trying to dress better.
You’ve directed a few short films in the past. What was it like directing a full-length film?
In the beginning, it was the biggest nightmare, because I thought I couldn’t do it. But the challenges that I ran into turned into advantages for making the film. The entire crew, who were generally very young, immediately felt empathy and compassion for me, so they really worked very hard to help me.
You also co-wrote it alongside Christophe Honoré. What was that experience like?
Quite quickly we figured out what the overall narrative would be, and determined that it would take place over three days and three nights. We sent each other emails like letters, sending scenes back and forth. We didn’t see each other much in person, but we sent a lot of emails, which allowed us to more easily insult each other when we thought [the] other’s scene was bad. [Laughs]
It was like a love letter. In the film, the character you play is in love with a woman who’s in prison. The woman is able to leave prison and walk free three days a week—I had no idea you do that.
In France it’s called semi-liberty. Half freedom. In the short films that I’ve made, my producer was a woman and found that my female characters were too iconic. They didn’t really have enough strength, so she asked me to really work on that for the feature. Since the two male characters in the film are kind of like half-wits, at least as far as their maturity levels go, the fact that she was faced with a very real challenge gave a contrast that I really like.
“Friendship includes as much violence and passion as a sexual affair.”
I like that she is far and away the strongest character, because she has a sense of purpose. These two guys are just kind of lost in love, falling in love very easily, whereas she’s not really focused on love. The strongest connection in the movie seems to be between the two guys.
Of course. What we could say is that, in her case, being in love is a supplement to her soul. Because she has three days off, she can allow herself to play with feelings. Whereas, for the boys, love is really central, because they don’t have anything else in their lives. Love is always a game, whether you’re at the beginning or the end of the love affair. For her, it’s a game that’s really played as a game—whereas for the boys, it’s more of a melodrama.
In my eyes, there are three types of friendship. There’s camaraderie. There’s buddies. And then there’s friendship. And friendship includes as much violence and passion as a sexual affair.
I like it when you say “yeah,” because I can tell that you’re immediately thinking about your own life.
[Laughs] I’ve had a lot of friendships like that. I like that French cinema, as opposed to American cinema, isn’t afraid to deal with fluid sexuality. Why do you think that is?
My theory is that all Anglo-Saxon cinema comes from Shakespeare, and he focused on lies, treason, the conquest of power, and war. Whereas French cinema comes from Molière, Marivaux, Racine, and Musset. These playwrights focused on studying feelings. Emotions. I think that’s why French cinema has been much more closely dedicated to the study of feelings.
The other film you’re in, My King, has you playing the supporting role of an overprotective big brother to someone caught in a power struggle with her lover. It’s like you’re on the outside looking in on a crazy relationship—a nice contrast to Two Friends.
I think the biggest difference is that, in Two Friends, my character is very very aware of what he can represent for women, in nearly a narcissistic way, which is not at all the case [with] the character in My King. That is what interested me when Maïwenn told me about the story, because with her other films I’d had some doubts about her way of telling stories. When she described this character of the little brother to me, I said, “You know, it’d be really great if he was there all the time, no matter what.” The character can provide the only branch that she—the woman in the film—can grab onto in the most terrible moments. Maïwenn’s film is about the war inside an intimate relationship, which is the most terrible kind of war.
“I never listen to men’s advice when it comes to female trouble.”
Are you an overprotective big brother to your siblings?
I’d like to be, but I’m not enough. I have two little sisters, so in general they tend to turn to me for advice. But I do sometimes turn to them for advice about how to deal with women. When I’m having trouble figuring out how to deal with women, I follow this rule of asking women to advise me. I never listen to men’s advice when it comes to female trouble.
That’s a very good idea. Speaking of your family, your dad is an iconic New Wave director, and you’ve been in five of his movies. What’s it like being directed by your dad?
You know, people did ask me that in the beginning. We’re two different people when we’re at work, and when we’re in the intimacy of our family and friends. When he gets on set, he puts on the mask of a director and I put on the mask of an actor, so it wasn’t a problem in that way.
You were never grounded for messing up your lines?
[Laughs] That never happened.
Are there any American franchises you’ve always dreamed of being in?
Rocky! Creed was very good. The director, Ryan Coogler, is very good.
You were in a Saint Laurent campaign about two years ago. Do you have any favorite fashion brands?
To be totally honest with you, I used to view fashion and paying attention to how you dress with contempt, but the generation that comes after mine—and I see this is the case with you as well—they dress with a lot of attention and really look good. So now I kind of pay attention to fashion, but really just to not appear too ridiculous in the eyes of the younger generation.
I’m not judging you I promise! Do you buy a lot of clothes? Or do you ever go thrifting?
I used to get a lot of clothing inspiration from my master, Luc Bondy, who died recently. He was a Swiss-German theater director from Berlin so I liked to dress in the Berlin style, which is to wear a t-shirt under a shirt with a weird jacket. I always used to steal his clothes. Now that he’s gone, I like to dress in the Italian style. The problem with the Italian style is that you look really cool when you’re in Rome, but then when you get to Paris you look ridiculous.
What’s the biggest difference between New York and Paris?
Americans invented cinemascope and as soon as you set foot in New York, you understand why.
Get ready for the release of My King, slated for July 15th.
Stay tuned to Milk for more French gloriousness.