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17 December 2014

Lambert Wilson

Talented and lanky but handsome French actor Lambert Wilson (1958) worked with many of Europes most prestigious auteur directors, including Alain Resnais, Luigi Comencini, Claude Chabrol, Peter Greenaway and James Ivory. He also appeared in several Hollywood blockbusters.

Lambert Wilson
French postcard, no. CP 101.

Touch of genius


Lambert Wilson was born in Neuilly-sur-Seine in Paris, France, in 1958. He is half Irish, half French. His mother Nicole is a former French model. His father is actor-director Georges Wilson and Lambert speaks English fluently.

As a child, his father used to tell the journalists that he lived alone. He was a married family father, who wanted to protect his family from the paparazzi. So Lambert and his brother grew up tranquilly.

He studied acting at the Drama Centre in London, but in 1977, he left before completing the course to make his professional stage debut in Paris in a play with his father. He made his feature film debut in a small part in Fred Zinnemann’s Julia (1977) with Jane Fonda and Vanessa Redgrave.

He returned in Zinnemann's last film, Five Days One Summer (Fred Zinnemann, 1981), in a lead role opposite Sean Connery. It is the story of an illicit romance, set in the Swiss Alps. Less successful was the Brooke Shields vehicle Sahara (Andrew V. McLaglen, 1983). It was a massive box office bomb, and at the 1984 Razzies, Shields was nominated for Worst Actress and won Worst Supporting Actor as ‘Brooke Shields (with a moustache)’.

Wilson also worked in the French cinema, playing leads in Le sang des autres/Blood of Others (Claude Chabrol, 1984) opposite Jodie Forster, La Femme Publique/The Public Woman (Andrzej Zulawski, 1983), and Rendez-vous (André Téchiné, 1984) with Juliette Binoche. The latter was chosen for the official selection at the 1984 Cannes Film Festival, where it won the Best Director Award.

Then followed roles in international films like La Storia/History (Luigi Comencini, 1985) with Claudia Cardinale, and Peter Greenaway's The Belly of an Architect (1987) featuring Brian Dennehy.

Wilson screen tested for The Living Daylights (John Glen, 1987) for the role of James Bond. He appeared in test footage opposite Maryam d'Abo (the Bond girl in The Living Daylights) as Tatiana Romanova, re-enacting scenes from From Russia with Love (Terence Young, 1963). Timothy Dalton finally played 007.

Wilson starred in his father’s feature film debut, La Vouivre/The Sorceress (Georges Wilson, 1988), and won the Jean Gabin Award for his performance as the legendary priest Abbé Pierre in Hiver 54, l'abbé Pierre/Winter '54 (Denis Amar, 1989).

James Travers at French Film Site: “The casting of Lambert Wilson as Abbé Pierre is the latter film's one touch of genius, and Wilson repays the honour by turning in one of the most respectable performances of his career (one that earned him his third César nomination). Wilson, unlike the director, instinctively knew how to pitch the film and portrays Abbé Pierre not as a beatified superhero but as an ordinary man of the people, driven by an extraordinary compassion for his fellow man.”

Lambert Wilson
French postcard by Editions Humour à la carte, Paris, no. ST-69.

Lambert Wilson
French postcard, no. 199.

The villainous Merovingian


During the 1990s, Lambert Wilson smoothly continued his international career. In 1991. he was featured in a series of Calvin Klein ads featuring Christy Turlington.

He starred opposite Hanna Schygulla in Warszawa. Année 5703/Warsaw: Year 5703 (Janusz Kijowski, 1992) about the horrors in the Jewish ghetto in Warsaw 1943. In Jefferson in Paris (James Ivory, 1994), he appeared opposite Nick Nolte and Gwyneth Paltrow.

