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A Conversation with Actor Romain Duris
How did you get involved in this project?

Thanks to Regis, of course! He told Alain Attal, the producer, that he would love me to play Louis Achard, the head of a small insurance firm in Normandy. Then everything went very quickly. They contacted my agent David Vatinet and sent me the script before we met.

What did you like about the script?

When I received it I was completely immersed in THE NIGHT JUST BEFORE THE FOREST, a play directed by Patrice Chereau. I had turned down everything because I wasn't keen on any of it. My attention was immediately caught by the originality of what Regis had imagined: a young secretary who becomes a speed typing world champion. I also liked the idea of playing a character from my grandfather's generation, and the strange and mysterious aspect of this character appealed to me. Up until now, Louis has always been number two in his personal life, and his professional life as well since his job isn't the most exciting. And all of a sudden he develops a passion for this secretary whom he wants to turn into a champion. He becomes a coach just like in ROCKY. I find his journey extremely moving with the way he keeps himself in the background in order to thrust this young woman to the top. It seemed obvious to me that playing Louis Echard would be very exciting. My meeting with Regis reinforced my wanting to take the part. I was definitely convinced when I listened to him talking about his screenplay with such precision and enthusiasm, and seeing he was ready to listen and to talk.

How did you work on your character?

First of all, Regis showed me newspapers with photos of the era, from which he drew inspiration to create the world of his film. But he also asked me to re-watch movies by Douglas Sirk, Howard Hawks, Billy Wilder and AN AFFAIR TO REMEMBER by Leo McCarey. This helped me familiarize myself with vocal tones and the ways of holding yourself and moving your body of that time. But Regis and I were well aware that these references were American, when POPULAIRE is imbued with French culture. So I also watched French films from 1958-59, the year in which POPULAIRE is set like LES TRICHEURS by Marcel Carne, as well as LES COUSINS and LE BEAU SERGE by Claude Chabrol. These allowed me to observe in detail the codes of the youth of that era: the clothes, the chat-up techniques but also the difference between Parisian and provincial codes. All these elements gave me an ideal basis on which to build Louis.

How would you describe Louis?

He's an ordinary insurance man but people believe in him and entrust their money to him. The opposite of a swindler, someone you think you can trust immediately. A charming man, not crafty. That's probably why he lost Marie, the woman he loved. He's incapable of making a promise that he is not sure to keep at that moment. But Louis has a complex -- he always comes second: in sport, in his father's eyes, in Marie's heart. He's not a hero but a deeply frustrated man who transfers all his ambition onto Rose, whom he wants to become a champion.

Why do you think he gets so attached to Rose?

He is charmed by her nerve and her ambition. When Rose wants something she always ends up getting it, sooner or later. He is immediately aware of her potential as a champion. She lights something in him but he stops himself from falling in love with her. And after spending more and more time with her while coaching her, he realizes that she is doing something that he himself could have done. And he projects himself onto her. It is by making this journey with Rose that he will be able to free himself from Marie and allow himself to fall in love again. But in order to do this he has to cure himself of the pain of always coming second. In a way, Rose is a comfort for all his past pains, even if it takes him time to admit it.

Did you need special preparation to portray a coach on screen?

Regis and I met Regis Brouard who was then coach for Quevilly football club. He had managed to take this small national team to the French Cup semi-finals, and he did it again since, by reaching the finals. I was able to observe closely how he talks to his team, which words he chooses in the changing room, how he acts on a day-to-day basis. In fact it's all about authority. You have to know when to be very cold to the people you're coaching, to boost their motivation, and how far you can go without shattering their self-confidence or squashing anyone's ego. It's a very precise technique and quite fascinating to observe.

We often hear that wardrobe helps an actor get into character. Was that the case?

Yes, because Charlotte David's work was incredibly precise. Charlotte is no novice; she has created costumes for OSS 117 among others. So I felt pretty confident and I wasn't disappointed. All the costumes were made to measure, with attention to every single detail. It's a crucial asset before you start a film and I was able to do some tests very early on. This allowed me to be able to get a feeling for the costumes. Two months before the first "Action!" I was already inside the physical aspect of the character.

