In people. I always get my inspiration from people, whether it’s for a film role, for the theatre, or my show. I observe how they are, and I replicate that. That’s what my profession’s all about, it’s my job description. I’ve realised that when I’m being creative, what I’m really doing is writing a letter to the last person who shared my life – a sort of declaration after the event to someone who’s been important to me: like one last letter full of love, reproaches, insults, grievances – maybe all those things at the same time. Generally, rather than give people what they want and what they know, I prefer to try and give them something that they haven’t yet realised that they like.
Tell us about the people or projects that you admire.
It seems to me that these days, people are more comfortable hating than paying homage. But I love to openly admire people, and be quite vocal about it. There’s Alain Resnais, Muriel Robin, Nathalie Baye, Jean-Pierre Bacri, Agnès Jaoui, Christophe Honoré, Laurent Laffite... it’s a long list. Many of the people I admire are dead, but luckily there are still some wonderful living ones – like Vincent Delerm – who I feel a fondness for, as if they were my big brothers.
What’s the nicest thing anyone can say about your work ?
No one feels too comfortable receiving compliments... But I like it when people say to me, “This is the first time I’ve ever been to the theatre”. So maybe it’s more the challenge than the compliment that I’m responding to, I feel like I’m giving back what others gave to me. I discovered the theatre by going to see actors I liked. The performance space felt supremely intimate to me, a place where no topic was too shameful – romantic disasters, how you feel about your body, your family – nothing was off limits. Like the writer Hervé Guibert said, it’s a place where “secrets have to flow freely”.
Which city inspires you, or makes you feel at home ?
I went to Johannesburg in South Africa ten years ago, with my drama school. It’s a complex city, very marked by apartheid. We’d been warned to be really careful, that it was totally unsafe. I brazenly ignored that advice and did the opposite, going out alone at night, driving around. I had no problems at all. I felt curiously at home there, as if it was familiar ground. We were working on a project in Ster City, a cinema that had burned down during apartheid and was an abandoned shell – I’d love to go back there.
Laughter! It’s the most generous thing in the world, to laugh and to make others laugh. You’re showing people a more distinguished, imaginative version of yourself. Nowadays there are things we mustn’t laugh at, and I think that’s a good thing. I think laughter should be inclusive, not excluding anyone. That’s what fascinates me about performing – every night you have a new audience and you have to build a new rapport, create an ephemeral community.
What are your favourite themes ?
I really like self-deprecating humour, so naturally I tend to use myself as material. I'd rather poke fun at myself before anyone else does.
What’s been your favourite project ?
I loved doing the film that's set for release this autumn. And I mean it, I’m not just saying that to promote it! The director is Ludovic Bergery, and Emmanuelle Béart stars in it, so I met her for the first time. Something rather lovely happened between Emmanuelle and me, we were so comfortable together, as if we’d known each other forever.
What’s your favourite pun or type of wordplay ?
I’m a bit leery of it now, but I used to use enumeration a lot, because it means you can juxtapose things that don’t go together naturally.
Tell us about your biggest challenge, past or future.It has to be writing the second show! I wish we could move directly to the third show, it would be much less scary. The second show has to live up to something that might just have been a fluke the first time around. It’s about coming up with a really fresh angle, while still continuing to do what I enjoy and what others enjoyed.
Do you have any little rituals when you’re working ?
I wear a different fragrance for each role. I don’t have any input on what my characters wear, but I know exactly how the man I'm playing would smell. So I hunt around in perfumeries, trying on fragrances and thinking about them. Once I’ve chosen the right scent, I’ll wear it throughout the shoot. For Marivaux’s Game of Love and Chance, where I played a poor Harlequin who believed himself to be the rich master, I wore I Am Trash by French brand État Libre d’Orange. For my show, it was Hermès Eau de Pamplemousse Rose. For Terrible Jungle with Catherine Deneuve, I wore Philosykos by Diptyque. In my last role I didn’t wear any fragrance – not because I couldn’t find one, but because I don’t think my character would use scent. Which was hard for me, because fragrance helps me a lot.
I hate homophobic or racist films that appear to point a finger at bigotry, but then depressingly fall into the same clichés. I feel that we’re living in this outdated paradigm, where those kinds of movies do well at the box office even though there are some really groundbreaking, fresh movies that no one’s making... I get frustrated at how easy it is to get a laugh at other people’s expense.
If you weren’t an actor/comedy writer, what would you do for a living ?
I’d definitely be a Nose. I discovered perfumeries over a decade ago when I moved to Paris. Before that, I hadn’t realised that fragrances existed outside of those sets you buy in the supermarket. Perfumery is about art and culture, it shouldn’t be industrial – it’s an experience. My passion for fragrance means I’m not very loyal, my tastes shift between Sables by Annick Goutal, Eau de Citron Noir by Hermès, anything by État Libre d'Orange, and Molinard’s Fleur d'Oranger.
Where’s your favourite place to spend time ?
At my parents’ in Saône et Loire – they live in a village surrounded by vineyards. And if the world were to end tomorrow, I’d head straight to Corsica and watch it happen, sitting peacefully on a hillside in Balagne.
What’s your favourite object ? (apart from Le Gramme jewellery, of course!)
A ring made by a craftsman in Saône et Loire that I wear all the time. I’m also very fond of a photograph by Hervé Guibert that I bought with my first pay cheque. I had to go and meet his widow in their apartment to choose the one I wanted... It felt like entering his private world. It’s a superb photo and I see it every day. It helps me keep my bearings.
What matters most to you in life ?
My friends. We don’t hype friendship enough, while love gets too much positive press – it’s terribly conventional. Our culture bludgeons us with this myth of romantic love, when actually, real suffering is to live without friendship.
What Le Gramme jewellery do you own, and how do you wear it ?
I have the 33 g and 15 g ribbon bracelets in polished 925 silver, a 9 g bangle bracelet in yellow gold, and a 9 g ring in polished 925 silver. I wear them every day, except when they don’t go with my character’s costume. I combine them. Sometimes my friends borrow them, and I don’t always get them back for a while. A friend of mine has one at the moment, it’s been two weeks now. I take that as a compliment.