PARIS – Gérard Depardieu may still be near the top of France’s cinematic heap at age 57, but a new wave of audacious young French heartthrobs is giving his likes a run for their money.
Consider, for example, how movie directors, fashion brands and magazines are courting 28-year-old Nicolas Cazalé, often dubbed “the new Marlon Brando.” “If only I could have his talent,” the actor says with a laugh when told of the comparison.
He’s being modest, since his riveting good looks and charisma have won him plenty of roles, from ad campaigns for sportswear brand Chevignon to Julio Medem’s latest movie, which he’ll soon begin shooting in Spain. Cazalé decided to become an actor at age 18 when he saw a friend perform in a play, compelling him to leave his native village in southwest France. “When I arrived in Paris, I realized the world was very big and I just felt like discovering it,” he says, rolling a cigarette at a cafe near the Champs-Elysées.
After traveling for a while, he launched his film career, initially playing Mediterranean characters. His favorite role to date was in Ismaël Ferroukhi’s “Le Grand Voyage,” in which he starred as a young French Moroccan who drives to Mecca with his elderly father. “It was just a marvelous experience, the challenge of shooting in Mecca and the 9,000-mile drive,” he recalls.
Malik Zidi also caught the acting bug early on. Witty and mischievous, the
30-year-old landed his first role in 1996, impersonating a Belgian professional to win his initial audition. “I did not know acting was a real job way back then,” he jokes.
François Ozon’s “Water Drops on Burning Rocks” in the year 2000 launched his career, as it did for his co-star, Ludivine Sagnier. Zidi subsequently landed roles with major directors like Michel Deville, André Techiné and Emmanuel Bourdieu. He’ll star in three films this year. “I am very much in tune with my choices,” he notes.
Brussels-born Jeremie Renier also goes for risky and unconventional roles – occasionally posing for fashion magazines, too. Discovered at 14 by the Belgian Dardenne brothers in “The Promise,” he gave a stunning performance in their 2005 Cannes Festival Palm d’Or winner, “The Child,” as a dysfunctional young father who sells his newborn baby. (The 24-year-old actor will soon be a father in real life.) In 2006, he will star in three films, including Lionel Delplanque’s “President,” a political thriller.
Aurelien Wiik already seems an entertainment veteran at age 25. After all, he performed one-man shows in his parents’ Paris restaurant from the age of seven and landed his first screen role at 12 in “Les Nouveaux Exploits d’Arsène Lupin.”
“I wanted to do like the adults, so I went on stage and performed,” he explains over hot chocolate at the Hotel Costes here. And while he was performing in movies and at the theater, angelic-faced Wiik couldn’t wait to grow up. “Up to 25 or 26 years old, it’s hard to get very interesting roles,” he says, longing for those typically entrusted to 30- to 40-year-old actors.
This month he will start shooting opposite Catherine Deneuve and Emmanuelle Béart in Thierry Klifa’s second movie, “Le Héros de Famille,” and later in the year in Xavier Gens’ “Terres Minières.”
To be sure, Wiik has high hopes for his generation. “We are going toward more sensitive and aesthetic films,” he says; “ones that make people dream.”