The consolidation of talent: Interview with Nahuel Pérez BiscayartBy: Ira Franco
Of Argentine origin, actor Nahuel Peréz Biscayart has won the respect of the French audiences with his role in Je suis á toi (David Lambert, 2014) where he played a gay young man who got involved in an internet romance with a European man to escape poverty. But what was a mere revelation then, is consolidated 120 Beats Per Minute (dir. Robin Campillo, 2017), where Nahuel shows his talent to interpret fragile characters who exist in a void.
In 120 Beats Per Minute – winner of the Grand Jury Prize at the 2017 Cannes Film Festival – Nahuel is Sean Dalmazo, a young Parisian political activist who lives with HIV in the eighties, when the illness, believe it or not, was dismissed as something that only happened to gays and prostitutes. To represent the horror of being invisible in the Paris of that time, in the middle of an epidemic that nobody understood very well, Nahuel Pérez Biscayart had to stop eating and sleeping; he had to get very close to the horror of being young and having no future.
Read the chat we had with him during his visit to the Morelia International Film Festival (FICM) in its fifteenth edition.
Ira Franco: There is a constant tension between the first part of the film, which deals with the political issue, the debate, and the second part, where we really see how a languishing young man desperate to live…
Nahuel Pérez Biscayart: It’s true. The first part of the film is very collective and a debate, it gives us the substance for this second half in which the character is facing the world, without the possibility of projecting into the future. The first part the characters are aware that they can die at any time, but the union of the group makes them live, they can find their political voice, a kind of parallel family, they confront each other to find a political discourse that makes them visible to an indifferent society, because the subject at that time was taboo.
IF: Do you think that society has changed enough? Is the subject of HIV still taboo?
NPB: A little less, but there’s still struggle. The film touches people who, out of indifference, have been complicit or who have not wanted to see their responsibility in this matter. A large part of the patients was stigmatized because of their sexual orientation, dedicating themselves to prostitution or being drug addicts, and they have a disease that condemns them too. They are left with the burden, already sick, and then take on this political struggle because neither the state nor the laboratories nor the medical powers took charge. They are characters who had to face many stigmas and burdens to make the situation visible.
IF: It is a film full of contrasts in structural terms but also in how you act each stage of the character.
NPB: That contrast was what gave me all the necessary material to know what the character constructs of himself in front of others and what he experiences intimately. If you look closely, in the first part of the film, the character is exuberant, he is consumed in life, he is very angry. The hatred also gives him the strength to fight. It is a combination between the intimate and the public that in the second part of the film feels like the absence of that life that he won’t have, an emotion that invades the space. Here the director said to me, “we can’t act, we have to let the whole absence of that life invade us”.
IF: How did you prepare physically for such a demanding role?
NPB: You have to lose touch with reality, assume vulnerability and understand the impossibility of the future. It is also there when the possibility of a love story gains importance because he abandons himself to the other. I lost weight, like 7 kilos in 15 days, and there was physical work that also contributed to emptying my gaze and enabling a kind of vulnerability that allows the character to look fragile.
IF: You interpret this character in perfect French, how does the change in language work for you?
NPB: In this case, the foreign language works for me as a kind of wardrobe, it is a cloak that I wear. I try to think of it not as a restriction but as a freedom. There are emotions that perhaps in my mother tongue would not arise because the mother tongue is very embodied in the body and prejudices are also in the body. When you speak in another language it is like playing an instrument and there are emotions that circulate more instantaneously and physically. In fact, you learn to have another personality, because it is not the same to be French than to be Argentine. You do not have the same gestures and you do not feel the same either.