EX talks action movies, tattoos and trading with Christopher Lambert – best known for his role as Connor McLeod in The Highlander (1986)
Our interview is scheduled to take place in an upstairs lounge area of Raffles Hotel, but Christopher Lambert is having none of it. The 55-year-old French actor, who is in town for the Societe Generale’s 2nd Rendezvous with French Cinema event and to promote his latest film, Ma bonne étoile (My Lucky Star), says “Let’s go to my room instead.”Erm, sure. “It’s so I can smoke,” he adds. “Do you mind?” Of course not, I reply. (And then I can’t help but wonder, just for a second, if Christopher’s wife will be in the room. What bloke wouldn’t want to meet Sophie Marceau?)
You have a reputation as a non-stop traveller. Where are you going and where have you been?
After Singapore I’m in Paris, then Geneva, and then to the States in January. Yesterday I was in China – first in Shanghai with my wife, and then in Beijing.
That explains why you’re smoking Chinese cigarettes.
Yeah, I bought them in Beijing. They didn’t have Malboros at the airport. The problem with smoking is that you’ll smoke anything when you don’t have anything else!
China seems to be a happening place for cinema right now.
I love it – I’m a freak when it comes to Chinese films. The first ones I saw were A Chinese Ghost Story I, II and III. Then I discovered the incredible John Woo through The Killer. That film is reminiscent of my number-one film of all time, Once Upon A Time In The West (1968), by my hero, [Italian film director] Sergio Leone. In both those films, the directors take the time to let the emotions grow. Sergio was a master at doing that. I regret that it doesn’t happen much anymore. It’s not a matter of more screen time – you might only have 20 seconds on the screen – but it’s about allowing time for the emotional side of the actors and the film to develop.
It sounds very different to “green screen” acting, which Ian McKellen recently described as “acting reduced to technicality”. Do you agree with him?
If you’re doing an action movie, you have to go with what’s required. Acting is about being in a bubble: between the words ‘action’ and ‘cut’, you have to become someone you’re not, regardless of the circumstances. Green screen and CGI has never bugged me. I did a lot of it for Mortal Kombat, with all those sensors over my body. When you act, you project yourself into in a different world. If there’s a green screen, you have to imagine what that world is like instead. Then it’s not a green screen anymore.
But with so much technology, some action films must look very different in the cinema from how you imagined they would look at the start.
That’s why I don’t go and see the movies I’m in! I generally watch them only once, for exactly that reason: because the end product can be so different from the script. I also find that watching myself is disturbing. You know how everyone hates their own voice when they hear it back on a recording? With film, you’ve got your voice plus your face.
It must be even harder when your face is completely bald and covered in tattoos, like in Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance (2012)?
Ha, good example. But that was more amusing than anything. The directors called me and said, ‘We want you to be bald and tattooed all over.’ I thought, ‘I’ve never done this – it might be fun.’ Plus I wanted to see what my face looked like completely shaved.
Was there any CGI to help you out with the tattoos? Or was it old-fashioned makeup?
I sat through the whole thing. And it was much faster getting the tattoos put on than taking them off. The putting-on process was maybe an hour? But it was five hours to take them off. In the end, I just kept the tattoos on – for 10 days. I would go back to my hotel with my hood on over my face. The first time the room service guy walked in he took one look and went ‘Argh!!’ I lifted the hood and said “No, no! It’s okay, it’s me. I’m a human!’
Speaking of room service, you must order plenty of it if you travel so much. What do you like to eat?Very simple food – American-style food. I love cheeseburgers; they’re simple and brilliant. I make my own. Italian food, too. A plate of pasta, olive oil, you’re in heaven.
In Australia we tend to keep things pretty simple, too – especially seafood.
Grilled fish: olive oil, lemon, salt – that’s all, perfect!
I love Australia, by the way. I shot a movie, Fortress, in Surfers Paradise in the 90s – at Universal Studios there. It was great. I love Scotland, Ireland and Australia because the people are ‘what you see is what you get’. No pretentions. If they like you, they like you; if they don’t like you, they punch you, end of story. You know where you stand. I think the world should take a lesson from that: stop pretending, stop accommodating; stop making everything so diplomatic. Just be what you are. Sometimes it’s badly taken but at least it’s real.
A lot of our readers work in finance, so I have to ask: do you have good or bad memories of your time working on the London Stock Exchange in your 20s?
Great memories. I had a blast. It’s funny because, being a trainee at the time, I can’t say it was amazingly interesting. Today, though, I’m fascinated by everything financial.
Oh my god, completely. I’m fascinated by what’s happening today in the world: the economy, the crisis. My favourite channels are Bloomberg and MSNBC. I watch all of it. And it’s not just about the numbers. Countries aren’t run by politics today but by the financial entities on the Forbes list. I think politics are disappearing; it’s not like 50 or 100 years ago when the king of a country was actually a king. Now the leaders are puppets whose decisions can’t be made without the financial influences. This stuff shapes the world.