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MOVIES Arnaud Valois talks 'BPM,' journalism
Special to the online edition of Windy City Times
by Andrew Davis, Windy City Times
2017-12-26

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One of the most critically lauded films of 2017 ( including being the recipient of the Grand Prix Award at the Cannes Film Festival ), BPM ( Beats Per Minute ) focuses on the a group of ACT UP activists in Paris in the 1990s. In the midst of fighting for more funds for HIV/AIDS research, a love story develops between organization members Sean ( played by Nahuel Perez Biscayart ), who's HIV-positive, and Nathan ( Arnaud Valois ), who is HIV-negative.

Valois ( a onetime masseur-turned-actor ) recently talked with Windy City Times about the film, the industry and the concept of promotion.

***Note: Some details about the film are discussed during the interview.

Windy City Times: Congrats on the film. First, I assume the title refers to the club-dancing the activists are seen doing?

Arnaud Valois: Yes, it does. They want to gather and really live their lives because some of them think they might die at some point [soon], so they want to enjoy everything [as much as] they can.

WCT: I read about your life, by the way. You went from acting to becoming a masseur to being in this film that's getting all of this praise and even Oscar talk. Does your life feel very surreal?

AV: Yes; it's really crazy. It feels like a fairy tale, for sure. There are all of these meetings going on now with American directors. It's, like, "Wow!" The promotion is incredible and you meet very, very interesting people here and around the world. It's been an incredible journey.

WCT: And you were very young when ACT UP was really active...

AV: Yes—I was about 8 or 9.

WCT: So how did you do your research?

AV: We had access to French TV archives, and we saw two DVDs about ACT UP Paris. We also had access to a book from the first president of ACT UP Paris. The director, Robin Campillo, didn't want us to be experts in AIDS or the 1990s; he wanted us to be surprised—and even naive—about this period. He wanted us to go with the flow and not be too professional; he wanted us to just live the story. It's his memories and his story; we had someone we could trust, and he wanted to guide everything.

WCT: What was the most challenging scene in the movie—or would you say the whole movie was challenging?

AV: Hmmm... It's like two movies in one. There's the movie about the group, the dance scenes—we had a lot of fun together; we had beers after the shoots, and it was really great.

The second part, when Sean and I are alone together, was the most challenging part of the movie. My co-star lost a lot of weight [to portray the wasting away], and he would be tired after long days of shooting. Reality and fiction became really mixed. I thought he might've been sick for real because he was so skinny and fragile.

We shot the movie chronologically so he was really tired—so, in a way, it was easier to play this, but it was still very challenging.

WCT: Even I was starting to worry when I saw how thin he was getting.

AV: Yes—he lost about seven kilos [more than 15 pounds], and he was [already] really tiny. And we're friends in real life, so I said, "Oof!"

WCT: There was one scene in the movie that I wanted to discuss. After Sean passes away, your character has sex with another activist [Thibault]. It bothered me a little, to be honest.

AV: Many people seem to be bothered by this; I find I have to answer this in some interviews. I think Nathan just wants to continue living. Thibault and Sean fought a lot, but did love each other—so maybe this was a way for Nathan to connect to Sean through Thibault.

When I was shooting [that scene], I didn't think about it. It was just in the moment. I try not to think; I try to just go with the director's instructions and the mood of the scene, and capture my partner's energy.

WCT: In this country, it can be considered controversial if there are straight actors in [LGBT] roles. Out of curiosity, what's the position is in France on this issue?

AV: There is not really that level of controversy. It's not an issue; it's not about communities or quotas. It's not something we talk about—but maybe we should, but we don't.

WCT: Also, what's the biggest difference between France and the United States, regarding promotion?

AV: The questions are very much about the business [in the United States]; there are a few questions about the film—like "Do you think playing a gay character is going to be an issue?" and I say, "I really don't think so. I've received, like, 20 scripts after the movie"—but there are also questions like, "Would you like to be in American movies?"

And Americans are concerned—and this is really interesting—about playing real characters. Questions like "Was it difficult to approach this?" I'm not asked in France. Also, people ask where I see myself in five or 10 years—and I don't know; maybe I'll do more movies, or maybe I'll go back to massage.

WCT: And in France, what do journalists tend to ask you?

AV: They ask me about being very young in the '90s and being able to re-create this world, or how is it to promote the movie in the U.S. and other countries, or about the reception in other countries—things like that.

WCT: So my questions are a little French, but mostly American.

AV: [Both laugh.]

The trailer for BPM ( Beats Per Minute ) is at www.youtube.com/watch. The film is available at Amazon.com .


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