CULTURE

A French actor in Markopoulo

Jean Rochefort, the gentleman farmer boasting over 80 cinematic roles, a plethora of awards, a Legion of Honor and a refined sense of humor, spent 14 days at the newly built Markopoulo Olympic Equestrian Center – for an Olympic cause. This master of film acting, one of France’s finest and among Europe’s leading actors, has a deep love of and longstanding relationship with horses. As a result, he is a frequently asked to act as guest commentator and consultant at equestrian events. In Greece, Rochefort’s days were entirely Olympic – not necessarily festive, just busy. Though he was unable to visit Athens, the actor’s images of Greece were memorable: He was impressed by the Games’ organization and the beauty of the stadiums. Our conversation was brief; time was pressing and the role of the commentator is complex and demanding. You came to Greece as a commentator for French television (France 2). This must have been an entirely different experience for you, yet at the same time familiar, something close to your interests. Did you treat it as one more role you had to interpret? Not exactly. Parallel to my work in cinema, I deal with horses. I gladly agreed to come to your country, which I had never visited before, to follow the Olympic Games. To come to Greece to watch the Games in the country they were born. Those were my two basic motives. What was your contact with the city like? It took me a little while to get over the shock! I went through two very difficult days of adapting. I watched the opening ceremony. It was fantastic for various reasons. First of all for its quality, the combination of antiquity with the modern age. It revealed sensitivity, bearing the signature of one director and many co-directors. It was large in size, but at the same time modest, delicate and refined. I had watched the Games in Seoul, Atlanta and Sydney. This time, I felt that I was in a city with the patina of time. A city with deep roots, with a lot of things to pass on and show the rest of us. A country closely in contact with art and the soul. Are these roots evident in a modern city? Unfortunately, I was not here on vacation, I was very busy. I was condemned to spend all my time at the Markopoulo Olympic Equestrian Center, which was nevertheless lovely, but I had no time to visit the city. I didn’t see Athens. On top of it, I couldn’t go round in this heat, I couldn’t bear it physically, I felt worn out. Was your love for horseback riding transmitted to you by your father? By my grandfather. He took tourists on rides. That’s where I came into contact with horses. Are horses drugged for the races? Where do you stand on this issue? Horses are drugged. But there is very tight control on horses and riders. That is why they rarely take the risk. The danger of expulsion is clear. How do you deal with the riders, whom you follow and comment upon? What I really like about modern horseback riding is the combination of sport and the countryside. Mounting a horse means being close to animals. Many French riders come from the countryside, from Normandy, one of the regions which still maintains its rural character. Perhaps this democratizes a sport which is identified with the elite. At the Games, the Germans won more medals in riding than the French. On a global scale, Germans lead the way in riding. And they deserved the medal. Here’s a question on cinema. Did your collaboration with Patrice Leconte bring a new turn in your career? Leconte and I met at a time when we both needed each other. I like all the films we made together, they were highly successful both in France and abroad. He is a particularly gifted director, I’m very interested in his cinematic form and we communicate very well. What is your next film?The film’s title is «Akoibon,» co-starring Jeanne Moreau; it is a comedy that verges on surrealism. The movie’s director, Edouard Baer, has worked on television and I believe he can inject the film with a sense of subversive humor. A life in front of the camera Born in Dinan in 1930, Rochefort’s passion for acting emerged at a young age. He entered the Paris Conservatory but was forced to halt his education to fulfill his military obligations. Soon afterward, he began appearing in cabarets and plays. By the late 1950s, Rochefort had begun developing a name for himself in adventure films (credits include Philippe De Broca’s «Cartouche,» of 1962, and 1969’s «The Devil by the Tail») while by the 1970s, he was known for his roles in comedies, such as «The Phantom of Liberty» (1974), and «Dirty Hands» (1975). In the late 1980s, the actor began collaborating closely with director Patrice Leconte, leading to critically acclaimed and box-office hits such as «The Hairdresser’s Husband» (1990), the Oscar-nominated «Ridicule» (1996) and, most recently, «The Man on the Train» (2002), in which he co-starred opposite Johnny Hallyday. One of Rochefort’s lifelong dreams, that of interpreting Don Quixote, was nearly fulfilled when a few days into the project’s shooting the actor fell ill, leading to the film’s indefinite postponement.