Interview with Romain Duris


French actor Romain Duris, star of new romantic comedy Populaire, tells Pierre de Villiers about life as a heartthrob and the lure of Hollywood

Sporting an unruly thatch of curly, dark-brown hair and dressing down in a T-shirt, jeans and sports jacket, Romain Duris is the epitome of scruffy chic today. It’s a look that draws admiring glances as he arrives at a London hotel for our interview, with one female fan going bright red and all but hyperventilating when the actor flashes her a smile.

“Some ladies react bizarrely when they see me,” Duris says, once he has made himself comfortable on a couch in a small basement room. “But from the beginning I knew it was because of the roles I played. They don’t know me every day. It is part of the dream and the fantasy. I don’t want to complain about it.”

Nor should he. Duris’s sex appeal, coupled with an endearing vulnerability and some raw talent, has seen the actor blossom into one of France’s most sought-after leading men. His status as heartthrob will grow further with the release of 1950s-set romantic comedy Populaire. Looking and acting like France’s answer to Mad Men’s Don Draper, the actor plays suave insurance agency boss Louis, who attempts to turn his new secretary Rose (Déborah François) into the world’s speed typing champion. First, he needs to train Rose and the two grow closer with each lesson.

“I really like the idea of these championships and all these girls typing very quickly,” Duris says, explaining why he chose to sign up to Régis Roinsard’s film. “So when I read the script I thought to myself, ‘I want to see that image’. I did about two months’ research into that time period. It’s about creating a world around you by using pictures and French films of the 1950s. You also have to get used to the way of thinking back then, especially towards women.”

Before stepping back in time, Duris had to visit the barber to lose his trademark locks. “That was a strange experience and it felt so different,” the actor admits, recalling his short-back-and-sides hairstyle. “When I shaved and cut my hair I looked in the mirror and saw my grandfather. The suit and the hair got me into character.”

Much of Populaire’s success is down to the rapport between Duris and leading lady François (pictured above in a scene from the film), a chemistry the actor can’t quite explain.

“I think it is one of the magical things of the cinema,” he says. “I did not spend that much time with Déborah beforehand and we are not the best friends in the world. But the relationship works on screen. It helped that we had a director like Régis who often allowed things just to happen and ensured there was good energy everywhere.”

It was a close collaboration with another director, Cédric Klapisch, that convinced Duris he wanted to be an actor. The Parisian-born star was still an art student when he was approached by a talent scout and asked to audition for Klapisch’s 1994 coming-of-age comedy Le Péril Jeune. He turned down the offer initially, but was persuaded by the director to give acting a go.

“For the character, I had to do a lot of research and afterwards I knew that I loved this job,” Duris explains. “I understood something about acting and wanted to continue.”

Since those fledgling steps, Duris has shown great versatility, excelling in dramas (The Beat That My Heart Skipped, Molière) and comedies (Heartbreaker, L’Auberge Espagnole). With American audiences increasingly taking notice of his talents, a temporary re-location to Los Angeles seems on the cards. Duris, though, can’t imagine living anywhere but Paris.

“It feels very natural to live in Paris and I feel like myself there,” the actor points out. “I ride everywhere on my scooter and know the place by heart. Whether I go to Hollywood depends on the offers I get and how good the characters are.”

Any role that lures Duris to the United States is going to have to be irresistible, since it would mean spending time away from his young son, Luigi, and long-term partner, actress Olivia Bonamy.

“Fatherhood has changed my availability,” says Duris, who can be seen next opposite Audrey Tautou in two films, Michel Gondry’s Mood Indigo and Klapisch’s Chinese Puzzle. “The hours you spend on the set waiting for something to happen are different when you have a child. Before I was very available; I could do hours and hours and not care, but that has changed. It’s difficult because sometimes you don’t want to think about your child when you are acting. You just have to strike a balance between your personal and professional life.”

Being a father has also made the attention Duris gets from the media and his more overzealous fans tougher to handle. “Being approached bothers me when I am with my son,” he says. “It is very embarrassing so I try to let them understand [that]. Sometimes it is very intrusive, so it’s a sport.”

With that, Duris says farewell and, dark glasses firmly in place, briskly walks out of the hotel and jumps into a taxi.

Populaire is in cinemas now

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