Do you remember when you were a teenager and had all the time in the world to listen to music and dance in your room, away from the judgment of the world? In the acclaimed movie C.R.A.Z.Y., director Jean-Marc Vallée (Wild, Dallas Buyer’s Club) tells the story of a family living in the 1960’s with a conflicted father and son relationship at its core.
Montreal actor Marc-André Grondin played Zachary Beaulieu; a sexually confused teenager dealing with life in a homophobic world. In a famous scene, Zachary dances in his bedroom to David Bowie’s Space Oddity; and for that moment he is free. He soars through his room like a bird and then in a close-up, we see a universal expression of heartbreak on his face. For his performance, he won the Jutra award (Quebec Oscar) and rose to stardom in Quebec.
Once C.R.A.Z.Y wrapped, he waited a year and a half to get another role. He lived on ramen noodles while still living in Montreal. Finally, he decided to try his luck in Europe and carved out a career working consistently with actors like Gérard Depardieu and Ellen Barkin.
In 2009 Marc-André became an international rising star when he won the Céser (French Oscar) for “most promising actor” for his role in Le premier jour du reste de ta vie.
He has been compared to Chanel model Gaspard Ulliel, and been called Quebec’s Johnny Depp.
He got to live out his dream of being a hockey player in the cult comedy Goon alongside his buddy Jay Baruchel.
He worked with Kim Cattrall on the HBO Canada comedy Sensitive Skin. She Instagrammed “It’s hard to concentrate when you are working with such a handsome man”.
In a few weeks, CanalPlus will be releasing the tv series Spotless in France; co-created by British writer/producer Ed McCardie (Shameless w. James McAvoy) and American Corinne Marrinan (C.S.I.). Shot in London, the dark comedy stars Marc-André, Miranda Raison (24: Live Another Day), France’s Denis Ménochet (Inglourious Basterds) and Brendan Coyle (Downton Abbey).
I spoke with Marc-André on the phone last Sunday right before the Oscars.
Angelique: Tell us about Spotless. (Now available on Netflix Canada).
Marc-André Grondin: It’s the story of a French guy who has been living in London for fifteen years or so. He has a family, and a company that specializes in cleaning; doing the jobs that other companies don’t want to do. Whenever someone dies and the police find the body three months later, he takes care of it. His sketchy older brother shows up and they end up in a bad situation. The British mob forces him to work for them. It’s a really interesting show, it’s really dark. It’s pretty graphic. It is a dark comedy, as the Brits do so well. We are waiting to find out if there will be a second season.
“The writers give themselves a liberty that not a lot of shows have. The show gets better each episode and that is not something that happens often. Season 1 finishes really strong.”
A: How has it been working with the cast of Denis Ménochet, Brendan Coyle and Miranda Raison?
MAG: It’s been great, we had a lot of fun. Especially with Denis who I have most of my scenes with. When I auditioned with him, it clicked really quickly. I really wanted to do the show even more after coming out of the audition, and he has been was really easy to work.
“Our flaws and strengths are complementary. We ended up having a real brotherly relationship. It was amazing, and same thing with Miranda and Brendan.”
A: What did you and Brendan talk about?
MAG: He plays the bad guy, but he is a nice gentle funny guy. I had great conversations with him. We talked a lot about the UK, Ireland and the Brits, the culture and the French. It was just really interesting to have conversations that you don’t usually have when you work in France or in Canada. He has some Irish background. We talked about history, music. He is a really cool, open-minded person. At first he doesn’t seem that way. When you see him act, he plays a charismatic bad guy, and then you sit down and he is super light, and smiling and talking about a bunch of stuff. You can talk about anything, there is no taboo.
“I travelled with Brendan to do promotion for the show and the ladies kept coming up to him and calling him Mr. Bates!”
A: You seem that way. In your movies you can be really intense, but then in interviews you are really cool and open.
MAG: Well, most of the time when you do something really dramatic, that’s when you need to compensate and have more fun off camera. I have done some movies that are inspired by true events and it is heavy, because you know that those things really happened. But you can’t be too involved in the character because you are just going to be depressed all the time. I am doing this job to have fun.
