Interpreting a known personality: risk or honor?

Embodying a contemporary personality who has been adored by the public is not always easy. The eagerly awaited 4e season of The Crown on Netflix, which makes way for a certain Diana Spencer, allows us to reflect on the challenge an actor faces when he lands a historic role. Risk or honor? As the memory of these personalities is not so distant, it is up to viewers to accept their proposal.

Contemporary characters for whom we have clear references and direct descendants are rarer. In Quebec, Maurice Duplessis (Jean Lapointe in 1978), René Lévesque (Denis Bouchard in 1994 and Emmanuel Bilodeau in 2006), Joseph-Armand Bombardier (Gilbert Sicotte in 1992), Alys Robi (Joëlle Morin in 1995), Olivier Guimond (Benoît Brière in 1997), Willie Lamothe (Luc Guérin in 2000), Michel Chartrand (Luc Picard in 2000), Jean Duceppe (Paul Doucet in 2002), Jean Béliveau (Pierre-Yves Cardinal in 2017) were immortalized in a miniseries.

“There may have been a time when it was more risky, remarks Paul Doucet who lent his features to the much loved and unifier Jean Duceppe in a miniseries on his life (Jean Duceppe, 2002, Télé-Québec). I know that in the days of Beautiful stories from the countries above, some actors were tagged with their character and didn’t do much work after that, but today, that won’t end your career. “


It was after four auditions that he landed the role. “At that point, a weight had just landed on my shoulders,” recalls Paul Doucet. I worked hard upstream to arrive confident on the set and luckily, I had a lot of little moments of confirmation from actors who had known him well and who told me that I was doing a good job. . I remember that Michel Dumont told me: “50% will love your Duceppe and 50% will not like it” and that the director Robert Ménard told me that people had their Jean Duccepe in mind and that we couldn’t erase it, but we were going to offer them ours. The pressure has dropped. Because having to play a character like that can only be an honor and a huge privilege. “

Emmanuel Bilodeau, meanwhile, agreed to play one of the most beloved politicians, René Lévesque (Rein, 2006, Radio-Canada-CBC): “It was a huge honor for me to play an idol, no matter if he was loved by everyone or not. I loved him, I admired him and I wanted to do him justice, without complacency, because he hated it, but with rigor, because he liked rigor. He really appreciated my journalistic rigor in 1987 when I interviewed him a few weeks before his death when I was a trainee journalist at Press. I could not imagine that I would become an actor. ”

The risk

However, he notes that the challenge can involve an element of risk. “It depends on the context, the expectations of the public and the critics,” he admits. The more people alive have known the character, the more they will be emotionally involved and the more critical they will be. The pressure will also be stronger if the character has been played previously. In the case of René Lévesque, Denis Bouchard had embodied him in a series in 1994 which had been sharply criticized. If he retains a bitter taste of the experience, he has always affirmed his admiration for the man.

“It’s a risk for a career, continues Bilodeau. A lot of pressure can destroy your image and your confidence for a few years. I didn’t sleep until the first day of filming, I kept having weird dreams. But I loved this politician so much that there was no question of rejecting this project. Even if it was a big deal. ”A role that he also shot in both languages, which added to the challenge.

The confirmation

Paul Doucet quickly conquered his colleagues, but also the family of Jean Duceppe. “I remember that his wife, Hélène Rowley, saw my photo of Duceppe in The Journal of Montreal and called her children believing it to be her husband. She had been very moved during the screening. I did the promotional tour with Gilles [Duceppe] when he was leader of the Bloc Québécois. Alexis [Duceppe] even told me that he showed the series to his children so that they would know their great-grandfather. It is quite an honor. ”An honor that allows us to tell our story.

Recent cases

Mark Zuckerberg, Freddie Mercury, Elton John, Nelson Mandela, Gandhi or Mohammed Ali are just a few contemporary personalities that cinema has immortalized. Even during their lifetime in some cases. On the big screen, this is common. Television refers more to a more distant story that viewers can rarely testify to. The Tudors, the Borgias, the Medicis are just a few examples. Not to mention the many kings and presidents of whom we have drawn portraits that are not always glorious. Here are some recent, very contemporary cases that have caused much talk.

Lady Di in The Crown 4: Emma Corrin

Emma Corrin was not known when she landed the role of Lady Diana, one of the most popular and beloved women of the 20th century. She was only two years old when the princess died, but was able to rely on the intricately documented texts of Peter Morgan, in addition to studying documentaries and practicing ballet, diction, posture to fully invest icon. While on promotion, she said often that this role was a real challenge, but that she had learned a lot. She also told the Los Angeles Times that the director told him that she and Diana are going through something similar: suddenly finding themselves in the public eye in a role that everyone sees. He added that all she was going to experience in this whirlwind, the fear, the excitement, the nervousness, that was exactly what Diana was feeling.

Margaret Thatcher in The Crown 4: Gillian anderson

If the Prime Minister polarized, the interpretation of Gillian Anderson is unanimous. But you should know that the actress, who is also the wife of the creator of the series, had initially refused to play the Iron Lady. She told the Vanity Fair that the chances of making a mistake in playing an iconic historical figure that people loved to hate or hated to love were high.

Jacqueline Kennedy in The Kennedys: Katie holmes

In this Canadian-American production, Katie Holmes was given the mandate to play First Lady Jackie Kennedy, a symbol of elegance, culture and resilience. Despite murderous criticism, Holmes agreed to step back into the shoes of the great lady six years later to The Kennedys: After Camelot where his interpretation was more convincing. The actress has claimed to be a great admirer of Jackie Kennedy, her determination to preserve the name and reputation of her family, her husband and her desire to provide her children with a framework for them to develop normally. It is for this reason that she took up the challenge twice rather than once.

Donald Trump in The Comey Rule: Brendan Gleeson

The outgoing president has often been the subject of caricatures. Let’s just think about Saturday Night Live where his maneuvers are frequently reported. The miniseries in two episodes The Comey Rule dwells on the issue of Russian interference in the 2016 campaign. It portrays Trump as someone unfit to govern and Gleeson, an Irish actor, has received much praise. To get closer, he worked for two months with a vocal coach. His interpretation has been described as entertaining and terrifying, like the real character. But the miniseries was not unanimous.

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