The actor/model talks about working on Bertrand Bonello’s Saint Laurent.
Bertrand Bonello’s Yves Saint Laurent film, appropriately titled Saint Laurent, marks the second biopic of the famed haute couture fashion icon within the last five months. Critics, and the public alike, have asked the question - why? And what different information will this bring to the table that Jalil Lespert’s Yves Saint Laurent did not?
French actor/ model Gaspard Ulliel, known for his roles in Hannibal Rising and A Very Long Engagement, bravely took on the undertaking of portraying the provocative, troubled designer knowing that there was another film already in the works.
“I knew from the beginning this would exist alongside the other film. But it didn’t affect my work. It was more of a problem for the producers. Even Bertrand thought it was beneficial - since the other would be released before ours - he would be able to get rid of aspects of his life that would already be exposed, so he could just purge and go straight to the important part of his life in this particular decade.”
The film spans from 1967 to 1976, a time when Yves Saint Laurent branded the pret-a-porter (ready-to-wear) clothing line and other iconic items such as women’s tuxedos and thigh-high boots. It was also a time when France was in the midst of a sexual revolution - when economy was thriving - and culture was at its prime - something Bonello wanted to capitalise on.
“This was a special time in French history - and Bonello was very seduced by it. He didn’t want to fall into the trap of making just another biopic, where aspects of people’s lives are imitated. So, equally I wanted to reinvent my own vision of Saint-Laurent, so my performance would be more sincere and visceral, and to allow the emotions to circulate.”
But the rapturously stunning encapsulation of Saint Laurent’s debaucherous drug and alcohol infused sexual encounters has not been well-received, with some saying there is no offering of an explanation for his tormented behavior. Ulliel justifies the sumptuous nature of the film, explaining it was more about the mental aspects of the character.
“What I loved about this script (that Bertand co-wrote with Rust and Bone’s Thomas Bidegain) is that it is not trying to justify anything about his enigma. At the end of the film you spend two and a half hours within his mind and dreams, but still the mystery is intact. I could probably find many reasons why he went into drugs and drinking, perhaps from aspects of his early childhood, but this was not the focus. At one point, I tried to talk to Bertrand about these matters, but he did not want to talk about his past - the idea was to talk about the character in this point in his life.”
The production team was also plagued by a shun from Yves Saint Laurent’s lover and business partner Pierre Bergé, forbidding access to his nearest and dearest friends and forcing the costume design team to entirely recreate his collections. Ulliel again, used this to his advantage.
“For me, it was very helpful, I could visit the studio and see how they make the intricate clothing pieces. Though, it was frustrating that I would not have access to people that were close to Yves Saint Laurent. In the end, I decided it was a good way to avoid falling into the trap of giving too much faith to testimonials that would have been subjective and confusing to me.”
The actor gives utmost credit to Bonello for casting him, after an arduous process of meetings and auditions. “I knew when Bertrand told me he wanted to work with me on this project, it would be a big step in my career.” The dark material did not jade him, but instead has given him hopes another interesting role will come along, whether in France or Hollywood.
“It’s difficult to say what is next for me. I know I want to find something that was this engaging and exciting to work on. I would rather wait for the right project.”