Vincent Cassel might play tough, wild-eyed guys in the movies, but he’s pussycat in “real” life. I interviewed him for a David Cronenberg film, Eastern Promises, a few years back, and he couldn’t have been more accommodating and personable, which is not always the case with actors who are forced to do publicity for their films (their attitude often depends on whether — and whether they realize — the movie they are promoting sucked or not).
The 43-year-old French actor is certainly a far cry from most of the big-screen characters he’s played over the years — an eclectic collection of roles that range from socially awkward to acutely neurotic to downright psychotic.
“People pretend to be nice, people pretend to be smooth and polite and everything, but this is only an appearance because the way we're built as human beings is only in paradox and contradictions,” Cassel said in a recent interview. “So I guess, you know, when I read so-called baddies, I think they're more human than heroes most of the time.”
Cassel's latest film to hit the States, the two-part Mesrine series, which is based on the epic life of a real-life French gangster, falls into the “baddies” category. Part one, Killer Instinct, closes at the Esquire tomorrow night (Nov. 18), so you’ll want to catch it if you’re interested in part two, Public Enemy No. 1, which opens there Friday.
As Steven Rosen confirms in his review of Public Enemy No. 1, Cassel is in rare form as the charismatic gangster: “… but what there is time for is the amazingly alive, alert and downright magnetic performance by Vincent Cassel as the chameleon-like Mesrine. Looking like a combination of Bruce Springsteen and Raging Bull-era Robert De Niro (including a sizable paunch as he ages), with moments of Robert Mitchum-like late-period heavy-lidded sadness alternating with a mischievous sparkle, he keeps you watching every scene he’s in. And that’s every scene.”
Next up for Cassel is Darren Aronofsky’s Black Swan, in which he plays a manipulative, womanizing director of a prestigious New York City ballet company — a character that falls in the semi-baddie category (at least in terms of Cassel’s notorious gallery of roguish roles). Black Swan opens in Cincinnati Dec. 17.