Vincent Cassel: ‘I really wanted to change the idea of cinema’

Onscreen he’s a force of nature but on a couch the French actor is a good deal more cuddly
Actor, producer, and sometime dancer Vincent Cassel sits his distinctively slim frame down into a chair, producing a neat configuration of acute angles. At 46, he’s a little greyer than the charismatic tyke who shot to international prominence on the back of 1996’s La Haine . Otherwise, you couldn’t say he’s aged or changed in a way that most mortals might over 17 years.
Today, he’s stopped over in London on promotional duties for Trance, a new urban thriller from Oscar-winning director Danny Boyle. There’s a nice circularity about a Cassel and Boyle collaboration: Trainspotting , the Manchester-born film-maker’s breakthrough hit, was once marketed in France as “The British La Haine ”.
“I remember going to see the movie with that in mind,” recalls Cassel. “The ‘British La Haine ’? What do they mean by that? And they had some things in common I have to say. Ever since that I’ve always kept an eye on what Danny Boyle is doing.”
Cassel speaks perfect and neutrally accented English with some speed and no little precision. This is just one of the many languages the Parisian-born artist has mastered to date: his linguistic armoury also boasts French (naturellement ), Portuguese, Italian and the Russian he learned for David Cronenberg’s Eastern Promises .
“I don’t keep it up, honestly,” he says. “When I go to Russia, then after a few days I start to understand what is going on a little better. Otherwise it’s just something I learned for a movie.”
In common with Eastern Promises , Trance casts Cassel as a London-based criminal. He sinks effortlessly into the role and into the environment. It’s not just the language: he does seem like a natural cultural fit in a British setting in a way that most French actors wouldn’t.
“Well, I went to the Lycée Français here when I was younger and even before that I used to come over to buy records and things.”
He smiles: “And my wife has a house here in London and I like to see her sometimes.”
The wife is Monica Bellucci. Their nine-year union has produced two daughters and several onscreen couplings. Thus far, they’ve beautified L’Appartement, Irreversible,Sheitan, Agents Secrets , and Dobermann together. The last time I met with Cassel, there was talk of a Cassel-Bellucci romantic comedy. But that attractive notion has since fallen by the wayside.
“We decided that making a romantic comedy was actually a problem because it would be a romantic comedy,” he says. “I don’t think I want to do anything that has a name before we do it.”
So no known genre will suffice?
“Genre is only interesting when it’s in the hands of a real director and when it becomes a director’s movie. If you hear Jacques Audiard is doing film noir, you know he’s never going to do film noir. He’s going to take film noir and make it in to something else – something that’s a Jacques Audiard film.”