by James Mottram and Chris Daniel

“It’s always interesting because you tend to play similar characters at different points in your life. Maybe it’s because it’s linked to your persona, maybe it’s a conscious process. It’s always fascinating to wonder why you were cast in this role.”

Acting since he was 12, Gaspard Ulliel impressed in Brotherhood of the Wolf and A Very Long Engagement before going Hollywood, landing the role of Hannibal Lecter in 2007’s Hannibal Rising. More recently he played the title role in Saint Laurent, appeared opposite Soko in The Dancer, and collaborated with feted young French-Canadian actor/filmmaker Xavier Dolan on It’s Only the End of the World, which is the reason we are speaking with the 32-year-old actor today.

First a stage play, the adaptation of It’s Only the End of the World has a top-tier French ensemble, including Vincent Cassel, Marion Cotillard, Nathalie Baye, Lea Seydoux, with Gaspard Ulliel in the lead role.

“I was a bit weary because after the success of Mommy, we knew that there would be people waiting for us with sniper rifles,” says Ulliel about working with Dolan, who was following up Cannes Jury Prize winner Mommy, with his sixth film, It’s Only the End of the World, all at the ripe old age of 26.

“It has the ideal French cast, maybe aside from myself,” says the actor with humility. “Xavier has the best French cast of that moment. This can be quite tricky. He took such powerful actors and in the light of the moment, made the audience forget about that, as they all just became characters.”

It’s Only the End of the World develops a portrait of a dysfunctional family that has obviously frayed over time. Louis, played by Gaspard Ulliel, is a young writer who reunites with his family after a delayed period of time, unleashing an HIV bombshell on them, informing them that he will indeed die.

The original play by Jean-Luc Lagarce brandishes a verbose, theatrical writing style that Dolan has used to his advantage. “I think it’s really brave of him to go and adapt this play because when you read it for the first time, you think that it would be impossible to translate into a film,” says Ulliel. “In the end, I realised what a brilliant idea it was, because it’s all about people who cannot express themselves through speech, so all of those unsaid things are expressed through the medium of cinema.

“What I loved most was the decision to frame the whole film so tightly, because it’s mainly close ups and extreme close ups on all of those faces. It creates this mood, this atmosphere,” Ulliel says. “We weren’t told about it before production, but we saw it clearly on the very first day because the camera was very close all of the time. It shows every breath, every inner vibration, almost as if it was a seismic graph of emotion.”

Returning to the less lucrative but incredibly prolific French industry after his Hollywood experience, Gaspard Ulliel is philosophical about the future direction of his career. “Of course, it’s very attractive to think that you will end in Hollywood at some stage and working with these amazing directors in this huge industry, but the real question is: at what price? Maybe I’m a slow person, but I need to take time within the industry to go out and be alive. In the end, it’s where you nourish yourself for your next role.”

Recently becoming a father, Ulliel considers himself to be a regular person outside of the industry. “I think it will change many things. Maybe it will change the fact that I prefer films that take me far beyond my own world, far from my home. Now that I have a kid, maybe I will prefer to shoot near where I live. When you’re in a hotel or in a different country I felt that it helped just to remain in the shoes of that character but when you go back to your own home and see family, it distracts you from the experience.”

For now, it seems like a matter of experimentation as he seeks the ideal project, wherever that may be. “I have this strong envy to go back on a new experience each time, but you realise that it’s very important to pick the right projects and choose the right character that will allow you to explore a new aspect of yourself and your work. It’s all about challenging yourself and raising the bar higher.”

It’s Only the End of the World is available digitally now through iTunes and Dendy Direct.

Read our interview with Xavier Dolan about It’s Only the End of the World.


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