The French actor Gaspard Ulliel, the star of The Princess of Montpensier (to be released April 15), asked what The Observer would be having. We’d have what he was having! “You sure? I was going to have whiskey.” Mr. Ulliel passed his French ID, a laminated and folded orange sheet, to the bartender, who mused aloud, “1984.”
At 26, Mr. Ulliel appears even younger, and his face has been his fortune–he appeared in a major ad campaign for Chanel’s men fragrance, directed by Martin Scorsese. “At some point, it’s a bit phony and weird, and I was a bit fed up at some point seeing my face everywhere in the streets, and after a while you pass in front of the poster and don’t even notice it.” In the perfume advertisement, Mr. Ulliel, playing an actor at a press conference, announces, “I’m not going to be the person I’m expected to be anymore.” Said Mr. Ulliel, “I like the idea of presenting a fragrance rather than clothes or a bag. For me, a smell is something totally abstract. In the collective mind, you’re not closely linked to one concrete product. It’s an ambience.”
As for not being who he’s expected to be, the actor enjoys the relative anonymity of New York, where he’s hardly boxed in by major French stardom. “You just meet people all the time. What I like is the mixture of people, here at a party, you go and you see people from banks; people from fashion industry, models; people from the cinema industry; and at the same time, people who make hot dogs on the street, and they just mix!”
That ability to mix and mingle freely may someday be constrained, as Mr. Ulliel is a rising star: He went unnoticed in the bar as he sipped his scotch, but photographs of the actor at his film’s premiere ended up on the gossip blog Just Jared, a rare coup, if one would call it that, for a foreign actor promoting a 139-minute costume drama. (His largest role stateside, after Chanel, has been as the young Hannibal Lecter in 2007′s Hannibal Rising.) In The Princess of Montpensier, which attracted positive reviews in U.S. publications during its run at Cannes last spring and just played at Lincoln Center’s Rendez-Vous With French Cinema series, Mr. Ulliel plays the Duke Henri de Guise, in love with a princess who has been bartered away to another man. Mr. Ulliel views the high drama of its royals-in-love plotline as a selling point: “The idea was to film as if the camera was invented at that time, and do a documentary of that time, with all those young people experiencing those things. You can see how young all the people were going through those things. At that time, you were experiencing all those things–I think 17 at that time was 28.”
Mr. Ulliel’s weekend of promotions had been spent largely at screenings during the Rendez-Vous series. They had gone “good, I think. You can’t really tell, because people that come to you afterwards, who like the film, they come to tell you good things. People who doesn’t like, they come to you anyway.” But the actor was making the most of his time in New York: “When I’m in Paris, in my hometown, I never walk. Even if I have to go two blocks away, I take my scooter. Even if it’s freezing cold here, I would walk. Here, there’s a lovely feeling of freedom. The way it’s built, with those blocks, it’s quite comforting.” He gestured at a point in the distance. “It’s just three blocks away! But sometimes it’s tricky because the blocks are so long!”
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