Antoine Reinartz (EDHEC Master 2009), actor, director and scriptwriter

Published on 13/07/2020
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Antoine Reinartz evokes his EDHEC years and shares his vision of the cinema industry

Antoine Reinartz may seem far removed from EDHEC since he started out in the theatre with an innovative adaptation of the Three Musketeers as part of a travelling troupe (he played Louis XIII!) And especially his 2018 César award for best supporting actor in 120 Battements par minute (film about figures from an association that combated AIDS in the 1990s, Act Up-Paris). But he has retained lasting memories from his adventures with an association at the school in Nice and his academic peregrinations in New York and Nagoya. He appeared on the big screen no fewer than five times in 2019, ever mindful of the authenticity of his compositions, and is now an established feature of French cinema. We caught up with him as the dust began to settle after the lockdown to talk about his career, what EDHEC has offered him, and the construction of his persona.

 

Summarise for us all your current activities:

I’m an actor, essentially working in cinema. I have just finished 2 films that were due to be played at the Cannes Festival in May, but were ultimately postponed until next year. I’m also due to film a series for Arte with Valérie Donzelli.

I started writing a film about voguing [a kind of countercultural movement that emerged from the non-white LGBT community in the US and is expressed at balls through a dance that parodies the opulence of the white elite. The name voguing comes from fashion magazine Vogue, the word also popularised by Madonna’s famous song in 1990, NDLR] 4 ½ years ago when the movement was still alternative and just starting out in France. But I no longer have time to write with my current projects. Writing involves chasms of anguish and vacuums, it requires great robustness, and working as an actor already requires plenty of that.

I’m also a member of the CNC’s (Centre National du Cinéma) commission that provides advance funding for cinematographers. It includes people from all walks of French cinema. The CNC is essential in funding independent cinema in France and French joint productions (films by Michael Haneke, Paul Verhoeven and others), and the commission receives scripts to decide which ones the CNC should finance (ultimately fewer than 10%). The feedback is not based on the script’s commercial aspect, but only its content. I receive 16 or 17 scripts each month, and then 18 go on to be presented at a plenary session. It’s sometimes tricky because you get big names in the first round!

Have you got any theatre projects ongoing?

No, not particularly. In the theatre, you have to commit at least 2 years in advance, whereas in cinema everything is done at the last minute (except for certain actors who are in a position to impose their schedule ahead of time). For example, I’m about to be given my dates for an October shoot. Cinema is all-powerful compared to the rest, so if you’re not available they look for somebody else! Shooting is based on a layered logic, and you have to accept that absence of security so you don’t miss out on wonderful projects.

Tell us about your career after EDHEC:

During my gap year, I went back into theatre in Asnières-sur-Seine. In my final year at EDHEC, whenever I wasn’t in class in Lille I spent my time at the theatre. After one year at a school in Lausanne, I returned to Paris once I successfully completed the competitive exam of the Conservatoire National Supérieur d’Art Dramatique. I went on to do six years at a theatre school after leaving EDHEC. The training was demanding, but I have managed to build something thanks to it. I remember in marketing class we were told that once a purchase is made one tends to balance out the transaction by telling oneself it was a good decision. But I think I would have preferred a slightly less turbulent education all the same!

What did you take away from your years at EDHEC?

I developed a relationship with the real world that many actors don’t have because they have always lived in a world of pure ideas. I’m not afraid of administrative procedures and I know how to study the long contracts I receive in detail. When people try to look down on me because they have studied to a high level, I’m not impressed.

My exchange in New York at Pace University [first year, NDLR] also left an impression because the classes included tangible aspects: finance became fascinating! The lecturers would situate it in a specific context, in a very American way of course, but we explored everything comprehensively. Beyond the story being told, you got a sense of the societal dimension made possible by humans.

But the most tangible relationship is when it comes to acting, whether in a role as political adviser (Alice et le maire), association chairman (120 Battements par minutes) or father (Chanson douce). At business school, among other things, you learn how to make a phone call properly, it might seem very trivial, but you know how to organise things! After preparatory school at HEC and then EDHEC, I was also more enlightened about how the economy works. We are all affected by our individual path, and you realise that’s where the roles you choose come from a few years after the Conservatoire. I hate stereotypical representations of company directors or business owners, etc. In 120 Battements par minute, people find the Thibault character [chairman of Act Up-Paris, NDLR] “nasty”, or at least in opposition to the film’s heroes. But I defend him as a facilitator who is results-oriented, it gives you a better understanding of where he’s coming from. He does things his way, and takes a lot of slack, sometimes unfairly. That’s the full complexity of the position he’s in.

So how do you approach your roles?

