Jean Dujardin's beaming face and effortless French elegance lent a whole new magic to this year's Oscars and helped ensure The Artist's success everywhere it went.
If it feels like he turned up overnight to scoop up all the acting awards on offer earlier this year - including the coveted Best Actor Award - he's actually been around for a lot longer.
Here's a little something he made earlier - a western, Lucky Luke, in which he plays, quote, "Fearless gunslinger, Lucky Luke, ordered by the President to bring peace to Daisy Town." This is an iconic French cowboy - yes, they do exist. Billy the Kid and Calamity Jane both make honourable appearances.
Sound all right? To celebrate this 2009 film being released on DVD - pushed through, no doubt, by Monsieur Dujardin's more recent global triumph - we've found an interview with Jean Dujardin, talking about the challenges of training for the role, and all the travelling it involved... just good preparation for Awards Season, surely, Monsieur?
What went on in your mind when James Huth came to see you and said, “How about doing Lucky Luke?”
JEAN DUJARDIN: Between “How about doing Lucky Luke?” and “We're doing Lucky Luke,” three years passed. In the beginning, we talked about it over coffee, it was a fantasy, we had fun with it, like kids... Then it took time for the machine to get started up, to find the budget and the actors, for everyone to agree... When they finally tell you the film is a go, the dreams make way for work. You have to ask yourself from what angle you're going to be able to get into the character. It's very arrogant, pretentious even, to say you're going to “do Lucky Luke”. In any case, I'm not going to play Lucky Luke in a flashy yellow shirt and black vest, squinting and pursing my lips like a cartoon.
You have to adapt the character, beat down a path to him, and he has to come towards you, too. Who is Lucky Luke? A wanderer, the chosen one, the protector of the West. But what do you want to say about him? From there, you start developing the subject, the script, you ask yourself questions. Why doesn't he ever stop? Why doesn't he ever lay down? Why doesn't he ever sleep? Wouldn't he like to have a farm and take it easy for a while? Isn't he quite simply fed up with his role of upholding the law? In the end, the real question behind them all is: how do you make him human? It was essential to give him roots, and that's why I did the film. I wanted to see a Lucky Luke who stopped a moment to set down his guns. Because deep down I know he's going to pick them up again. That it's just a prelude, and as soon as he starts out again, it's going to be big. So yes, it's that American-style gimmick, but we all love that stuff. Exactly like when Adrian looks at Rocky and says, “Win.” You see that again and it doesn't matter how old you are, you cry. As spectators, we were all brought up that way.
What is your relationship to Lucky Luke comic books?
At home, at your cousin's, in your godmother's bathroom, in the old cupboards of old houses in the country, there's always an old “Lucky Luke” around, often next to an old “Tintin” or Asterix”. Out of the three comics, I've always felt closest to “Lucky Luke”. The drawings in “Tintin” are too minimalist, he always seemed too androgynous... I don't want to put the others down by comparison, but Lucky Luke was the only “hero” to me. As a kid, I loved heroes on TV and in movies, and Lucky Luke was my comic book hero.
“Johan et Pirlouit” and “Achille Talon” didn't measure up... Luke was a cowboy. A French cowboy. That's absurd in itself. Which is a good thing. Playing Lucky Luke is also a chance to play a cowboy. Like secret agent “OSS 117”, he belongs to a range of characters that sooner or later needs to be explored. It's not a risk – it's a gift.
Still, there's a risk involved in taking on such an iconic figure...
It's an adaption of a comic book, so it's an ideal project for getting bashed. That's no reason for not doing it. We took liberties with the character, of course, but I think I've respected him: he's loyal, honest, silent, sometimes dark. And little awkward when it comes to love, which he doesn't know much about.
I never doubted that I was Lucky Luke. It's very pretentious to say that, but I knew that I could be the character. Add something to him, give him masculinity, make him a movie hero. I'm convinced that if you worry too much about the way people see you, you become paranoid. You can't worry about what people think of you. There's only one question to ask yourself: what do you really want to do? Go to Argentina for four months and be a cowboy? Then do it. Thanks to “Lucky Luke”, I had a western to do. A French western, but a western nonetheless.
The shoot took you to Argentina for four months...
I arrived in Buenos Aires a week early to meet the crew, visit the workshops and do costume tests... I found the Argentines incredibly motivated, with a rhythm quite different from ours because they party and go to sleep late. So mornings were a little tough for them, but there was an amazing spirit of enthusiasm on the set, even with the extras. I think everyone was delighted to be doing a western.
The first day, we went out into a sandy desert at an altitude of over 13,000 feet, which wasn't exactly easy. It took a while for everyone to understand each other, since we were speaking English, Spanish and French on the shoot. The light was blinding, we were out of breath, the horses were frightened... But by the next day, we were off and running. We couldn't allow ourselves to slow down: three days in the mountains, three days in Cachi, and so on... Even a small storm would have thrown everything off, but we were adding up our good luck. We managed to avoid the squalls.
Was the physical preparation complex?
No. I showed up for lessons from the horse trainer Mario Luraschi. I got on a horse and he said to me, “Okay, you don't know a thing.” Then he added that we were going out for 15 to 20 hours of riding. I worked on the basics, learned how to walk alongside the horse, look at the horse, understand the horse, lean to the left, to the right, close my eyes, let go of the reins. Whether it was walking, trotting or galloping, Mario wanted me to completely forget what was underneath me. I wanted to learn to ride and it was important that I do it, to facilitate the shoot. He said to me: “I'm not going to teach you how to ride a horse, because we don't have time. I'm going to teach you to be a cowboy.” I thought that was pretty smart.
He also told me, “The horse is in college, but you're in preschool. He knows he has an idiot on top of him, so he's going to test you.” I had to keep my back straight and learn how to use the reins. Once you succeed, it's fantastic. You're completely one with the horse.
How did it feel the first time you put on Lucky Luke's costume?
I'm naturally a little bowlegged. It was funny. I looked at myself and had the feeling it was going to work. That I could be a cowboy, and why not, Lucky Luke. A costume can be punishment, too. Lucky Luke wears a size 19.5 shoe, with big high heels. The gun is a little heavy, the hat flew off with the 125 mile per hour wind that was constantly blowing in Argentina. You can't see it on screen, but when I'm water skiing in the beginning of the film, the water is 40°F and the wind is blowing 112 miles per hour. We were really at the weather's mercy, it wasn't a ride in an amusement park.
Lucky Luke is out on DVD from 28th May.