Liberté, Egalité, Sensualité
Enter a new international hearttrob
by Vince Passaro
Photos by Greg Gorman
Interview Magazine May 2002
Though he's been a star in France
since the early '90s, and had a small role in Julian Schnabel's
award-winning film Before Night Falls, Olivier Martinez makes
his U.S. presence known on a large scale in Adrian Lyne's new
Unfaithful. The thriller is Lyne's latest passion-and-punishment
morality tale, about a suburban wife and mother (Diane Lane,
in her finest performance) who has an affair with a young SoHo
book dealer (Martinez), much to her husband's (Richard Gere)
pain and dismay. Since it's a Lyne film (9% Weeks, 1986; Fatal
Attraction, 1987; Indecent Proposal, 1993), I won't be giving
too much away to say that the affair between 40-ish Lane and
putatively 28-ish Martinez is intensely erotic, and that it ends
very, very badly.
Martinez actually is 36, a fact
that shows in a few of the close-ups in Unfaithful, but you don't
mind the film's small lie: His presence is always boyish, energetic,
remarkably handsome and utterly charming. He plays the book dealer
with just the right mix of callousness and caring that a decent
but essentially immature man would feel toward an older, married
woman who really, really likes to drop by and have sex with him.
The stylishly explicit love scenes in Unfaithful are of the kind
that can make stars of far less handsome men than Martinez, who
has the dark heat of Antonio Banderas but whose looks leave room
for the comic touch, in the manner of Giancarlo Giannini. Offscreen,
the Frenchman has been dating Oscar-winner Mira Sorvino for a
couple of years and is the kind of relaxed, funny, low-ego conversationalist
with whom you'd like to have a couple of drinks and talk about
movies. Here we do just that, sans drinks.
VINCE PASSARO: How long have
you been living in the United States?
OLIVIER MARTINEZ: I've been here since the filming of Unfaithful.
Most of the time I am in Los Angeles. I'm working on my English
because, as you can hear, I have a really terrible accent.
VP: It works. It makes you sound, you know, French. [Martinez
laughs] Has it been an ambition of yours to move into American
OM: No, and it's funny - after the success of The Horseman on
the Roof  everybody asked me, "Are you going to move
to Hollywood?" and I said, "No." I mean, I didn't
even speak English. I was just not interested in coming to America.
But then, with the Schnabel film [Before Night Falls], when I
started to work here, I would say by accident, I started to .
. . like the taste of this country. Also, I have found that I
really like to work in English. It's very strange because it's
exactly the opposite of what I thought it would be like. I don't
feel restricted by the language: I feel more free. In English,
I don't travel with my culture, my social background, my "luggage."
I feel like a new person.
VP: What is your background?
OM: I was born and raised in a suburb of Paris by a working-class
family. I am the son of a professional boxer whose family is
Spanish from North Africa, so half of my blood is Spanish. My
father was champion of North Africa and he beat the European
champ. He was very good, a professional for 12 years. We're from
a big family of boxers. My father has seven brothers.
VP: In the film there were a number of shots of you standing
near a punching bag that's hanging in your character's apartment.
0M: Yes, it's mine.
VP: It looks like an antique
0M: Yes, they brought it over from France.[laughs] Can you believe
it? It's an English bag from the '30s. I bought it in a market
in Naples and now it is here in Los Angeles.
VP: Did you box competitively?
0M: For three years. I quit after
a bad car accident. The thing about boxing is that you can be
a star for five or six years, but when you go back to the old
life, it's tough.
VP: That's true for many athletes.
OM: Most of them, yes, but with
boxers I think it's tougher because you have health problems.
I wanted to become a champ - I was surrounded by champs in my
family and in my neighborhood - and because of this stupid accident,
I lost my opportunity. It's like all the signs were telling me
that I shouldn't be a boxer, so I quit.
VP: So how did you become an
OM: Well, I wasn't sure I really
wanted to act but I passed an audition at the Censervatoire National
Supérieur d'Art Dramatique. Its the best school in France,
and all the [film]
professionals come to see the students. I played a scene at the
end of my first year, and that's how I was discovered. I was
offered my first movie, IP5 , which was Yves Montand's
last movie. And then after that I worked with [Marcello] Mastroianni
[on 1993's 1, 2, 3 Sun [laughs] It was unfair-after two movies
I played with my two favorite actors.
VP: How did Unfaithful come about?
