In November 2019, in parallel with the release of La Belle Epoque, Daniel Auteuil had mentioned for Première Jean de Florette, rebroadcast by France 3, which has transformed his career. The film will be followed by Manon des Sources.
The role of Ugolin has profoundly changed your acting career, until then first and foremost associated with comedies (The Under-Gifted…). Did you hear about this diptych long before Jean de Florette– Manon des Sources ?
Daniel Auteuil : Not really. It is once Coluche has declined the role that everything clicks. Because the Pagnol family wants whoever plays it to be from the South. There, Richard Pezet (the boss of AMLF who distributes the film) slips my name and Claude Berri who has no prejudices tries to meet me. I then keep receiving calls from AMLF but as I have just refused them PROFS, I’m afraid they’ll come back so I hide without answering. Until one day at last I give a sign of life. They explain to me that Claude Berri wants to see me for Jean de Florette. I go to see him and there, straight away, he tells me that it will not work… because I am too handsome! I go home annoyed but I call Claude to see him again. I shave my head and go back. And I think Claude saw my desire for this role there. I am 34 years old then and I know it is the chance of my life. So I pass these tests. It’s a scene where I have to cry and I’ve never done that in the movies. I did not feel the right to do so because I was a comic. I see that I can’t do it so I find an excuse to go to the kitchen. I find a bottle of Cognac. I drink a large swig that completely uninhibits me. I come back and let everything go. I see they are on the ass. I am coming back home. Claude telephones me to tell him that he liked it a lot but that Richard Anconina also passes the tests and that in the end, it is not him who chooses but Montand. Then a few hours later, he tells me it’s good …
How do you approach a shoot where you have the firm conviction that it will be decisive for the rest of your career?
That year it snowed in the south. So Claude decides to start with winter scenes when nothing is ready. I wear shoes that are too small for me. I suffer martyrdom but I dare say nothing. The atmosphere is tense. And honestly, I think I’ll squirt. But it passes. And then six months later, comes the first “real” week of filming. At the end of it, I see the rushes and there I find myself beside the plate, too grimacing. It’s not my idea of the role and I decide to give it back.
Do you speak to Claude Berri right away?
No, I go back to Paris on weekends and for two days, I don’t sleep, I spend my time thinking until I find the solution: Ugolino will be attractive and we will love him! Since then, I have played all the “bad guys” that I have been given like that. That was the trigger for these 9 fascinating months of filming. I felt an enormous freedom of play which came through this accent which was mine. It’s like my mom is talking through me.
And Ugolino is therefore a game-changer since you are going to chain arthouse films together…
Yes, but I’m going through this period the same way I went through comedies before. By chaining. Except in the wake of Jean de Florette and Manon des Sources where I decide to take shelter. To know how to play in the theater for a year and refuse a lot of things.
Do you regret some of the refusals of your course?
No because the main ones were like Three men and a bassinet because I was shooting at the same time. I’m almost even more famous for refusing Untouchables than having done it! After Ugolin, I even say no to Claude Sautet. Before after a month I realize that I am doing something stupid and I call him back. And as he had done in the past with Piccoli, we will create for A few days with me a character that other directors will subsequently decline, more or less consciously. It is the beginning of 13 years of friendship where we talk to each other almost every day and where I want to impress him every time. As you want to impress your mother or the woman you love
Manon des Sources: luminous Emmanuelle Béart