In every role, even one that appears of little importance, I step back from prejudices and work on the basis of my own experience. If I don’t have any, I watch documentaries and I visit the location. For the role of a police officer (Roubaix, une lumière), I read the penal code and visited police stations. Even for AIDS in the 1990s (120 Battements par minute), I had to be in their context not ours, and use their words. In Petite nature (by Samuel Theis), I played a schoolteacher, a profession you think you know after going through school yourself. I spent 2 weeks in a class in a priority education zone in Forbach [East of France, NDLR] meeting with the pupils: 1 didn’t speak French, 4 had learning difficulties, 2 were receiving remedial support, and the rest lived in the most disadvantaged neighbourhoods of a de-industrialised town. There’s no teacher-pupil relationship in that class, the pupils are very independent: they do the lessons at their own speed and get up whenever they want to, a bit like the Montessori approach.

You take on the different challenges in the moment, and distil them as the role unfolds. Since we’re not supposed to know what the other person is about to say, you need to explore all the different possibilities. It’s a bit like when you’re preparing for a project in a company or negotiations, you anticipate the different scenarios.

Who are the people who inspired you in your “transition”?

Marina Foïs continues to inspire me hugely, I find her career absolutely exemplary. She has completely managed to reinvent herself since the Robins des Bois company in the 90s and move with the times. Claire Burger and Samuel Theis are two directors I admire a lot. They shared a flat at the age of 20 and went through their transition together. At the Conservatoire, as it happened I was in a relatively old group with people who had very different backgrounds. That’s a wonderful source of richness.

Rather than models, I have tended to push back against the mistaken collective view that if you have talent you can always come back to theatre. “Look at François-Xavier Demaison, who was a tax consultant, or Jean-Jacques Goldman, who went to EDHEC. It will happen naturally.” In reality, I never could have done what I do now if I hadn’t gone back to the theatre on time. Theatre schools have an age limit, and cinema is even harder to access. Either you’re from those backgrounds and things are a bit easier (which in no way takes away from your talent), or you undergo theatre training. The myth of wild casting and the innate genius, with very few exceptions, is completely false.

Do you have an impact on societal challenges beyond the reach of your films?

At EDHEC, I was chairman of Aide EDHEC [a humanitarian association based in Nice that addresses humanitarian, social and environmental concerns, NDLR] and I worked on the rehabilitation of detainees while on a gap year internship. In terms of societal commitments, I was much more involved at one time, but I’m not exactly a role model of involvement. For example, I would like to have done more to address the issue of migrants. And since I’ve been so busy establishing my career, I get involved wherever I can.

In my film about voguing, I was working alongside a slightly younger generation than mine, completely outside of any institutional framework. I really wanted to help them to highlight their subversive, elegant and always very technical shows. For 5 years, I spoke to everyone around me about voguing: I was able to get the mayor of the 11th arrondissement in Paris to host them, I organised balls and shared contacts with them, I really did my utmost to bring some money into the movement, which had very little. I also helped some of them personally. I’m obviously not saying that I was the one who brought voguing to France, but I tried to contribute in my own way.

What’s your relationship with the EDHEC Alumni network?

I get requests from a lot of young trainee actors, but from people from EDHEC as well. I really try to give them as much information as possible. I’ve also met people from EDHEC on set doing production internships. And I’m in contact with a few classmates from EDHEC. They have very diverse careers and did not necessarily follow the most straightforward paths.

Networking is essential in cinema, isn’t it?

Well your earlier roles make directors want to work with you again, but relationships clearly play an important part! It might be enough to be in the right place at the right time for someone to say to you “I’m looking for someone for a role, I can see you doing it, we’re in the middle of rehearsals, are you available tomorrow?” It’s terrifying just how much the network and your presence at parties can be crucial. But that’s the way it is, and I’ve got several roles that way. You need to make yourself wanted constantly, that’s the flipside … and it skews a lot of relationships. Friendships can depend on my desire to do cinema and mine on theirs. Screenings as an opportunity to network is a notion I still struggle with. There is also the actor’s fear (the ephemeral, the void) in a completely disproportionate market, because despite what you might think, people get fed up even if you’re on top of your game. You have to be in sync with your profound aspirations, remind yourself that a network is made up of people you want to work with and whose work you appreciate. As with friendships, these relationships are constructive if they are established consciously and wilfully.

What’s your best memory from EDHEC?

I have several, but the Aide EDHEC association (of which I was chairman) really left its mark. We did really enriching work in Les Moulins neighbourhood in Nice. The moment we got €8,000 from the Auchan Foundation was really quite exceptional, but the most striking memories relate to the human interactions, offering hands-on school support. I found it fascinating to develop the closest affinities with the most “complicated” pupils.

Was Aide EDHEC useful in your screen role as Thibault (chairman of Act Up-Paris in 120 Battements par minute)?

