[Photo] Monique

An Irregular French Letter

Gerard - The injustice

It is a commonly held view that the Brits are the ones most ready to knock their most successful people.

The most recent example I have seen was when the papers took the mickey out of Mick Jagger when it was leaked that he needed an auto-cue on stage during his latest tour. Ok, so maybe he can’t be sure at the age of 63 of remembering all the words of Jumping Jack Flash in the right order but does the audience care how he manages to maintain his high-octane performances? The Stones were the biggest attraction in Nice this summer and were only pipped by about 3,000 tickets (by U2) from having the biggest box office ever down there – I think they got about 50,000 in the audience. I arrived at my flat in Antibes a day too late to get to the concert, but everyone I spoke to down there said it was brilliant. So what if he had a bit of help getting the lyrics to jump his ageing synapses so the show could go on?

The Brits assume that they’re so good at this success-bashing that they have a monopoly on it. But not so. Even here, these two ancient friends and rivals remain in serious competition!

If Mick is a British institution, Gerard Depardieu must qualify as a French one.

Depardieu has appeared in close to 200 films and television broadcasts. He has made so many films that I wondered once whether they had passed a law in France saying that you couldn’t get funding for a new movie unless he was in it.

It’s surely not just the number of them but the range of them as well: comedies, historical films, swashbucklers, thrillers, the classics.

But does the man know when to ease up? No, he has now added restaurateur and businessman to his portfolio of achievements, owning a vineyard and most famously opening his restaurant in Paris, La Fontaine Gaillon.

So, whether you like him or not, you would have to say he is successful. And it would follow from that level of activity that he probably doesn’t have a great deal of spare time.

A couple of years ago he agreed to appear in a stage play at the Madeleine Theatre in Paris. The play was called The Beast in the Jungle adapted from a Henry James novel. He co-starred opposite Fanny Ardant. Sadly, I wasn’t able to get to Paris to see the play as I had gigs more or less throughout the run, but by all accounts it was good. The reviewers all praised Depardieu and it was a success with the public.

Apparently though, he had a secret. He had been too busy to learn his lines properly and to attend enough rehearsals to commit the stage moves to memory. So how did he manage to turn in this mesmorising performance? What was his solution to this obvious problem? He had fitted a tiny speaker in each ear; one to tell him what to say next and the other tell him what to do.

I thought, that’s brilliant. That’s a real skill. Like newsreaders who can speak and listen to their producers at the same time. Come to think of it, newsreaders aren’t required to learn their lines before reading the news. Was he congratulated? Was he hell! He was pilloried for it.

This is what Le Monde said: “The least we can ask of actors is that they should know their lines … They should learn them, work on them … He prefers to build a golf course in Cuba and to negotiate the sale of one of his wines than to repeat his part.

This is what the London Times said: “So, yes, earpieces are better than embarrassed silences and certainly better than nothing. But best of all is the conscientious learning of lines that, disgracefully, Gerard Depardieu thought too irksome a task – and actors far older than he manage.

Sadly, he announced his retirement from filming a few months later.Let’s hope he didn’t mean it.

I thought that this was all most unfair, so I wrote a song to say so. These are some of the lines:

Gerard. Giant of French cinema
Dazzling as a superstar
You make the heart beat faster than sex
On the screen, you’re a God, you’re supreme.

Gerard. They say you’re now a businessman
That you’re spending too much time at your vineyard
At Chateau Tignes in the Loire
What’s your crime? You’re a money machine

You own clubs, you sell food, you sell wines
No time left to learn your lines
Oh Gerard, Oh Gerard, Oh Gerard.

Gerard don’t lose heart
Don’t let the press pull you apart
There’s one thing they hate more than failure
It’s success.

The song was included on my new album, Paris Lite, released by Irregular Records.


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