I am always on TV or movie sets, so I feel really feel comfortable regardless of what I do. I could have a lead or a small part. I have even done other jobs on sets. I was a production assistant, props master, whatever I do I am just going to be happy to be on set. I like the way it works. It’s like a fun army. You meet a lot of really talented people and it takes a lot of talented people to make a movie. It doesn’t just take an amazing actor, or director or writer. It takes a really great team. There are no jobs on a set that don’t affect everyone. Sometimes people look down at the drivers, or the runners, but you know what, if your driver is late, the whole shoot is fucked up the rest of the day. Or if the runners are in a bad mood, or not doing their job well, it affects everyone. It’s like an ant farm. Everyone has a job to do, and when everyone is doing their job well, it makes everyone happy and everyone can enjoy it. It makes the project even more special.
A: How do you get to the point that you are able to be vulnerable on set?
MAG: Well, the minute you accept the job, you are accepting to be in front of 40 or 50 people, and having someone tell you that you aren’t doing your job well. It’s a tricky job. It can be tough. You can take it personally. That is why even if I love a script, I will always ask to meet the director, just to see if I can trust that person enough. To accept the fact that he is going to criticize what I’m doing, and push me forward. Most of the time I’m not going to direct myself, and I need a director to help me navigate the story. I’m not necessarily looking for a friend, but for someone that I’m going to respect, that I’m going to be comfortable talking to, be honest with. A good director is a good psychologist, someone that can read the person in front of him, and act a certain way in order to get what they want from that person. There is nothing I like more than trying something and the director saying “this is exactly what I had in mind”. It shows that I did my job well, and we had the proper exchanges before we shot.
A: After you did C.R.A.Z.Y you didn’t work for a long time. How did you find the strength to not give up?
MAG: I have no idea. I am always questioning myself. There hasn’t been one year in the last 10 years, well more than ten years, that I haven’t questioned myself or doubted what I was doing. Right now is the only time where I am not questioning myself, and hoping that there is going to be another season of Spotless. I hope we are going to go back to this next year. Overall, I’m interested in a lot of things. There’s always a plan B.
A: You have a movie coming out with Marion Cotillard called A Rigged World. Can you tell me about it?
MAG: It’s an animation movie, a little bit like Les Triplets of Belleville. It’s a beautiful project. I think it’s going to be a really cool movie. I just went back a month ago to do some pick-ups and I think a lot of people are going to enjoy it. It’s really beautiful. It’s set in France as if they didn’t have electricity, just coal. It’s strange. Everything is cold and steel. It’s dark and dirty because of the coal, so it’s pretty interesting.
A: How did Jean-Marc Vallée create that world in C.R.A.Z.Y?
MAG: It took a while. He spent almost 10 years on and off writing that script and the story changed a lot, the character changed a lot. It was really hard for him to be funded. You have something really strong. Really strong characters. He brought up a lot of memories in his childhood, fate, music; it’s all from his childhood. All the parts with the homosexuality and relationship with the dad he took from his ex-wife’s best friend who one night told a story of his dad and family after having a couple of drinks. He was touched by the story and he was inspired, he asked him to write down notes from his childhood and Jean-Marc took that and mixed it with his own memories and created this story.
C.R.A.Z.Y. Director Jean-Marc Vallée, Marc-André Grondin, and producer Pierre Even, 2005 (getty images)
The reason he is able to make such movies and continues to, is because he doesn’t censor himself. In Quebec, in Canada, we censor our stories a lot because we say “o no, we aren’t going to be able to get the money if we say that so let’s not write it. I’m going to set it somewhere easy and cheap to shoot, put it in Gaspésie, not New York City.” He never held himself back, he let go, and he allowed himself to write what he wanted to write and then he went to every single producer in Montreal and they all said no. It’s just insane knowing that, considering how the movie turned out. And then there was one producer left and he was doing television and he wanted to do features and he met with Jean-Marc and he said “I’ll do it”. He was naive enough to say yes, not to be afraid of the project. Now that producer Pierre Even is one of the best in Quebec.
A: Where did you film the desert scenes?
MAG: In Morocco.
A: How was Morocco?
MAG: It was great. Jean-Marc wanted to shoot in Jerusalem but there was no insurance company that wanted to cover the shoot so they opted for Morocco. We finished shooting in Montreal. We had the wrap party and then eight of us went for two weeks to Morocco. The crew was the Montreal head of each department. We had a lot of fun. It was really relaxed. Everything went smoothly. That is my memory of it. I was 20. I am 30 now. It was a great adventure. I was really lucky to end up with this project, and to travel so much thanks to it.
