Interview with Dany Boon
Despite my best shoes and a wonderful new shirt, I don't belong. I am sat in Claridges hotel amongst luxury and splendour that a northern working class oik like myself doesn't know how to appreciate. Heck there is even a grand piano on the landing of the floor I am waiting on. I am waiting to interview French comedian and actor Dany Boon about his role in the new film from Patrice Leconte, My Best Friend. When I get to enter the hotel room, I sit down between him and his translator and he takes a particular interest in the MP3 player I am using to tape the conversation and still in overawed mode I play down the technology involved. We establish that my French is not very good and the conversation begins in English:
JW: "I watched the film, I really enjoyed it"
DB: "Thank you"
JW: "I love Patrice Leconte's films..."
DB: "Yeah, he's a great director..."
JW: "I just wanted to ask you what interested you in doing a film with Patrice Leconte"
DB: "I am a stand-up comedian in France and Patrice Leconte used to come to see all my performances and one-man shows and that's how I got to know him. I have seen all his films and like the films he directs and the work he creates. They are very humane"
JW: "He was also a cartoonist as well, wasn't he?"
DB: "Yeah, I didn't know before"
JW: "Did you not?"
DB: " I was a cartoonist and did Art school. I was a storyboarder in the cartoon industry for four years, something like that. But he's not an actor!(laughs), but he's a great director, a great director...when you have a special sensibility about watching, observing, things - there's a similarity between the expression of acting and the expression of drawing. "
DB: "You know, sketch..you do sketches either side and you find the shape of a character between drawing and acting."
JW: "When Leconte has been asked about whether being a cartoonist affected how he was as a director he said that he doesn't storyboard, is that true, were there storyboards on this film?"
DB: "No none at all. He is in charge of the camera, he has a simple way of directing by getting straight to the point and finding the deepest aspects of the scene."
JW: "When you were cast alongside Daniel Auteuil, the two of you are very different characters in the film, almost complete opposites. Your character is quite proletarian and his character is very bourgeois, your character is quite gregarious and his character is very withdrawn. How did you work with Daniel Auteuil in making the friendship believable with all those differences?"
DB: "I think the Daniel character made the step to me, to my character. I think my character couldn't do the same. They meet through their loneliness and solitude, and the film highlights that whatever your social background whatever your wealth, you are still alone."
JW: "Yes, because both the characters give each other something, don't they. So Daniel Auteuil gives your character a chance to go on Who wants to be a millionaire and you finish the film by giving him a toaster! That's a wonderful comparison of what you give each other, isn't it, something that is very earthbound, that's the toaster, and something about opportunity."
DB: "Yeah, it's a bit like a fairytale in the sense that the moment you start giving and reaching out for the other, it is an enriching experience. The story is close to Capra's universe with a more cynical less idealised world because the world is more cynical now than it was in Capra's time."
JW: "As you say, you are a stand-up comic in France, and obviously there is a huge difference between performing on stage to an audience to cinema with an audience that you may never see, which do you prefer?"
DB: "I prefer to be on stage but I enjoy to be with the crew on a movie. It's like when you start a movie you know that you are going to finish it in 3,5,6, 8 months – no, 8 months is a baby! But you know that you are going to have the end, it's like a sublimation of life within the scope of the shoot with the crew and with the birth, life and death of the characters. And when people talk about the films they have seen it's like reminiscing about a past life or past memories in a former life. First of all when you are on stage you need to be 100% on form, and you question yourself and put yourself on the line daily, but the response from the audience is immediate. Whereas in film you can work more in the detail, reduce stuff, prepare stuff, make sure stuff is as accurate and precise as possible but you can only imagine the reaction of the public when they see the film, you can't know in advance. And that is what makes cinema so difficult."
JW: "Is there also sometimes something in cinema where the camera sees things that you never knew were there?"
DB: "Yep, and especially in that film as Leconte managed to shoot some stuff about me that embarrassed me at first. When you make people laugh, you take a step back and put a mask on, it's not really you, you are a step back whereas in cinema the camera goes to fish for all those aspects of you that are there, that are inside and there is no way to cheat."
JW: "Last year you directed your own film, Les Maisons des Bonheur, has the experience of being directed by Leconte and Francis Veber... changed how you would direct?"
DB: "I made my first movie just after Francis Veber and I asked him a lot of questions about comedy and if , err, it's really different you are like, when you are just an actor you arrive early but you are in your trailer and you're cool, you know. You just have to know your lines, you're in front of the camera so it's risky but you are sheltered by the crew who then tell you have 2 hours to fool around before the next set-up. But when you are a director it's tough, up at six in the morning until midnight and you have something like 200 questions to answer during the day. 4000 problems about the weather, the sun, the actors, the techniques, the camera...that's horrible. That's terrible, huge, huge work. I didn't know it was like that. I enjoyed to do it, because I was a storyboarder I did the storyboard for my movie but even after I did so much work, when you see the result's that's amazing. But it's not the same, it's like for me I can just be an actor – I can lay down a little bit, maybe take a nap, have a chocolate and a coffee and after that I'll be back! And the other thing is for a movie, when you are a director, when you wrote it, it's really hard when it comes out - so hard. They say at noon we have to do 2000 seats in Paris, unless...it's terrible you have two years of work and one day only - on the day the film is out it's like execution day. Everything happens on the same day, fortunately my film worked fine and there's no problem there. For my first movie I wanted about 800,000 tickets and we did a million, 1.2 million which is a lot for a first film. It's fascinating because I loved the exchange in the work and contact with others."
JW: "One of the things that the director has said is that he will only make three more films and that he intends them to be light comedies. And he says, and you have eluded to it earlier, that films should be about making the world open up, make the world kinder. So do you think artists have a responsibility to make the world a happier place?"
DB: "Yeah, a big responsibility. Now in France there are going to be presidential elections and ...... you are going to vote for one person, and you ask, if .. I have to go to say that I am for him or her. And it's really hard because it's politics and it's not so good for an artist because afterwards they(people) change the way they see you, or they adore you, or say “Oh they vote for this guy or this girl”. It's better for the artist to give a political message through the emotions in their work rather than straight out, at the same time this is universal and timeless. I make people laugh with serious subjects in order to repair and de-stigmatise (the world)"
JW: "Thank you very much for your time"
DB: "You're welcome"
And with that I leave the plush hotel room and scarper out of Claridges before I am removed for being an undesirable, a kind of class spy running for the no man's land of the tube station. Dany Boon is very good in My Best Friend and I was glad to say that I liked him in person and he made me laugh. My Best Friend is about becoming free with the rest of the world and at the end of the day, that was exactly how I found Dany Boon.
My Best Friend is reviewed here and is on limited release in cinemas from the 11th of May.