My France: Robert Lindsay

Actor Robert Lindsay was once a student of mime in Paris and is starring in the new West End musical Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, set on the French Riviera. He tells Caroline Bishop about his long association with France

When were you last on the Côte d’Azur?

I filmed Grace of Monaco [the film starring Nicole Kidman] down there last year. It was probably the most glamorous location I’ve been on. We filmed in Monte Carlo for a week and one day I took the whole cast, in costume, to the casino. Various cast members had to have bodyguards because they were wearing Cartier diamonds. We were staying in Juan-les-Pins. It has lovely little winding streets and you can just fall into any restaurant and have one of the best meals you’d ever had.

You were there in the 1980s too...

Ironically, when the movie Dirty Rotten Scoundrels was being made in France, I was doing a film called Strike it Rich based on a book by Graham Greene, and we were based in Nice for ten weeks. It was the first time I had worked in France and I was overexcited. I actually met Steve Martin [star of the Dirty Rotten Scoundrels film] while we were filming as he was staying in the same hotel – and here I am 25 years later doing the musical version of it. But the thing about Dirty Rotten Scoundrels is that it’s about a time in the south of France that I think has gone, that glamour. When I took the cast of Grace of Monaco to the casino, we were shocked how people were allowed in with baseball caps and jeans. When I went there in the 1980s, people wore tuxedos and evening dress.

What was it like filming in France?

The thing about film sets is that people can be very remote. You have your trailer, you learn your lines, you go on the set, you do it – and you don’t get to know everybody. Whereas in France everybody sits down together for lunch and discusses life. Of course they serve wine. But the English director [of Strike it Rich] decided there was to be no wine, which as you can imagine caused mayhem with the French crew, who all threatened to walk off the set. I love that. I think that’s so cool, so French.

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Do you speak French?

I’m pretty good. I had to really try when I was filming Grace of Monaco. The French were wonderful because they were very helpful and laughed at me a lot if I got things wrong. I took my son, Sam, to Paris in September to meet my new-found French friends from the film. He is learning French at school – he’s 14 – and he was over the moon to be taken around Paris by French people, but he never spoke a word, he was petrified. We stayed at the Hôtel Costes which is a trendy jazz hotel in the centre, which he loved, I think because of the girls. The hotel only employs models so they are incredibly glamorous. He was finding it hard [to learn French], so I said to him, “Sam, you do realise if you can speak French the world’s your oyster as far as women are concerned – you’ll completely bowl them over!”

You’ve appeared in several French plays including Cyrano de Bergerac. Do you have a favourite French playwright?

I’ve done a lot of Molière, who is one of the greatest comedic writers. And of course Rostand, who wrote Cyrano. Cyrano, I think, is the best performance I’ve ever given and it’s a play that I adore. My favourite comedian is Jacques Tati, who created Monsieur Hulot, the famous clown. When I was at Rada, aged 18, I went to Paris to study mime at the École Internationale de Théâtre Jacques Lecoq, where all the great mime artists went, and I had to mime on the streets around Boulevard Saint-Germain. I remember gathering a crowd, which was really exciting.

Are you a fan of French film too?

I’m in love with French movies. What I love about the French is their sense of who they are. They have a real cinema which is about them; they are true to themselves and I think that’s why French movies are special. La Vie en Rose [a biography of the singer Édith Piaf] is one of my favourite films of all time.

What do you like most about France?

I am addicted to French wine; I don’t buy anything else. I can’t think of a nicer thing than a French picnic and a bottle of sancerre by a river. I always feel at home in France and I’m desperate for my son to learn the language, so he can guide me round and look after his old man.

Dirty Rotten Scoundrels (www.scoundrelswestend.com) plays at Manchester Opera House from 12-22 Feb, Aylesbury Waterside Theatre from 26 Feb to 1 March and the Savoy Theatre, London from 10 March. Grace of Monaco is due for release on 14 March.