Leading man

French heart-throb Christopher Lambert fell in love with acting at an early age and his devotion to his craft has never diminished. The Highlander hero tells Pierre De Villiers about a lifelong romance

French heart-throb Christopher Lambert fell in love with acting at an early age and his devotion to his craft has never diminished. The Highlander hero tells Pierre De Villiers about a lifelong romance Christopher Lambert remembers the moment he fell in love with acting as if it were yesterday. The man who would grow up to be a movie star was 12 years old and had just staged his first play with a throng of cousins at a small farmhouse in the Pays de la Loire region.“I really loved the applause when we finished our performance,” Lambert recalls with a chuckle. “It was during a vacation and all the kids were bored, so we did this play for the family after rehearsing it for a couple of weeks. When I heard the applause I thought, for the first time in my life maybe I am doing something good that people seem to recognise. I wanted to have that feeling again.”Four decades and nearly 70 films later, one of France’s most recognisable thespians has lost none of his passion for acting. He’s had a distinguished career that has seen him achieve commercial success thanks to the Highlander franchise and critical praise for his work in smaller, independent offerings. But any suggestion that Lambert is jaded or taking things easy is dispelled when the 53-year-old excitedly runs through his hectic travel schedule.

Life of luxury“Some days I’m in China or Mongolia or somewhere in Africa or Los Angeles and I live on a plane,” Lambert enthuses. “I just love the fact that I still get to travel a lot and spend time on sets around the world with some great directors, doing films I care about. After about 70 movies I think I’ve now achieved the luxury to do what I really want to do. So, over the past four or five years, I’ve been trying to do movies that are deeper when it comes to human feelings. That doesn’t mean I’m not going to do another action film, but I’m more attracted to movies that move people.”Lambert’s latest film, White Material, is a case in point. Directed by Claire Denis, the drama is set in an unspecified African country still coming to terms with its French colonial past. As the place descends into civil war, French national Maria (played by Isabelle Huppert) stubbornly refuses to leave her coffee plantation. Lambert puts in an exceptional performance as Maria’s scheming former husband Andr�, who is trying to convince her to pack it in. For the actor, White Material’s strong political message was a big draw.“The movie shows how difficult it is when you colonise a country and you’ve been promising that you will help it develop but you don’t,” he says. “You keep on taking but you never give anything back. What happens is that, at some point, you are sitting on a ticking bomb, which has been happening now for years in many African countries. I would like France to finally stick to the promises it has made and control the money it is giving to these countries. “While filming White Material in Cameroon, I talked to a fellow actor about how some African leaders own mansions in Saint-Tropez, buildings in Paris and private jets, so clearly you have to be cautious about where the money ends up.”The fact that Lambert is more politically aware than your average movie star comes as little surprise, given his upbringing. The son of a United Nations diplomat assigned to Switzerland, Lambert was born in Great Neck, New York, before spending much of his childhood in Geneva. As a teenager, Lambert moved to Paris to try to cut it as an actor but initially found the city’s nightlife a huge distraction.“Having been raised in Geneva, coming to Paris was like putting a kid in a candy store,” he explains. “I spent the first year and a half going out partying, having fun. I had a little job in a store, so I could make my monthly income a little better. I kept on forgetting that my father had told me he would give me two years to succeed. After a year and a half I realised that I had six months left to do something, so I finally enrolled in a theatre course and a teacher said he was going to present me to the Paris Conservatoire. I thought the guy was completely nuts, but I got into the Conservatoire and, to my father, it was like his son going to university. He said: I’ll give you three more years.’”After a few small roles in French films, Lambert got his first big break as an actor in 1984 when he landed the prized lead role in Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes. An intense, smouldering gaze – which owes a lot to the fact that he suffers from myopia – and a chiselled physique, saw the actor go from unknown thespian to global heart-throb, a change Lambert says he took in his stride.“I was never shocked or overwhelmed by the media spotlight because it was part of my job,” he points out. “It came as a surprise because suddenly people paid me so much attention, but it was always from a distance. I certainly wasn’t thinking that I was somebody special or different at all.”Two years later, Lambert became an even bigger star when he played sword-wielding immortal Connor MacLeod in Highlander, the role with which he is still most associated.

All action hero“I have such great memories when it comes to Highlander,” he says. “The reason I did it was more because of the romantic side of immortality than for the action that’s in the movie. I’ve heard that they are remaking Highlander and we are thinking of bringing me back in for a small cameo which will be a wink to the audience. I really hope that happens because I love playing that role.”During the 1990s Lambert made a name for himself as an action star, thanks to movies such as Mortal Kombat, Fortress and the inevitable Highlander sequels – movies that gave the actor the financial freedom to, over the past few years, do the more challenging films he finds so stimulating. Two of Lambert’s movies since 2007 have co-starred girlfriend Sophie Marceau (La Disparue de Deauville – which she also directed – and L’Homme de Chevet) and the actor is quick to point out how big an inspiration the actress has been both on-set and off.“So far, for three and a half years, we’ve had a great relationship and I hope it stays like that,” says Lambert, who was once married to actress Diane Lane, with whom he has a daughter. “Sophie’s very genuine, a very real person and very down to earth. It’s always great to have somebody who in some ways is better than you because it pushes you forward.”Marceau is not the only person in Lambert’s life who pushes him to achieve great things. On the business front, the actor has forged a successful partnership with award-winning sommelier �ric Beaumard, the pair producing fine C�tes du Rh�ne wines at a vineyard in Sainte-C�cile-les-Vignes. Ask the actor about his growing reputation as a vintner and he heaps praise on those around him.“I can’t say pretentiously that I am a wine-maker,” he points out. “I’m associated with people who know how to make wine. My participation is small. I understand the wine and I look at the beauty of the people doing the harvest. Everything that surrounds the wine I can understand, but actually making the wine is not my expertise. I’m not saying that it’s not important to me, because I take it seriously. But you have to make sure you get fun out of it and that’s the most important thing – it has to be enjoyable.”Of course, acting remains Lambert’s first love and it’s this theme that the actor returns to again and again: “I’m doing an Italian movie where I play a ghost that gets to hear what all these women say about him once he is dead,” he says. “I might also do a thriller where I play someone who is like the devil, who gives you all the possibilities in the world, but you have to know what you are getting into. I’m always looking for interesting scripts that make being an actor such a joy.”

White Material is out now. For a review of the film, turn to page 84.Filmography highlightsGreystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of The Apes (1984)Hugh Hudson’s faithful adaptation of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ novel in which Tarzan is returned to civilisation was nominated for three Oscars and announced Lambert (pictured above) to the world as a talented actor with a gaze that made many female admirers weak at the knees.

Subway (1985)A bleach-blonde Lambert won a C�sar Award for his enigmatic performance as a M�tro-dwelling thief in Luc Besson’s crime thriller.

Highlander (1986)Lambert achieved global stardom as Connor MacLeod, the immortal Highlander who, with a little help from Sean Connery, manages to keep his head and become the one’. The less said about the sequels the better.

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L’Homme de Chevet (2009)Lambert is memorable as a drunk, damaged boxer, whose life is transformed when he starts caring for a woman (Sophie Marceau) who has been left bedridden after an horrific accident.

White Material (2010)Director Claire Denis gets the best out of Lambert in a bleak drama that chronicles a woman’s efforts to hang on to her farm in Africa as the country she lives in slides into chaos. See our review on page 84.