James Mottram meets France’s busiest actor and new Bond villain Mathieu Amalric to discuss the dark side of the Eurostar
It’s quite fitting that on the seat next to Mathieu Amalric is his motorbike helmet. Having dashed across London from Pinewood Studios, where he is currently shooting the new James Bond film Quantum of Solace, the French actor knows that come the autumn he may need it for more than just safety. After all, playing the villain in one of the year’s most anticipated films means his so-far carefully guarded anonymity is in danger. ‘That is something I’m a bit afraid of,’ he admits. ‘That I won’t be able to have this normal life that I still have.’
Despite being previously married to French actress Jeanne Balibar, the 42-year-old Parisian, dressed today in a brown corduroy suit, is not the sort of star to grace the covers of Paris Match. In truth, after shooting several shorts and the low-budget feature Wimbledon Stage, Amalric considers himself as a director moonlighting as an actor.
The problem is, while he’s had another script ready to direct for the past two years, Amalric’s suddenly the most in-demand actor in France. Recently riveting as real-life stroke victim Jean-Dominique Bauby in Julian Schnabel’s heartbreaking The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, rightly winning him a French César award, next month Amalric can be seen in Claude Miller’s WWII-set family saga Un Secret. ‘At the same time, you have to look at it like a big joke,’ he shrugs. ‘It’s like a fairytale but you know it will stop. You’re loved one day and the next day you’re rubbish.’
Not that this is liable to happen with Amalric, who has steadily built a career working with the crème-de-la-crème of French cinema. His latest film, offbeat corporate thriller Heartbeat Detector, is typical, in that his character offers up another Amalric masterclass in modern-day male angst. He plays Simon, an industrial psychologist assigned to secretly observe his boss (Michael Lonsdale) until the shocking discoveries become all too much.
While Amalric admits director Nicolas Klotz told him to watch the films of Fritz Lang and Jacques Tourneur for research, his best resource was observing CEOs in restaurants and on trains. ‘This language they use . . . even on the Eurostar, in business class, it’s frightening,’ says Amalric, munching a slice of marmalade on toast. ‘For me, it was exactly that. It’s exactly the Eurostar businessman. What are they doing on their computer, with all these lists? Each time I see a guy with those lists of numbers, I think, “Check: a hundred people fired!” It’s nothing to them!’
By coincidence, Amalric will be following in the footsteps of his Heartbeat Detector co-star Lonsdale when he does battle with 007 this autumn. Lonsdale famously played Hugo Drax in the 1978 Bond adventure Moonraker, though Amalric promises his character, Dominic Greene, is far different from the Bond villains of yore. ‘I’m playing a guy who doesn’t know how to fight. There’s no secret weapon, or secret technique or kung-fu. I just have my face. No scars, nothing!’ If that’s the case, he better hang onto that crash helmet.
Heartbeat Detector is on selected release from Fri 16 May. Un Secret will be on selected release from Fri 13 Jun.