A: What is your favorite travel destination?
MAG: Iceland. If I didn’t have so much in Canada personally, I would live there. I hope to move there or own something there one day.
MAG: I went to Reykjavik two years ago alone, in the middle of winter. The weather is kind of shit, its cold and dark. There are no tourists. I remember getting there. I took a nap and then I started walking. You can walk the whole city in 10 minutes. I walked and I felt at home, weirdly. I could see myself living there. And even though I’ve been to many places, it’s the only place where I could see myself having a daily life.
The possibilities you have when you are in Reykjavik are amazing. You drive an hour and you’re at a volcano. You drive an hour and you’re on a glacier. There’s hot springs everywhere. Everything is special. The hot water smells like sulfur because it’s heated naturally. There is something really natural, so natural that it’s kind of off because we aren’t used to it. The people are open-minded; they’re Scandinavian but not like the Swedes or the Finns. They are not like Canadians. They have been watching American TV but they are not Americanized. They are really special people. They are chill, relaxed. You feel like you can walk, and get lost, and just knock on someone’s door and someone’s going to help you.
A: What’s your favorite European city?
MAG: I like London, but I hate London too because it’s way too expensive. I really enjoy being in Paris too, I don’t love Paris, but I like it because I have a lot of friends there now. It’s my second home. I would say Paris, but not necessarily for the city, but for the people and for one record store that is amazing.
A: Which one?
MAG: It’s called Super Fly Records. They have a label and a record store. They sell different things, it’s amazing.
A: What’s your favorite band right now?
MAG: O god.
A: Or top 10 if you can’t pick?
MAG: Even harder. The new Father John Misty just came out. I really enjoy what he does, I think it’s really interesting. But I listen to a lot of stuff. Psychedelic funk from Nigeria. I saw Father John a couple of time live and he’s really good.
A: In an interview, you mentioned that one day you want to get married, have kids, and have horses. Are you passionate about horses?
MAG: Yeah, I don’t get a chance to ride often. 9 years ago while shooting a movie I had to ride a horse. I spent a lot of time with the horse so he could get used to me. You ride a little trail and come back and the horse doesn’t give a shit about you. It was the first time I spent a lot of time with a horse and I discovered how intelligent and sensitive the animal was. It was awesome. It made me want to have some. Not now. I’ll wait, but hopefully one day. At least when I retire I am going to have one. I might be too old to ride, but I am going to have one. I could at least brush him!
A: Is Kim Cattrall as fabulous as she seems?
MAG: She is lovely. She is really nice and very beautiful.
A: The Oscars are tonight. Who are rooting for?
MAG: I don’t watch the Oscars every year. I’m going to watch it tonight, just because I am curious. I haven’t seen a lot of the movies this year, sadly. I’m disconnected a bit. I did see Whiplash and I thought it was fucking amazing. So I hope JK Simmons is going to win because he is incredible in that movie. The last two years I had seen all of the documentaries nominated, but this year I only saw one so I can’t really complain. That’s what’s really fun, complaining during the Oscars. Complaining they are wrong!
A: Exactly, I yell at the TV during the show!
A: You have won your fair share of awards. What does it feel like?
MAG: It’s strange. I won awards for roles that I didn’t feel were hard for me to do. Not that I didn’t deserve it, not that it was easy, but like C.R.A.Z.Y. wasn’t hard to shoot. It was new for me, to be 20 and the lead of a movie, it was a lot of hours but it wasn’t hard to act. It wasn’t a big stretch or anything. Same thing in France when I won the César. Then you get jobs that are really really hard, and they kind of go unnoticed. So obviously when you get an award, it’s great, it’s fun. To be honest I don’t enjoy the awards that much, I enjoy the pride in my parent’s eyes. For them they are really really proud, well they’re always super proud, but when I win an award like the César, they were in tears and I wasn’t. I was just like “what the fuck, why did I win that”? They were all proud, with tears in their eyes, and I was happy to have won, just for that. They made a lot of sacrifices over the years and they’ve been amazing, so my winning, is a little bit like them winning. During the last Olympics I was watching and I saw parents that were so proud of their kids and I realized at that moment, that is how my mom or dad felt, or close to it. When I won in France, it was pretty big; it’s not something you expect at all because it’s another country so it’s more that I couldn’t wait to thank other people.
A: Do you have any directing projects coming up that you’d like to talk about?