0M: In a very simple way, actually.
I read for Adrian and he picked me for the role.
VP: Oh, so that's how it works.
[laughs] Did he have a French character in mind your part?
OM: No. It was written for a
regular New York guy. But Adrian decided, "Why not make
him French?" Adrian has a house in the south of France and
he is very familiar with the culture.
VP: Then how did it come that you auditioned for this part that
was not intended for a Frenchman?
0m: The first time Adrian saw me was on tape. But you should
know that this never works - never in the history of movies has
someone been cast from a video. But apparently - I read this
in an interview, so I don't know for sure Adrian's daughter saw
the tape and said, "Dad, this is interesting, you should
watch it," and that's how I got my chance. I had an audition
with him and Diane [Lane] was also there. It almost never happens
that way - you see the casting director and read the part in
front of a camera. But when you work with the director and the
real person who is playing opposite you, it changes everything.
You are almost in a working session. I was very comfortable,
and that's maybe what helped me to get the part.
VP: Was the eroticism of this film at all uncomfortable?
OM: I was raised in a very traditional and old school way, so
I'm not very comfortable with these kinds of love scenes on the
screen. I don't really like doing them. I had problems with them,
more than Diane did, I think. It's a movie, and we don't do it
for real, of course, but we need to be very convincing, and I
was kind of shy. For example, I never play naked and explained
to the director, "If I play naked, I stop acting completely,
so what do you want - an actor or naked people who do not act?"
It's as simple as that. I can't do it. I admire the people who
can, however, because it's very difficult. It is a handicap for
an actor; we should be able to get past this kind of stuff.
VP: What are you working on now?
OM: I'm going to do a movie with Helen Mirren and Anne Bancroft.
It's supposed to be set in Rome. The part is very nice and I
speak a lot in the movie
VP -In English?
0M: English with an Italian accent. So after the Cuban accent
of Before Night Falls and the French accent of Unfaithful, I'm
going to do an Italian accent.
VP: Are there any particular American actors or directors that
you would like to work with?
OM: Tons. But what I really like are old Hollywood movies. Very
often I watch AMC --this television channel with old movies -
two days ago I saw White Heat  with James Cagney.
VP: That's a really great picture.
OM: It's so modern. It's so real. It's so violent. But it's so
smart. It's one of the best movies I've seen in a long time.
Cagney was one of those actors who can be so mean, dangerous,
violent and ignorant, and yet so likeable. This is art for me
- when you can mix the bad and the good together.
VP: In Cagney's last film he played the police chief in Milos
Forman's Ragtime , and he was physically unable to do much,
yet it's an extraordinary performance. He was well into his eighties
and very sick.
0M: I really believe great actors, even with disease and age,
can be great. There was Steve McQueen in Tom Horn -he was
also sick, and it's a great performance.
VP: Recently I've been watching a lot of the later work of Robert
OM: Oh, yeah. Amazing.
VP: This is someone who did not at all rely upon his Hollywood
persona. He invented parts.
OM: He did. He escaped the cliché. He is always something
different. And I think it is the genius of actors to be able
to escape whatever people are expecting of them. Otherwise you
become like a factory worker.
VP: Unfaithful, because of the
great cast and the eroticism and the attention the combination
of the two will bring, can potentially push you into stardom.
How do you feel about the concept of becoming a Hollywood movie
OM: I don't exactly know what
VP: Well, right now, for instance, if you want to go out to a
bar or to the market you can do that and no one is going to bother
OM: That's true. People sometimes recognize me here, but they
are very nice. I'm not a movie star like other actors in the
way that I need to walk with a bodyguard. My goal is just - and
I know it seems very cliché - to get some interesting
parts and make enough money to live free. Otherwise, to be a
movie star, it's a lot of compromise and also a lot of headaches.
You can't do what you want. You become a prisoner of your fame.
This happened to me in France and I don't want it. I want to
go to the terrace [of a café], have a coffee. I have no
problems with the fact that people recognize me, I'm very glad
about it, but to be a movie star is kind of unreal for me.
VP: But it happened to you back in France - how did you deal
OM: It was not actually a big problem. It became complicated
for me to walk on the streets, but as I said, I come from the
working class. I see my friends, my family, my cousins work all
day long for very little money, and if I have this problem of
not being able to wall on the streets, it's not a big deal. I
want to become a great actor, and a great actor needs great parts.
It's as simple as that. All the rest is just a part of the process.