I was having breakfast at Le Sélect, a famous Left Bank cafe in Paris, when I noticed Vincent Lindon seating at the terrasse. I started to think about celebrity, comparing France’s politics of fame with those of the U.S. How do celebrities handle frontality in public here? They don’t, apparently.
The French love celebrity, but they generally don’t think of movie actors as celebrities. Johnny Hallyday, the stage God slashie (rock’n’roller-slash-crooner) embodies the Gallic (God I love it when I can fit this word in an article) concept of celebrity; in spite of being the most important actor of his generation Gérard Depardieu is “a comédien,” as the French call actors. Maybe this distinction has something to do with France’s attitude towards acting as a liberal arts profession; or maybe it’s something so deeply ingrained that we couldn’t fathom it.
And yet, rare was the passerby that did not do a double take when noticing Lindon. He’s a well-known actor, his first appearance in a movie was twenty-five years ago and there’s never been that troublesome gap, the sudden and rapid spate of inferior movies, the bad press that goes viral. But then, I’m seeing this through the eyes of an American, where acting is considered as akin to tightrope walking. In France, it’s more like playing a wind instrument well, for as long as you can.
Once someone approached Lindon and gave him their business card; I couldn’t hear the conversation. Lindon cordially responded, your guess as to what he’ll do with the card is as good as mine.
Isabelle Huppert, who lives down the street from me, can often be seen walking around the neighborhood; Depardieu picks up his own groceries. The Hollywood principle Thou Shalt Bringeth Your Entourage On a 1am 7/11 Run does not rule in Paris. Why? Is it because 7/11s do not exist in Paris (and unfortunately so)? Probably. Does the city’s convoluted landscape make getting around using a batalion of Escalades impractical? Most likely.
A couple years ago I went to a taping of the “Tonight Show with Dave Letterman.” While we queued outside the studios, Beyoncé’s motorcade pulled up. People held their phone cameras high up and snapped away with abandon while I counted the SUVs; and then my mind switched to reflecting on the ‘carbon footprint’ we humans are so distressed about. Do they have statistics for convoys of Escalades?
This is where the French have gotten it, I think. Rather than assume that some crazed fan might decide to chop your bling off your arms and feet, French celebrities leave the “lourd” (“bling”) at home when they go outside. That does away nicely with the need for an extended staff. I once sat on a Jay-Z shoot in New York City. It looked like another celeb reporting for their cover shoot were it not for two Iceberg-sized Samoans who carried small attachés with them. They contained an assortment of gold and platinum watches valued at … well. In this case, Jay-Z got it right. Dodge the machete-wielding fans and let the Samoans handle it.
In France the notion of celebrity, rather than celebrities, has been gaining more traction, spurned on by rappers getting flashier and legitimized by President Sarkozy when he married Carla Bruni. Call them the new pipole. ‘Pipolization,’ which comes from a perverted version of ‘people’ signals a sort of flashy gentrification, haphazardly wandering from the pages of Le Figaro to TMZ–less Tudor, more Trump. Fake tans, provincial hairdos (the mullet is big here), and reading mangas in the metro have all been absorbed into the Gallic zeitgeist only to be regurgitated in a multitude of regional interpretations. Fortunately, a lot of bold-faced actors in France have shielded themselves from this, and it raises a lot of questions from those used to the classic American celebrity cycle. So do you tell if someone is “famous” here?
The ultimate celeb-o-meter for actors is at festivals around France. Well, one festival–namely, Cannes. Cue the legion coast inhabitants who brave Riviera traffic every night in May to stand around for hours under the sun and hope to catch a glimpse of the stars. Without them, the red carpet entrance would be tame and pompous. One year not too long ago they were gathered en masse for when Harrison Ford would arrive for the premiere of the last “Indiana Jones” movie. The reaction when Indy stepped out of the vehicle was beyond expectations. Hollywood celebrity spoke to these people—in fact, it serenaded them.
Lindon got up soon after the business card incident and locked lips with his female compagnon—it was a long, affirmative kiss, the kind that if you tended to favor pedestrian lexis you would shout, “Get a room!”–if the same expression existed in French. They got on a scooter and disappeared in traffic.
Vincent Lindon will appear in Philippe Lioret’s “D’autres vies que la mienne.”