A young, passionate French actor with a piercing gaze, Guillaume Arnault is a name that we’re quite sure you’ll be hearing more of. His resilience and earnest approach to portraying his characters earned him a part in the internationally renowned Netflix series Marseille, where his role as the tormented Eric appears alongside the likes of French icons Gerard Depardieu and Benoit Magimel. As we sat down with him, he opened up to us about his journey as a debuting actor, his experiences as well as his process of embodying a character. With a couple of solid projects in the works, we look forward to seeing where else his great potential will take him.
Hello Guillaume! Firstly, could you tell us what inspired you to become an actor?
At the beginning, one of my neighbors, Richard Taxy introduced me to the Cours Simon drama school in Paris. I had wanted to join the army after high school, and when I was 19, I joined an advertising agency and was getting quite a few castings. Richard suggested that instead of joining the army, I should try auditioning for the Cours Simon. I auditioned, got accepted, and in a nutshell that’s how all this started for me.
Since your debut in drama school, how would you describe the experience/journey of getting to where you are today?
I’d say it takes a lot of patience. It took time to get into the system, to understand how things work and to find the right network. Things don’t come easy, but a chance meeting could lead to someone who has faith in you who will lead you on to another opportunity or project.
There’s also substantive background work as well. It requires observation and getting to know oneself better on a fundamental level to know more about acting and the role you’re playing. Most of the time, the person that you’re playing is already in you, and the difference comes from how you interpret the character, at least for me. It’s the way you understand what you’ve lived through that allows you to achieve the level of acting that you pursue.
During your exploration into acting, were there any actors or characters that made a strong impression on you?
I must admit I’m not that well-versed in French cinema or cinema in general. I do like action, war-themed or period-themed films, for example I loved Kingdom of Heaven by Ridley Scott with Orlando Bloom and Eva Green. When I first started acting, people told me that I looked like Paul Newman, so I watched his past films. I also like the work of Marlon Brando, not in the sense of being a fan, but more in appreciation of how his acting can inspire. I feel that when you watch someone else act, something just clicks. It’s about understanding what is going through the mind of that character in that specific moment. It’s all about observation and the psychology of the role.
In Marseille, you play a very complex, nuanced character. How did you prepare for such a role?
In Marseille I play a character that has a very dramatic and moving arc. I haven’t experienced what he has in his life, so it demands a strong sensibility. Eric is someone that isn’t sure of himself, so I prepared for the role by searching for past experiences which I could transpose onto this character. I also allowed myself to discover the role in the moment.
One of the disadvantages of acting in a television series is that we don’t have much preparation time. I did my first film last summer and discovered what it was like to have multiple takes with other actors, learn lines together, analysis each word, each phrase, absorb them and recite them afterwards. This way is interesting, but it corresponds less to what I’m used to which is showing up, taking the line and running with it.
For a television series, you don’t have much time to analyze, it’s more about being in the moment and using everything you’ve learned, techniques like knowing where the light is, where’s the camera, how to never let yourself lose focus, etc. It’s about exploiting all these techniques to your advantage, so you can concentrate on your role, your sensibility and your work. You let yourself be carried by the moment
Could you tell us a bit about the film project that you were shooting over the summer?
The film should be coming out in summer 2018, it’s tentatively called Interrail, and it’s Carmen Alessandrin’s first film. I share the screen in a major role with actors Marie Zabukovek, Manon Valentin, Carl Malapa and Abraham Wapler and Ambroise James di Maggio. For most of us it was our first film, for the crew and the cast. We made a trip across Europe, passing through Berlin, Budapest, Sofia, Thessaloniki, Croatia and it was once in a lifetime experience. The film is about a group of friends who take a trip across Europe on an Interrail multiple city ticket after their graduation. It’s a coming of age movie for this group at the end of their adolescence before they venture into adulthood. It my first time playing a role that was not broken, or messed up, I was playing a normal boy on a trip with his friends, so it was a really great, fun experience.
The Netflix series Marseille has become pretty well known internationally, featuring iconic stars like Benoit Magimel and Gerard Depardieu. How was your experience being a part of the series?
For me, Marseille was the first recurring role in my career, and it was great getting to work with Florent Emilio Siri who is an extraordinary director and having the opportunity to act with Depardieu in the second season, and in a scene with Magimel in the first season.
Acting alongside Depardieu was amazing. He has the ability to read people, and just by one look he can tell if he will like you or dislike you. You have to show up and give it your all, so there was a lot of pressure, but it pushed me to get into the role immediately. You feel like you don’t have the possibility of messing up. He looks into people so profoundly that you forget that you’re playing a role. I have the opportunity to say that he accepted me in an environment close to him so that was incredible.
Do you have any other upcoming projects that we can look out for?
I worked with director Yvan Georges-Dit-Soudril a few years ago on a short film and we’ve been working for a while on a feature film project that he wrote, right now we’re waiting for a production house to pick it up. This would be an amazing project that could take me from a debuting actor to a confirmed actor because the role is very intense, like Eric from Marseille times ten. Being involved in this project, I feel the energy of the role for days after, and it boosts my confidence for whatever castings that come along. The project is really close to my heart and it’s about a character that grows in the same time that I do.
Going back to your beginnings, could you tell us about the short film, Tout Ce Qui Nous Lie, for which you won an award during the We Love Paris Film Festival?
We shot the film about a year ago and I won the award for the Best Actor for the We Love Paris Film Festival. We had an excellent team of amazing actors who have become close friends. We shot it in one week working 16 hours per day, we had so much fun and it was a truly great experience. It was a film school project, and I really believe in making at least one film school project per year because it’s great to work with the new generation of directors that are forming their craft. It’s also a good way to get to know other actors who are at the beginning of their careers since we are all at the same level and it allows us to form real friendships networks for the future.
I feel there’s more of a bond during production on smaller projects because everyone is invested in carrying the project, giving their best to make sure everything goes well. Even if that means working 20 hours overtime, the cast and crew give their all to have the best results.
Are you able to better discern which sort of projects you are interested in?
Yes, when I receive a script, I project myself into the role. It’s like reading a book, you’re invested it in if you can project yourself as that character. If I get a script and I don’t see myself as the character, I know it’s not a project for me. We should strive to do things out of our comfort zone, but I believe that you can feel it if you are drawn to the role.
Do you have any advice for other debuting actors out there?
I would say the hardest thing is to land an agent, and for that, there’s nothing better than doing any small projects that you can get your hands on. Of course, be vigilant to any scams, especially sometimes actors are faced with situations that aren’t professional, so I’d advise young actors to have a strong sense to discern from malicious scenarios. The best way would be to find film schools and participate in end of the year film projects, and to register at advertising agencies that look for actors. This can help you get a lot of castings and is a great way to meet other actors who are in the same boat as you. You also get to experience being in front of a camera, and even though it lasts only 10 minutes, it’s still a good experience to act in front of a camera and be directed, which is a great stepping stone for everything else to come.
photographer: Robin Navarro-Harraga / interview: Charin Chong / stylist: Romain Vallos / post-production: Ludovic Cabrin