Did you rehearse before shooting?

We had a simple reading with the actors, ut I did quite a few tests with Deborah. Finding Rose took quite a long time. But Deborah came back each time around. She's a great sport. These moments were very useful to me. They allowed me to deepen my understanding of my character and to see how Regis directs his actors.

Would you say that you found this character quickly?

I did get a fairly good idea in my head about his demeanor and his behavior. But his inner side took longer to outline, because throughout the film Louis mustn't appear either friendly or unfriendly; he should reveal himself little by little without any exaggeration. I was guided by one feeling: a sense of propriety. But here again, it's a question of balance because I feared that giving him too much emotional modesty would prevent the audience's emotional response from developing.

How was your collaboration with Deborah Francois?

Great fun. Deborah uses a lot of technique, in the best sense of the word. So it's easy to make scenes evolve. She doesn't have any blockage. It was extremely pleasant to feel complicity arising very naturally between us.

What did you like about Regis Roinsard as a director?

Regis gives you a lot of freedom but as soon as he feels that you're going too far, he knows how to intervene at the right moment to redefine you without clipping your wings. I remember for example when we shot the scenes when my character looks at speed typing championships and gets overexcited. Now, I sometimes overdid it and Regis knew how to come to me each time and explain very clearly how to stay in the more 'manly' and focused aspect of the character. And to remind me of how serious and crucial these moments are for Louis. Regis knows how to look at his actors. But I also understood that this film was close to his heart. He is provincial like the characters in POPULAIRE. The theme of recognition, central to this film, is very important to him. And that's not to mention the fact that his grandfather was an active member of the Resistance, like my character. He identified himself with Louis quite a lot. And I can assure you that, as an actor, it's a gift to see the director with tears in his eyes when you play certain scenes. It carries you forward. Regis shows his heart and his soul. He doesn't hesitate to put intimacy into what he is saying. He also has an essential talent which is to know how to surround himself with the right people -- Alain Attal, to start with, a great and enthusiastic producer who knows that for such a film to exist and to show the extent of its worth, enough funds have to be invested for certain positions. But also for all heads of department: wardrobe, Guillaume Schiffman the director of photography, the sound, and so forth. And I did notice that everyone, without exception, was touched by the way Regis loved his film, respected everyone and wanted to lead his ship safely to the harbor with them.

In the film there is a memorable scene that reveals quite a lot about your character: the Christmas dinner scene where Rose meets your family unexpectedly. This scene is a great comedy moment. Was it fun to play?

Honestly, it's not very hard to put yourself in the shoes of a son who has problems communicating with his father. Most people have experienced similar situations. As for the rest, the scene was brilliantly written. I dreaded only one thing: that Eddy Mitchell should appear too relaxed. It was crucial that we could feel at once his paternal authority towards Louis. The authority of that time which, seen through today's eyes, seems quite brutal and very remote from what Eddy radiates. However my doubts flew out of the window with the first take. Eddy managed to show a toughness that we don't know him for. And we have to wait until his character relaxes at the end of the scene for everyone to start breathing again, and for Rose to be accepted into the family.

What was most difficult for you in this adventure?

I dreaded the moment when my character decides to let Rose stand on her own two feet before the New York finals. This moment when he's got his way -- Rose is champion of France and loves him - he chooses to leave. We had to be very careful that the audience shouldn't lose Louis at that point. It wasn't about explaining everything but finding the right balance so the moment would be both mysterious and moving. It wasn't easy to integrate my character's problems into a fast-paced comedy, led by the 'sporty' footsteps of a champion, to which a love story had already been grafted. But if we didn't slow down enough we risked breaking the dynamic of the whole thing or preventing any empathy towards Louis. I think we succeeded without weakening the backbone of the film: Rose's journey.

Is the finished product close to what you imagined?

It is more beautiful, because it was impossible to appreciate what Guillaume Schiffman's lighting would render by watching the monitor on set. Regis has succeeded in making a film full of spirit, efficient and extremely sharp. But above all, it's a truly personal film, not in the style of anyone else.

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