Artistic relations

Denis Lavant on Samuel Beckett, Leos Carax and Caroline Champetier

by Anne-Katrin Titze

Denis Lavant shoots the beaver at the Astor Place subway station in New York
Denis Lavant shoots the beaver at the Astor Place subway station in New York Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

Famed actor Denis Lavant, the longtime Leos Carax collaborator (Holy Motors, The Lovers On The Bridge, Mauvais Sang, Boy Meets Girl, and "Merde" in Tokyo!), Emmanuel Bourdieu's Louis-Ferdinand Céline, and Claire Denis's Galoup in Beau Travail, arrived in New York after filming upstate on Rick Alverson's The Mountain, starring Jeff Goldblum and Tye Sheridan with Hannah Gross (Michael Almereyda's Marjorie Prime). Samuel Beckett was on Denis Lavant's mind when I spoke with him on his work in Tokyo with cinematographer Caroline Champetier. He said that for him his relationship with Carax is "an artistic relation" and "beyond friendship".

Denis Lavant on filming Tokyo!: "It was a very small French crew but it was a big Japanese crew. It created a solidarity, of course."
Denis Lavant on filming Tokyo!: "It was a very small French crew but it was a big Japanese crew. It created a solidarity, of course." Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

Anne-Katrin Titze: I spoke with Caroline Champetier last month.

Denis Lavant: Yes! She was in New York?

AKT: Yes, she was in New York.

DL: It's been a long time since I saw her.

AKT: Of course, we talked about Tokyo! and about Holy Motors.

DL: Yes, two films with her.

AKT: Caroline Champetier said film is "a friendship art". [I am translating what both words mean, he is hesitant].

DL: About film?

AKT: Cinema.

DL: I don't know. I'm not sure, no. [He starts laughing wildly].

AKT: Because of your experience?

DL: Enemies! It's the art of conflict, a bit. It depends, it's very varied. Different directors, different players, different situation. It evolves, it constructs itself. With Leos Carax, for example, it's beyond friendship. We are not in a friends relation. We are in an artistic relation. Interdependence between director and actor. It's strange.

Denis Lavant: "I read great books. Shakespeare, very good."
Denis Lavant: "I read great books. Shakespeare, very good." Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

AKT: For example with Caroline Champetier when you were doing Tokyo!. It was a very small crew, she said. She was the only crew. It was more or less this tiny little crew working on this one character in Tokyo!?

DL: It was a very small French crew but it was a big Japanese crew. It created a solidarity, of course.

AKT: "Concentrated, brilliant, and so involved," is what Caroline said about you. You do not sit back.

DL: Involved, engaged, yes, I understand. Sure, I'm involved in the act.

AKT: Do you sometimes read about a person, fiction or nonfiction, and you say, I want to play that person? Be that person?

Denis pulls books out of his bag - little sparkly stars fall out of them.

DL: I read!

Denis Lavant will perform Samuel Beckett's Cap Au Pire (Worstward Ho)
Denis Lavant will perform Samuel Beckett's Cap Au Pire (Worstward Ho) Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

AKT: Hermann Hesse and Beckett and stars!

DL: I read great books. Shakespeare, very good.

AKT: Give, give - I want to take a photo of this.

He makes a little pile of all the books.

DL: I play this in December.

AKT: Have you done Beckett before?

DL: For a long time I read Beckett but it's the first play of Beckett for me. The first time I play Beckett. But it's not a play. It's a text, almost last text. Cap au Pire - in English it's this [he points to the book].

AKT: Worstward Ho.

DL: A good title in English. Translation is so so difficult.

AKT: Because Beckett translated most of his texts himself.

DL: It's very oppressive. In English it's very great, simple. In French, it's more French!

Denis Lavant will perform in Samuel Beckett's Cap au Pire (Worstward Ho) from December 2 through January 14, 2018 at the Athénée Théâtre Louis-Jouvet.

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