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The Montreal Interview
This interview between Alexandre Trudel and Jean-Marie Apostolidès took place in Montreal, in May 2006. The French version is available here. (Click on “Interviews”in the menu on the left side of the page).
The text has been translated from the French by Sarah Streicher.
Q: Looking back on the journey that has brought you to where you are now, one is struck by the diversity of your pursuits. You are at once an intellectual, a scholar, and a director, and you’ve recently co-directed a feature-length film with Bertrand Renaudineau, Buvons, buvons et moquons-nous du reste. Your research interests extend across many areas of inquiry, ranging from Louis XIV to avant-garde movements in the arts; from Tintin to Guy Debord. You have also brought a number of different analytical methods to bear upon your research, approaching your work through literary analysis, the social sciences, and psychoanalysis. You’ve studied anthropology, psychology, and sociology, and you’re currently a professor of drama and French literature at Stanford University in California. Which brings us to our first question: what has drawn you to so many different areas of study? And how has the academy managed to integrate you into its system, given the multiplicity of your interests?
A: I must say, my relatively recent involvement in a university drama department (which began fifteen years ago) does not mark a new direction in my career but rather a return to my roots. I first took to the stage at fifteen, when I began taking drama classes at my town’s conservatory. At that time, the conservatories in the French provinces often had excellent professors, and mine was no exception. By a great turn of luck, André Heyraud, who was also teaching at the conservatory of Dijon, became my first mentor. He had a lot of finesse and a very solid theatrical background. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for the professor who took his place. Once I settled in Paris, I decided against auditioning for the National Conservatory and opted instead to study under Tania Balachova. I couldn’t put up with classical theater and those arthritic alexandrines any longer. Balachova, who was highly regarded as a professor of dramatic arts at the time, taught many of the best actors in France (Michael Lonsdale, for one). I learned a lot in only a few months of her instruction, and unlearned much of what the conservatory professors had spoon-fed me. So my first vocation was the theater—the profession of the actor, of the director. But it didn’t satisfy me—I still craved discovery. Sure, I was enjoying myself, but working as an actor in France in the 1960s just didn’t fulfill me. I couldn’t imagine continuing to wait by the phone to hear if I had landed a job, nor did I want to earn my living by performing the work of Marcel Achard or Marc Camoletti. I dreamed of playing Hamlet, Tartuffe, or Richard III. I could have forged a different path for myself, but I wouldn’t have had the pluck or the intelligence to travel it at that moment. I decided to bow out instead. Speaking as my own critic here, it’s a shame that I wasn’t as bold as, say, Jean-Pierre Vincent or Patrice Chéreau when I was eighteen or twenty years old. They were as young as I was, but they had already launched their careers as professional directors. I didn’t have their iconoclastic audacity or their breadth of perspective. What I should have done—and I didn’t realize this until years later—was recruit actors from among my peers and form a troupe, which would have allowed us to pool our ideas and resources. I was foolish enough to believe that the world would open its doors to the young and talented, so I ended up waiting in vain. When you want something out of life, you must earn it by exercising strength and determination; in short, life doesn’t give handouts. But I hadn’t learned that yet. Sure, I had directed for the stage several times before turning twenty, but my work was without originality. For reasons having to do with my upbringing, which I explain in my book L’Audience, I lacked emotional maturity, and the same might be said of my intellectual and artistic maturity. At twenty, when I should have been coming into my own, I was struggling to be comfortable with who I was. In the first place, I needed to learn how to live: to get to know myself better, to dispel my misconceptions about the world in order to understand it more fully. That’s why I began studying psychology and the social sciences. As for religion, which had played a predominant role in my childhood, I needed to shrug it off for good. When I did begin to acquire the knowledge of society that had first escaped me, I did so indirectly by studying primitive societies, societies situated beyond the boundaries of the Western world. Which explains why I was so taken with anthropology, in which I earned a master’s degree from the University of Montréal in the early 1970s. I went on to study sociology in France at the University of Tours, where I eventually earned a graduate degree and a doctorat d’état. It was during this period, while juggling all the responsibilities of a graduate student, that I started to do a bit of directing work for the screen with Bertrand Renaudineau.
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