The World According To

French Actor Olivier Martinez may be a newly minted Hollywood sex symbol, But Rachael Combe finds that he's really more of an old-fashioned philosopher


The stir Olivier Martinez caused among American women after starring in Unfaithful as Diane Lane's paramour was mostly evidence of two things: how much time married girls spend fantasizing about infidelity; and all women's weakness for dark, handsome men with purring accents. Martinez, 37, has been sold to Americans as "the French Brad Pitt" ever since he first achieved global fame in 1995, starring opposite Juliette Binoche in The Horseman on the Roof (Martinez then went on to date Binoche for three years). As Diane Lane put it when asked why her character would jeopardize her marriage to the not-unhot Richard Gere: "Have you seen Olivier Martinez?" Yes, we have-and we like what we see. If he did nothing but smolder for the rest of his life, it would be time well spent. He is objectively, definitively, indisputably an extremely sexy man.

Of course, that doesn't mean he's interesting or has anything to say. I hardly expect him to start expounding on the meaning of life when we meet at the Chateau Marmont to eat cheeseburgers and talk about his two latest projects: this month's Showtime film The Roman Spring of Mrs Stone, with Helen Mitten; and the summer action blockbuster S. W.A. T, With Samuel L. Jackson. Hey, who needs meaning when you're a million-dollar movie star (which Martinez is), tooling around Los Angeles in a vintage Jaguar convertible (which Martinez has), and dating Oscar-winning actresses (which Martinez was)? Apparently, as I come to discover during a conversation laden with Berber proverbs and philosophical musings, Martinez does.

"Put your tent away, and put your heart closer" You'd think Hollywood would seem as prefab and ridiculous as a string of card houses to Martinez, who grew up in history laden Paris with his Spanish boxer father, French secretary mother, younger brother Vincent (also an actor), and a large extended family. Martinez told me he doesn't think he'll ever attempt an American accent (he began to learn English, his third language after French and Spanish, only three years ago). "I'll always be a foreigner," he says, "the kind of exotic actor from wherever." And Helen Mirren, who plays an aging actress opposite Martinez's young gigolo in The Roman Spring, speculates that Martinez has stronger ties to his heritage than most. "I suspect that he'd feel it would be a kind of betrayal of his family and culture to become Maurice Chevalier, with this perfectly spoken English," she says.

But while Martinez still calls his small apartment in the St. Germain-de-Prés area of the Left Bank home, he says he doesn't mind being so far away. "There's a Berber proverb you know the Berbers? The tribes in North Africa?" he says, patiently leading me along as if he were a sage old professor and I his protégé. " `You put your tent away and put your heart closer.' I always feel that. It's nice to have some distance with your family. As long as you're closer to them by love."

"I want to go slower, and longer"
From the way he tells it, though, Martinez hasn't always been so Zen. Or Berber. Or whatever. Along with his apartment, Martinez also keeps two motorcycles in Paris-"the kind guys like: fast, red, beautiful"-that he used to ride at breakneck speed without a helmet. This was, in fact, how he broke his back 10 years ago, forcing him to finish a film in excruciating pain. "That's how I learned to never use a motorcycle during a shoot," he says. "Before, I was so stupid. But, you know, when you have friends who died on the street, you say, okay, let's calm down. It's not the kind of energy I want to have in life. I want to go slower, and longer." At this, he begins to laugh uproariously, clapping his hands. "French humor!" he chortles.

Uh...anyway: Slower and longer could also be a metaphor for Martinez's career. He's made 15 movies in 13 years but doesn't seem to feel the need to hustle like so many next-big things. "Who knows what happens tomorrow? We'll find it tomorrow," he says when I ask him what his plans are for after
S.W.A..T. "I have no idea. Maybe it's my last movie." Throughout our conversations, I'm not sure if he's admirably wise or maddeningly coy (at one point I exclaim to him, "Your answer to everything carat be `It's part of the mystery'!"), but Martinez says he's earned his Cést la vie attitude with age and experience. "Imagination creates some big monsters," he says. "But when you face the monster in real life, you say, 'Well, it's not so impressive. I can handle that. What next?' "That's why experiences make me more peaceful."

"Sensuality has nothing to do with how you look". The only time I'm really able to get a rise out of Martinez is when I mention the "French Brad Pitt" thing. "No, I want to tell you the truth," he says, before I even get the detested epithet out of my mouth. "First it was the French Matt Dillon, then the French Tom Cruise. It comes from journalists who don't know me very well, and they don't know what I did in my country. So they say, you know, he's kind of Brad Pitt, and he lives in France. It's cheap. I like Brad Pitt; I just have nothing to do with him."