In the less interesting The Leading Man (John Duigan, 1996), he co-starred with Thandie Newton and John Bon Jovi. He performs on stage in both French and English, and in 1996, he co-starred with Judi Dench in the musical A Little Night Music for the Royal National Theater in London

He made four films with director Alain Resnais: On connaît la chanson/Same Old Song (1997), Pas sur la Bouche/Not on the Lips (2003), Coeurs/Private Fears in Public Places (2006) and Vous n'avez encore rien vu/You Ain't Seen Nothing Yet (2012).

Other films are Trop (peu) d'amour/Too Much (Little) Love (Jacques Doillon, 1997) with Lou Doillon, and The Last September (Deborah Warner, 1998), with Maggie Smith. He also starred in Raùl Ruiz's Combat d'amour en songe/Love Torn in a Dream (2000) with Melvil Poupaud.

In addition to his acting career, Wilson narrated classical works under the direction of some of the world's most notable conductors, and released a pair of albums featuring both classic songs from American musicals and the golden age of French cinema.

Wilson’s best known role is probably the villainous Merovingian in the Hollywood blockbusters Matrix Reloaded (The Wachowski Brothers, 2003) and Matrix Revolutions (The Wachowski Brothers, 2003), the second and third instalments in The Matrix trilogy.

He appeared in more American productions, including, Catwoman (Pitof, 2004) with Halle Berry and Sharon Stone, Sahara (Breck Eisner, 2005) starring Matthew McConaughey and Penelope Cruz, Flawless (Michael Radford, 2006) with Demi Moore and Michael Caine, and Babylon A.D. (Mathieu Kassovitz, 2007) with Vin Diesel and Charlotte Rampling.

In 2009, he played in Xavier Beauvois' Des Hommes et des Dieux/Of Gods and Men (2009), which was presented in Cannes, where it won the Grand Prize of the Jury.

Mark Deming at AllMovie: “Of Gods and Men was inspired by the true story of eight French monks kidnapped by Algerian terrorists in 1996, and while Beauvois builds a credible amount of suspense, after a certain point the fate of the brothers seems inevitable; what makes this story compelling is how the men react to their circumstances -- some with fear, some with grim resignation, many with the simple but firm belief that it is their duty to serve and obey their call and that all else is of minimal importance. While Lambert Wilson as Christian, the group's leader (he generally seems more like the first among equals), and Michael Lonsdale as Luc, the aging and sweetly gruff doctor of the group, stand out in the cast, this is very much an ensemble piece, with each of the eight monks playing a vital role, and the cast and Beauvois have made that rare film about faith that takes the rituals of worship seriously.”

In France, Wilson also appeared in films like Palais Royal! (Valérie Lemercier, 2004), the costume drama La princesse de Montpensier/The Princess of Montpensier (Bertrand Tavernier, 2009) featuring Mélanie Thierry, the CGI-animated/live-action family comedy Sur la Piste du Marsupilami/Le Marsupilami (Alain Chabat, 2011) with Jamel Debbouze, and the comedy Alceste à bicyclette/Cycling with Moliere (Philippe Le Guay, 2012).

In the summer of 2013, he played the lead in Barbecue (Eric Lavaine, 2014) opposite Florence Foresti and Franck Dubosc. Recently, he starred in three international productions, Posthumous (Lulu Wang, 2014), 5 to 7 (Victor Levin, 2014), and Suite Française (2014), opposite Michelle Williams, Kristin Scott Thomas and Matthias Shoenaerts.

Lambert Wilson is a Chevalier and Officier des Arts et des Lettres and Chevalier and Officier de l'Ordre National du Merite.

Lambert Wilson
French postcard, no. C 89.


Wilson doing Celine Dion in a hilarious clip from Sur la Piste du Marsupilami/Le Marsupilami (Alain Chabat, 2011). Source: FitchEye (YouTube).

Sources: Phil Delafoulhouze (IMDb), James Travers (French Film Site), Jason Buchanan (AllMovie), Mark Deming (AlMovie), Wikipedia, and IMDb.

1 comment:

Bunched Undies said...

He is a great talent. Hiver 54, l'abbé Pierre/Winter '54 remains one of my favorite roles. I wish the film were available here on DVD