Actor TOM CONTI has fond memories of his time spent working in France. He tells Eve Middleton about his encounters with French butlers and his dislike of ‘designer’ food…
Can you tell me about your relationship with France?
My first view of France was from a train on the way to Italy. We arrived at the Gare du Nord and then while the train went round to the Gare de Lyon, we could have supper in Paris before getting back onto the train. It was so exciting coming out of Paris because the train seemed to go so quickly, and to a small boy the new and wonderful engines were just a joy to behold. I remember racing out of Paris along these very broad tracks with about ten or 12 lines.
How often do you go to France?
I suppose less often as the years have gone by. I worked in France and did some movies in Paris including American Dreamer (1984) and one called Beyond Therapy (1987) directed by Robert Altman, which was a great experience. It’s a great place to make movies because everybody involved seemed to genuinely be interested in it, even the drivers sometimes would come to the rushes.
Do you have any favourite film locations in Paris?
I remember on our first morning of shooting on American Dreamer we had a room at the top of the H�tel de Crillon with a terrace, and so we spent the morning looking down onto the Place de la Concorde which was wonderful. It was one of those moments that you never forget.
Where in Paris did you explore?
I lived in some amazing places for that movie, including an apartment just off the Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honor� down a little street almost opposite the �lys�e Palace. The apartment was like a wing of the Ch�teau de Versailles, it was absolutely extraordinary. Then I moved to another extraordinary apartment down near the Parc Monceau. When I took on the apartment I also had to take on the two butlers who came with it – although we’ve always had housekeepers and suchlike we’ve never had butlers! My first night there I got in the elevator and went to the top floor, the doors opened directly into the apartment and standing there ready to greet me were these two butlers who addressed me with a slight bow. I had to say to them that there really wasn’t any need to stand there bowing every time I came in through the front door, it was rather awkward! We did speak in French though.
How is your French, then?
Je parle comme une vache espagnole! I learnt French at school – my wife in fact is taking French conversation classes at the moment as we have a friend who is a very very good French speaker and I should be doing it too, but I’m not – ha ha!
Are there any other parts of France you would like to visit?
Some years ago I visited a writer friend who lives in the Dordogne, and found it to be a really beautiful part of the world. Also in the Dordogne we shot a Ridley Scott movie which I was around for which was a lot of fun.
Do you have any favourite French foods?
I like old-fashioned French cooking with cream and wine and butter – that great era of cooking. I don’t like nouvelle cuisine at all, it’s a complete hoodwinking of people! I can’t bear designer food.
Have you had any particularly memorable meals in France?
I remember one little restaurant in Paris called Le Vieux Comptoir near the wonderful H�tel Pavillon de la Reine (pictured left) on the Place des Vosges that had delicious food and nice wine, but I don’t think it’s there any more. I really wish that we could get the kind of wine here that you can buy in the local shop in France. It has an alcohol level of about nine per cent and you can have two glasses or even three without feeling any effect.
As an actor do you find it easy to emulate voices and accents?
Yes, I suppose so. I actually just finished a picture set in Paris but shot in Berlin. It’s called Street Dance 2 and it’s shot in 3D – it’s a film for teens really, about hip hop and salsa. I was a man who ran a salsa bar in Paris and some of the dialogue was in French. It was really very enjoyable and I loved doing it, but then we had to reshoot in English as subtitles are difficult to re-create in 3D. So in the end I had to be a French bar owner speaking English with a French accent!