MAG: I have hopes, and the will, but I have no plans. Last summer I wasn’t going to be working at all for a couple of months and I was like you know what, everything happens for a reason, I am going to finish writing what I started, and maybe try to direct one of the shorts I wrote, and then I got Spotless, so obviously if there is a second season, I’m not going to be directing anything, but it might happen one day, I’d love to. I think I would enjoy it a lot. I wasn’t feeling totally ready a couple of years ago; recently I felt like yeah, I think I’m there in my head. There is no rush; it’s not something I’m planning in detail right now. Eventually.
A: You are starring as Prince Charming in After the Ball, currently in theatres. How did you get the part?
After the Ball, in theatres now
MAG: It’s the same producer as Goon, Don Carmody has done comedy, and he’s a great guy, probably the biggest producer in Canada. He contacted me for the project. I watched two movies that the director did before, Sean Garrity, really fun movies, they were quite good. This movie has a great cast. The whole crew was people I worked with over the years. It was pretty insane that Pierre Gill, the cinematographer was there, I worked with him on Jean-Marc Vallée’s first short when I was like 8 or 9 or something, and I remember seeing him with his daughter then. His daughter visited this set and she’s like 22 now. It was really weird. I felt really old.
A: Chris Noth (Mr. Big) seems serious, but I get the feeling he is a practical joker. What is he like?
MAG: Chris is like a big teenager.
A: We hear that comedy is harder than drama. Do you think that’s true?
MAG: Yeah, it is. Good comedy is harder than drama and there are not a lot of good comedies. When you see a really genuinely good comedy, I think it’s a work of art. It’s tough on the writer, it’s tough on the director, it’s tough on the actors, and you need a hell of a good editor because sometimes just half a second can change a whole joke.
A: What’s your favorite comedy?
MAG: There are three that I like. I fucking love Zoolander.
A: I love the gas station Starbucks scene!
MAG: Yeah. And there is a co-production between France and Belgium called Dikkenek. The Belgians really know comedy. And I really liked This is the End. I thought it was really really good, with Seth Rogen and Jay Baruchel.
A: Yes, I loved that movie! Speaking of Jay Baruchel, did you ever get him back for showing your orange juice commercial on George Stroumboulopoulos?
MAG: Well, not really. I did find an awkward clip of him, when he was like 12, on some random Canadian TV show, but he was still cute in it, but I didn’t manage to show it on fucking Strombo or something. It was just like in his inbox and that’s it.
A: It must have been funny during rehearsals for GOON. I know you only had one scene together and you basically just spit at each other!
MAG: Yeah, we didn’t rehearse, but what was funny is that we needed saliva so we were just drinking and washing our mouths with cola. Jay was drinking Coca-Cola and I was drinking Pepsi, and it was like the French English thing, we were just like in each corner sipping our “cultural” colas.
A: I love it. Do you think there will be another GOON? (GOON: Last Of The Enforcers opens March 7th, 2017)
MAG: Yeah, there will. I don’t know when exactly, but yeah, there is going to be a sequel. Everyone is working hard to make it happen.
A: I really liked that movie.
MAG: Me too, and to be honest I would shoot one every year. It was a lot of fun, all these guys are friends. Playing hockey and being surrounded with your friends is a blessing really.
A: You are very generous, cool, and sensitive. You deserve all your success. I hope you get to keep doing what you love because we want to keep watching you.
MAG: Thank you. I really appreciate it.
A: Have a great Oscar party and enjoy House of Cards!
MAG: You too, have fun screaming at your TV! Cheers.
Marc-André has taken all of his success with a lack of ego that is refreshing if not bewildering, and he has a great sense of humor. He is also a true professional. When he said he would call at 4PM, my phone rang at 3:54PM. He was generous with his time and I got the feeling that we could have kept talking even after 50 minutes. I had a few follow-up questions and he wrote back and answered them. His pictures on Instagram are both hilarious and beautiful. He strikes me as being the way that he describes the people he loves to be around, open, uncensored and passionate. I think that not only are his talent and professionalism the reasons he keeps working; but it is his respect for others that makes him saught after.
He seems grounded, while still soaring.
Fingers crossed for Season 2 of Spotless and for a Canadian release date of Season 1!
Thank you Marc-André for permission to use your Instagram photos and for your time. You have a bottle of wine coming your way dude.