A movie star plays a martyr: Lambert Wilson on "Of Gods and Men"

A movie star plays a martyr: Lambert Wilson on "Of Gods and Men" February 22, 2011

The star of the acclaimed French film about the murdered monks of Tibhirine is talking about his role as one of the monks, and the challenges it presented.

From the New York Times:

These days his face looks craggy instead of boyish, and his American roles tend toward suave villains, like the sneering cosmetics mogul he played in “Catwoman” and the greedy expedition sponsor in another “Sahara,” Breck Eisner’s 2005 adventure film. But Mr. Wilson, who is unmarried, remains strikingly handsome, and that presented a bit of a problem for (director Xavier) Beauvois.

“Lambert tends to look 10 years younger on the screen,” he said. “So from time to time during the shoot I had to stress him out — by making him memorize a speech in Arabic for example — so that he would look his age.”

Mr. Wilson was already stressed out, thank you very much.

Michael Lonsdale, Mr. Wilson’s costar, noted in a telephone interview from Paris that Mr. Wilson had been “very anxious” about playing the part.

“He was terribly afraid to not really be Christian de Chergé,” Mr. Lonsdale said, “because Christian de Chergé was a theologian. Lambert read a lot of books, but there were some things he couldn’t quite understand.”

Mr. Lambert admitted that he’d been a little scared.

“But to tell you the truth,” he added, “I’m always scared.”

Some of his concerns centered on the fact that in 1989, in “Hiver 54,” he’d played Abbé Pierre, the celebrated, charismatic founder of the charity that became Emmaus International. “The film was very popular,” Mr. Wilson said. “I was nominated for a César. And I thought, ‘How can I do a man of faith without repeating myself?’ ”

The answer came when Mr. Beauvois sent him and the other actors to a monastery in the French Alps. “I had no idea what it was like to be a monk,” Mr. Wilson said. “In the script Christian is a man of action, like Abbé Pierre. But the lives of monks are so very different, even when there is a fight to be fought, it is fought in a different manner. From their rhythms, their movements, their pace, I sensed that I would be O.K., that it was going to be a different character.”

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