Absolutely. That’s what the casting directors appreciated, as they had seen a lot of people play the role like activists with incendiary language. Ultimately, an association chairman organises AGMs, announces the agenda, and the association members know why they attend. They might debate certain ideas, but only within that framework. If what I did on screen seemed real, it’s because I had done it at EDHEC!

When the lockdown was announced, did your plans change?

The lockdown wasn’t really that complicated since any shoots more than a month and a half away are generally postponed. Schedules change regularly, even when there is no lockdown. In the end, this lockdown was just a time out. We really are solicited all the time, and it’s sometimes hard to say “this is all I want”. Not knowing whether I’m working next week is ultimately what my profession is all about (laughs).

What is your current perspective on cinema?

Culture is undergoing a huge transformation. As I see it, two sectors have managed that transformation very well in France: cinema (there are more cinema theatres and people are going to the cinema more than ever) and radio, which has been spectacularly successful in making the transition (podcasts have enriched society).

I really believe in the project currently being discussed [launched by the previous Culture Minister, Franck Riester, and suspended as a result of the COVID-19 crisis, NDLR] to introduce a 25% tax on sales for online streaming platforms (Netflix, iTunes, Amazon Prime Video, etc.) to invest in French and European cinema, in collaboration with TV channels. I find it scandalous that GAFA don’t pay royalties, and even YouTubers are affected. Some of their videos are embedded in Facebook rather than YouTube and they earn no money even though they’re watched by millions of people. They can’t leave the house without being recognised and are forced to do product placements.

I remember a case study we did at EDHEC on the music industry, which we compared to metallurgy. Between 2007 and 2017, the music industry was in crisis and is now just beginning to see the light with Spotify, Deezer and the rest. I feel as though we went through a “lost” decade of music, despite icons like Beyoncé and JAY-Z. I would really hate to see cinema go through a lost decade if we don’t react properly to this coronavirus crisis. We are going through a very difficult transition.

What is France’s role in all this?

You must be aware that cinema is an incredible exception in France. When you look at all the foreign films nominated at the Oscars, half the finalists are usually French joint productions.

In the ongoing #MeToo and Black Lives Matter debates, I find it essential for us to have our own culture. I can identify much more easily with the discourse of those from French cinema rather than the US. Apart from the audacity that the US has shown through their series, their cinema on the whole remains very conformist, slaves to the logic of the franchise. Les Misérables [film by Ladj Ly which received the Jury’s award at the Cannes Festival in 2019 and the César for the Best film in 2020, NDLR] is for me what American films were in the 1990s: breathtaking and thought through, but with a small budget.

How is France doing on the world stage?

With a role at the CNC, I see what’s been created, and it’s fantastic! Léonor Serraille has just written a film about the experience of a lady from Cote d’Ivoire and her family in France over a 30-year period. It reveals the society we live in and helps understand the links we have with all that is around us, unlike a binary American-style discourse that does not correspond to our reality.

One quite widespread view of French cinema is that it’s “annoying”. I love Alice et le maire [2019 film by Nicolas Pariser, in which the mayor of Lyon is advised by a philosopher, NDLR] because it talks about politics in a different way. Like when I watch the Danish series Borgen, it’s on a human rather than a superhuman scale: you see the Prime Minister in her daily sentimental life.

As a viewer, it’s good to see something that helps me build my own persona. You often hear about the under-representation of “minorities”, but because we have had the good fortune to have much stronger representations here in France, we are better able to address that challenge. Many countries don’t have that kind of cinema, television or literature. I really can’t identify with the position of certain “artists” who want to unveil or show you the world like guides. People often end up stuck in boxes (feminist, LGBT activism, skin colour, etc.); if it were that simple, we would have resolved everything long ago! I’m convinced that we all look at the world together, and films should provide a snapshot of life. American culture is not enough for me to understand what I’m going through and help me move forward. At my age my parents had 5 children, a house and a client base. The people I know establish themselves much later in very different scenarios, and I need to see that illustrated in cinema so I can appreciate it.

What are your hopes for the future?

Despite all we have, I feel a sense of inertia. Yet Europe has a powerful cultural foundation and social thought, as well as being a hotbed of different languages!

I once did a project on information with other actors. A lot of people said to me: “we don’t have access to information, we feel as if we’re being manipulated”. We’ve never had so much access to information, it’s just that we don’t know how to filter through it. Like in marketing, the question of information is about segmentation. A director like Noé Debré [Selfie and the series Parlement, NDLR] is a man from my generation who takes a humorous look at our relationship with new technologies and the European Union. In a single piece of work, you get humour, unique language and vision. I used to lack role models from my own generation, people that would inspire me. When I look at the new musical scene that’s emerging, even mainstream (Angèle, Eddy de Pretto, OrelSan, Aya Nakamura…), it does me a lot of good. These singers are putting words to swathes of society that had previously been underexplored.

 

Career change? Moving house?