From: New York Now | Movies |
Sunday, September 20, 1998
French action star cool guy
gets down to business in 'Ronin'
By LEWIS BEALE
Daily News Staff Writer
n the matter of foreign actors who are totally cool, the list is a relatively short one. Samurai film star Toshiro Mifune was totally cool. So was Marcello Mastroianni. And in France, you can point to masters of attitude like Jean-Paul Belmondo and Alain Delon.
Then there's Jean Reno.
The 50-year old Moroccan-born performer earned serious creds with American action audiences thanks to the 1994 cult hit "The Professional," in which he played a sensitive hitman who became the protector of a 12-year-old girl (Natalie Portman). Reno's interesting hangdog looks and comfortable physicality, combined with his ability to look totally awesome while handling a variety of automatic weapons, ensured that the French superstar would eventually become a Hollywood commodity.
"That film made me bankable," says Reno, who co-stars in "Ronin," the big-budget Robert DeNiro action film opening Sept. 25. "All the directors saw me in it and they said, 'We'd like to work with that guy, if I can find a little place in my movie.' And that's the way [to break in]."
|Reno is 'Ronin'|
Reno has actually been a major star in France for quite some time. There, he is known as much for his comedy as for his dramatic roles. Born in Casablanca to Spanish parents who fled their native land after the 1936-39 Civil War, Reno developed the acting bug in part because of his multi-cultural moviegoing experience.
"I grew up watching John Wayne, William Holden, Marlon Brando," he says, while also mentioning French actors like Jean Gabin and Louis Jouvet. "I had space, liberty, that's American. And I had [black & white] stories in little streets, with a little music in the background, that's the French."
Raised in what was then a French protectorate, Reno became an automatic French citizen. So he eventually joined the French Army and when his service was over, moved to Paris to study the thespian arts. Then he spent years playing tough guys in a series of mostly forgettable Gallic films until one day, while on a casting call, he met Luc Besson.
Besson, who went on to direct "The Professional," "La Femme Nikita" and "The Fifth Element," was working as an assistant director at the time, and when he and Reno met "we started talking and it was a love story. Boom!" says the actor. "I understood him. And he saw this [performer who] can give me anything I need."
Think of it as the French John Ford meets his John Wayne. Besson and Reno began an incredibly fruitful collaboration that turned into box-office gold with the 1988 release of "The Big Blue," a film about diving that made both men major players in their chosen professions.
Quicker than you could say "vite, vite," Reno was on the bullet train of success. In "Femme Nikita" he had a flashy cameo as a hitman who cleans up other people's messes the part was practically a prequel to "The Professional." Then in the 1993 feature "The Visitors," Reno showed his comedic chops in a megablockbuster about a 12th-century knight and squire who are accidentally transported to 20th-century France.
It was inevitable that Tinseltown would come calling. Reno has already appeared in "Mission: Impossible" and "Godzilla," but "Ronin" is easily his biggest American film role to date. He plays Vincent, a French military intelligence veteran who, along with a group of other highly trained superspy types, attempt to heist a suitcase containing who-knows-what from a well-guarded individual.
The film is filled with action sequences, but Reno and DeNiro, playing old-fashioned vets with distinct moral codes, give "Ronin" its heart and soul.
"I made the film because first you have [director John] Frankenheimer, second it was shot in the south of France [where Reno lives], and then DeNiro. I liked the [part], the discretion to be with him, following him, not making noise. It is a very strange team. The more you see the movie the more you see the relationship between them. No words. Nobody says I love you. I was happy with that."
Needless to say, Reno's Vincent is also totally cool, a "still waters run deep" kind of guy who plays the game with a rigid sense of right and wrong. "But Vincent has a heart also," says Reno, "and I like that."
And that cool thing? Reno admits he has it, knows directors love him for it and can actually put his finger on what it is.
"[It's] because I don't push when I act," he says. "I don't like to push, except when it's a comedy. You just have to play the touches, the colors you want to give to the character."
There's one more element here. Reno is certainly not matinee handsome, but women love him. That cool thing enters into it, but he also projects a solidity of character which is incredibly appealing.
"It's not [about] sex," says Reno. "To tell the truth, most of the men in France are not trustworthy. They don't like responsibilities. I have that appearance, and [women] believe me 'He will stick, he won't leave me for another girl.' It's a sense [women have]."