Interview with Philippe Labro, journalist, writer and director.
What image do you keep of Jean-Paul Belmondo?
Several. That of a boy who, faced with the character and the story of “The Heir” (in 1973, Editor’s note), had the intelligence to think, he was afraid to leave his thug jacket to don the costume of a rich heir facing a tragedy. Jean-Paul had the modesty to believe that it would be difficult, but he had known how to turn a page to take on a different role. He quickly integrated the character, he understood everything. When he arrived on the set he had studied his text well, contrary to what people say he was a great worker, but he did not show it. When we said “engine”, it unfolded that, as it unfolded everything in life, with an apparent ease, behind which there was a lot of work, of professionalism. He was a great actor, a major comedian. He did theater, he was at the conservatory, he read the great texts, he took on all the scriptwriting challenges. He gave me an extraordinary gift with “The Heir” and he often told me that it was a turning point.
You then find him in 1976 for “L’Alpagueur” …
Yes. A practically silent role with a lot of sequences and actions. But it also gave this mountaineer an aura of mystery. He was believable all the time. He never played wrong.
There was also the man, a more complex personality than you might think.
Yes, we can’t stop at the fun, the guignolo, the stuntman, the galopin, the guy who liked to make jokes to everyone, who liked to laugh, eat, drink, sing, dance … Yes there was everything that, an enjoyment of life, but also a lot of seriousness in the face of the experience of life, tragedies. He also had a lot of wisdom and affection towards his family. He had a huge heart, Jean-Paul. And the cult of friendship.
What friend was he?
He brought me a lot of things. I esteemed him, I admired him and we forged bonds that have never been undone. We often saw each other, we laughed, we shared confidences, we met at the restaurant, he was unstoppable on his memories. We were talking about our shoots and our missing friends.
He was, in fact, a band actor, who placed his friends on films …
Yes, he had a comrade side, always ready to help and there was the gang at Bebel, Michel Beaune, Pierre Vernier, he recommended them for all his films and we accepted of course because, moreover, they are very good comedians. But he was also at the head of this incredible generation, coming from the theater and the conservatory, Bruno Cremer, Jean Rochefort, Jean-Pierre Marielle, Philippe Noiret, he was somewhat their leader, the boss.
He remained, however, of great humility.
Yes, with modesty, great simplicity and the relativization of everything, he knew very well that nothing really lasts, he had an ability to look at the events of life with a form of oriental wisdom.
He will remain a hero for many French people …
Yes and he had a faculty to transform and to interpret very different characters, he had an electricity in the body, a magnetism, an aura. I believe that the man in the street recognizes himself in him, as he recognized himself in Johnny.