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Sagamore Stévenin • Actor

Cages at RomeFilmFest

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Sagamore Stévenin • Actor

Dressed in black, wearing eyeliner and a wolf's mask, the French actor Sagamore Stevénin is practicing his scene on the set of Cages [+see also:
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, the first feature film from the Belgian director Olivier Masset-Depasse (read the article and interview). In this passionate love story, his lover (Anne Coesens) imprisons him in order to prove to him her love. The actor – whose role is normally that of the seductive and womanising good-looking guy – is given free rein in this film to express the darker side of his personality.

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Cineuropa: How did you meet Olivier Masset-Depasse?
Sagamore Stevenin: Well, it was quite straightforward really. He sent a script to my agent who then sent it back to me along with the DVDs of Olivier's short films, which I found very professional. I had a lot of work to do that evening but in the morning I had time to watch the shorts and I immediately realised that Olivier was a true director: he had a real universe, a certain way of looking at things. I left to go to my meetings until late that evening. And for the whole day, I couldn't get out of my mind the images I had seen that morning. On arriving home at two thirty in the morning, I said to myself that I'd read ten pages of the script to see what it was like. When I'd finished reading, it was already 5.30 in the morning. It was as if someone hit me a blow. I mailed Olivier right away to ask if we could meet up. When we met, it was as if we had known each other for five years. That was quite unsettling. I told him that we shouldn't go too quickly because if I auditioned and if he thought I wasn't any good, I'd be very disappointed… And that's how we met.

What interested you about the script? Was it the character that is having problems in his love life? Or the fact that he is imprisoned?
When I begin to read a script, the lights go down, the screen lights up and the film passes before my eyes. I look beyond the character. The first question I ask myself is whether the film interests me or not, as a spectator. After that, I reread the script paying special attention to the character. It doesn't matter whether it's about a nice guy, a bastard, or a dictator – what's important to me is that it describes humankind. And I was very much moved by the human aspect to the film. That's the way I had imagined it when I watched the shorts, this sensual cinema. And that gave me a brainwave. I didn't consider myself an actor so what I needed was to go and work with people who were going to make me better. And then our encounter was so intense… Well, I found a sort of alter ego of director, someone with whom I can talk about how I feel, even about things not directly related to my character. Olivier already has a feminine alter ego – his wife Anne (Coesens) – and he also has a male one. That makes for an interesting triangle.

And how did you feel and work your character with Olivier?
From the beginning, we were interested in all the differences between the character and me. I felt that Olivier, as a director, was looking for something else – another kind of fragility, more repressed than my exuberant personality, my image. And then it was strange, because at the end of the day everything we wanted to paste together was in fact everything what interested Olivier when he met me – that he had the feeling of having the character right before his eyes. That was what I found interesting about him too, what he had felt about me in the beginning, that I had seldom had the chance to express in films. With Olivier, we wanted to do away with my good guy image. I couldn't do it before this, as in Michel Vaillant I was blocked by this image of a romantic hero, this closely-shaven guy that everyone would like to have as a stepson. This image of Vaillant was difficult for me because I'm none of these things. I feel close to all things nautical and sailors have a wonderful saying, they talk of "sailing into the darkness", which I can identify with. Meeting Olivier made me feel that I could work on this.

This mask that you're wearing, does it cause you many problems?
No … for three weeks I was stuck in a wheelchair! (laughs). I'm more of an energetic actor, I need to move around, talk, and improvise. Being chained to a wheelchair makes you forget all that, it's difficult and interesting! I take things easy, in my stride, I don't go and see the rushes, I place my trust in one single guy who can be trusted. This director is like my school. As I was saying to Olivier, I could have been more annoying on the set. If I feel that the film doesn't correspond to my idea of the way it should be, I say to him "Alright, I am trying to do what you want… But perhaps we have to talk to each other when we've finished". People forget but this profession is a little like the beauty of the devil! You give your image, your face, you give away your soul. It's much more difficult than one would think. Much more lonely too.

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