The film De Gaulle is back in theaters on June 22, 2020. During its first release, Lambert Wilson had confided in his work to interpret the general. Interview.
[Mis à jour le 22 juin 2020 à 8h30] Few actors could have been credible in such an imposing role. Lambert Wilson was the only French actor who had the stature according to director Gabriel Le Bomin. In De Gaulle, again on display this Monday, June 22 after a first outing on March 4 (before confinement to, he lends his features to the general during the few crucial weeks that led to the appeal of June 18, 1940. This biopic combines historical facts and the intimate life of the De Gaulle couple in order to identify the motivations behind the commitment of the military and political man, encouraged by his wife Yvonne. In an interview conducted before the film’s first release last March, Lambert Wilson returned to the way he had taken on this role, which no other actor had played in a biopic dedicated to cinema until then.
What was your reaction when you were offered to play? Charles de Gaulle ?
When we suggest De Gaulle to you, we say to ourselves at the same time “it’s brilliant” and at the same time “attention, there was the Abbé Pierre, Cousteau, it is perhaps a little dangerous to chain the also famous French characters “. But what made me want to make the film was the photograph on the first page of the screenplay: we saw the couple Charles and Yvonne de Gaulle in 1940. (Pause) And before I even read the script, I looked at the photograph for a long time, and they had this tenderness, something that convinced me, even before reading the detail. It’s an exciting storyline because it’s a mix of intimate and historical. But it was above all the couple and the romantic aspect that convinced me. There was something unusual about this photograph, about the way they both looked at each other. I said to myself “that changes everything”: it is not the old man with the trembling voice who embodies France, not at all! He is a man who will fight, who is visionary, intelligent but totally alone in the face of events, supported by an incredible woman. It was very different.
Wasn’t that the image you had of Charles de Gaulle before the film?
No, and if I had been offered a traditional biopic, I would have run away. I did it with Cousteau [dans L’Odyssée en 2016, ndlr], which is not totally a biopic either, but which spanned 40 years in the life of this man. It imposes difficult things. Is it really necessary to see the whole life of a man? I think it’s much more relevant with this film to choose a month that will reveal a lot of things about who he was and what this couple was.
“It’s important to give a feeling, a vibration of the character”
How did you approach this role? How do you balance between imitation and reinterpretation?
I did not try to imitate it because I find it not a very interesting exercise. Perfect imitation is entertaining for a while, but you can miss the point. I find it more important to give a feeling, a vibration of the character and to understand what moves him, why he makes the decision he takes, how he reacts emotionally and psychically to the world around him. The imitators – of which I am not one because I am incapable of imitating anyone – very often change their subject of imitation because once we have done de Gaulle for five minutes, even perfectly, the public needs something else. And what does he need? From the depth of the character. Otherwise, to find out how to embody it, it was very traditional: we consume photos, images, films, we listen to documents, we eat de Gaulle, we drink de Gaulle, we sleep de Gaulle …
Did you feel any particular pressure to take on this role?
Hope there is pressure to play each role! If there is no pressure, it is because there is a problem, there must be pressure … Honestly, there is more pressure on a director who is going to write a subject on de Gaulle and which will deliver a de Gaulle, on a producer who must defend a film on de Gaulle, than on the actor who interprets it.
For this role, you wore makeup and prostheses …
Yes I had 2h30 of pure denture makeup … (Thinks) in all I had about 3h30 of preparation.