French actor Vincent Cassel is not the type to be pigeonholed. He won Best Actor at Cannes for his lead role in gritty urban drama "La Haine", went on to appear in Merchant-Ivory's genteel "Jefferson in Paris", royal epic "Elizabeth", and even lent his vocal talents to DreamWorks tooner "Shrek". Cassel breaks the mould once again in Gaspar Noé's harrowing revenge drama Irréversible.
How did you and your wife Monica Bellucci get involved with "Irréversible"?
I've known Gaspar for a while, both as a director and as a party-goer. I didn't think he'd use me and Monica because he'd want to use real people rather than actors. Anyway he came up to us one night at a party and asked if we wanted to make the movie that Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman just missed making with "Eyes Wide Shut". Initially he said it should be a pornographic movie, but we told him there was no way we could do that. Then he came back and said it would be a story told backwards, like Harold Pinter's "Betrayal". We raised the money in two months and shot the film within five days.
Was it hard to work without a formal script?
It was a crazy experience because it was totally improvised. Gaspar gave us a guide of just five-to-ten lines for each scene, and we didn't know how long the scene would last. It was very tiring. You have the feeling of stage fright because you don't know what's going to happen, and you have to be ready for anything. And it's hard to build up a character, because you don't have any material to work with. You have to let yourself go as much as you can, and you have to use the reality around you.
The film received a hostile reception when it was first screened at Cannes...
We knew it would cause a scandal. My brother stood up in the middle of the official screening at Cannes and started to insult Gaspar Noé. He actually said, "**** you Gaspar Noe, **** you!" Some people on TV shows have claimed that it's fascist and that the government should forbid people to make movies like ours. I've been into internet forums, though, and people have written pages about how good or how bad it is. Those who liked it, liked it a lot and took it as something personal.
Do you have any regrets about the film?
No, I'm very proud of it. It wasn't made to make money. We wanted to make an object that people would see and study. The film makes you realise what you can lose when you think everything is OK. If Gaspar wanted to work with me and Monica again, we'd do it.