Martinez does have a point. Brad, , Tom, and Matt are each different facets of the all-American ideal: the pinup; the BMOC; the bad boy. But Martinez's image is less simple...more, how you say, French. You don't fantasize about marrying him and
raising 2.3 children together. He
the guy you'd have an affair with, the
one you'd sleep with even if you
knew he was just using you, the one whorl
ruin your life. Even when playing very kind
roles, such as Javier Bardem savior in Before Night Falls, Martinez displays flashes of what can only be called malevolence. His characters aren't obviously, blazingly good or bad; they're just human. When I tell Martinez my theory, he's obviously flattered. "I like it. Tell you the truth, I like it," he says, stifling a grin. "I like to be not so. . .cute. I like the dark side also. Life is not so beautiful, but you try to make it beautiful. All the time I try to have a kind of paradox in my characters."

Mirren speculates that his "dichotomy of looks" helps him create this complexity. He's not exactly beautiful," she says. 'He's what the French call jolt-laid ["beautiful-ugly']. He comes from this working-class family but has an aristocratic beauty. That is a certain element of his appeal." Martinez claims not to be aware of his looks. "Nobody ever told me I was cute," he says. "Sensuality has nothing to do
with how you look. It's about the way you move, the way you watch, the way you touch. It's something else."

Despite the fact that both Unfaithful and The Roman Spring feature several fairly graphic sex scenes, Martinez says he's uncomfortable portraying raw sexuality on-screen and, like a bashful young starlet, refuses to do nudity. Lane has said that she and Martinez swigged Cristal to loosen up. Mirren fell back on her own experience ( she was in Caligula, after all).


He was uncomfortable , but he's also a good, hardworking actor," she says. "As you get older, [sex scenes] should get more difficult, but they actually get easier for me. I was perfectly at ease with it, and that was a help as well."

Martinez doesn't take his stand against nudity out of any moral rectitrude, but out of shyness. "I'm just a more traditional person than I look like," he says. "It's a disadvantage as an actor. I need to be more free than that." His brother, he offers, does do nudity. "So there you have it: Two brothers from the same background, but I can't do it," he says. "I always say I was born
too late in the world, too old."

"Love is based on imagination"
Once he's finished eating his cheese
burger-delicately, with a knife and fork ("One of the biggest cultural problems facing a Frenchman in America is how to eat a cheeseburger," he notes)--
his dog, Sheba, who's been lying patiently by his side, begins to whine
with boredom. Martinez eyes his cell
phone on the table. He asks if I speak French. l do. "What if I speak very very fast-will you understand?" Maybe, I tell him, and offer to walk away while he makes a call. "No, I have nothing to hide," he declares. Well, then, what about Mira? He and Sorvino have been linked since 1998 and made a not very critically acclaimed film together, Semana Santa. "You two are dating' right?" I ask. "Not. ..uh, not anymore. I tell him I'm sorry. "That's fine. It happens."

I'm surprised, because in Sorvino's recent interviews, it sounded like they were very much together. "He's mine, and I'm not letting go," Sorvino joked to People magazine last May, when asked about other women checking out her boyfriend. "I've been together with Olivier Martinez for the past four years, and I definitely would like to have a family at some point in the not too distant future. she was quoted as saying in October. But some of the crew on S. W.A. T. said they hadn't seen her around the set at all. So when and why did they break up? "No comment," Martinez replies tersely. Well, then, he's single? "Yes, just me and my dog. Me and Sheba. The cliché: the single man and his dog. But what can I do?" Does he ever want to get married and have a family? "I don't know. I don't have goals in life. I want just to be happy and peaceful. And that's not always the case when you're married."

What, then, is Martinez looking for in a woman? "I never analyze why I was with one woman instead of another," he says. "Love is based on imagination. Do you know about crystallization, from Stendhal?" He tells me the theory: If you threw a plain twig in a salt mine, it would come out covered in salt crystals. It would still be the same twig, but it would look totally different. That's what falling in love is like. "It's not only imagination, it's the distortion of the vision. You suddenly think, This person is idealistic, this person is strong, this person has dreams, when you know better most of the time. You put what you want to see on people. But I like that. I don't want to dig in the truth all of the time. Let me dream."

"If you want to be happy, live discreetly."
And this is how it goes: When I ask about Sorvino, Martinez talks about Stendhal. When I ask about his childhood, he says he doesn't remember it. "People always say, `Yeah, when I was a child, life was not so nice. Mama forgot me and blah, blah, blah.' It's always some bullshit, you know? So me, I don't remember." And when his phone finally rings, he sprints through the call in French, but I still manage to catch him telling a friend not to meet him in the hotel lobby because he's with a "journaliste."

On the phone a few days later, I ask him if women are hitting on him left and right now that he's single again. "No one can find me because I'm hiding myself. It's very lonely here," he says, giggling in an I've-got-a-secret way that makes me think he's got a date with him at that very moment (I ask him, and he says he's just having lunch with a friend, that "dating is not part of my culture"). But in the days following our last conversation, he's seen in L.A. with Kylie Minogue several times. And a week later, the two were together in Paris at the Chloé fiftieth-anniversary party, where Minogue performed. But I suppose Martinez's denials are in keeping with his philosophy of life. The last thing he says to me, before I hang up in semiexasperation, is: "If you want to be happy, live discreetly. Does that make sense in English?"



from - ELLE Magazine
May 2003


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