Interview with Jerome Mazet, Executive Producer and lead role in the French Play, Le Père Nöel est une Ordure (Santa Claus is a Shitter). An all-French ensemble, performed in French (no subtitles!), for the very first time in China.
So, you’re playing the lead role! What can you tell me about your acting career?
I actually came to theatre quite late; I always wanted to do it, but never had the time or the guts. You look at the TV everyday, and you see a number of TV series and movies that are done, and think, how many actors are involved in the casting? It’s probably like 1 against 100, and I would think, what are the odds [that I’ll get the part]. So, I focused on business for some time and then I thought, fuck it, at least I need to answer the question, would I like it? Would I be good at it? So I started doing it. I liked it, and I continued to do it!
You started performing in Shanghai?
Yes, exactly. Before, I was semi professional; agents would call me and say, “Hey, we want you to be in a movie”, or short TV series. But you can’t always say yes, because I also have a job on the side, so you have to manage that too.
I think a lot of actors are in a similar position here in Shanghai, as there’s a lot of opportunity to get involved in theatre.
Exactly, and if you really want to make it as an actor, don’t come to Shanghai. Unless you speak perfect Chinese or you’re actually Chinese or Asian. As a white person don’t expect to make that much money. It’s a whole different industry: a whole different discussion!
So tell me about the process of getting the rights to this script?
It’s an extremely popular story in France, but you have to buy the rights to be able to do it. You might know some other big theatre companies here in Shanghai but they rarely buy the rights. They might just change the name of the title [for example]. And I’m like, hold on, when you’re an artist, no matter how big or small, there’s a minimum of respect among each other that you should have. How much are we going to give them? Like, an X percentage of the sales, which is going to be peanuts for them. How cheap are you?! Respect the author who wrote it! So I actually did everything in order to buy the rights. It’s complicated for this play as there are six different authors. All of them have to agree to sell the rights. It’s quite a unique situation, but I managed to do it, and [this will be its] first time in China. I wanted to do something of quality, and I’ve invested quite some money to achieve this.
How many actors have been cast in the play?
There are 6 main characters in this play, and 2 others that usually you would not see. They are only supposed to be over the phone, but we decided to bring them on stage, because they are funny in the lines they are delivering. One is a sexual harasser, calling us [on the distress centre hotline], and asking to speak to a woman. Saying something like…
“What are you wearing?”
Oh, worse than that! So we had to bring that guy on stage. Also, for you to see how he’s dressed…
Do you expect family viewings?
Yes, especially on Sunday. That’s why we put the show at 4pm. You usually see the movie around Christmas time almost every year, and you would watch it with your parents. For kids under 10, I wouldn’t recommend it. A few friends asked me and my response was: “You know the movie extremely well; it’s part of [French] culture. You can be the judge.”
I’d like to ask you about props. I know there’s a dismemberment of a body; are there any fake limbs and such?
It was perfect that it was right after Halloween, so we were able to get hold of some gory stuff. We don’t tell you how we get rid of the body parts. In the movie, which is not what happens in the play, they throw them out to the Zoo in Paris. But when you see the play you will see that they could not turn this into a movie by respecting the script.
I’m sure your audience is very curious to know how the play ends.
This play has very seldom been seen, because they rarely sell the rights, even in France. For the first 10 years after “82, they were like, “Nobody can have it! It’s our play; we are the main actors!” It was the play that made them, those 6 actors. Then after, in the 90’s, they started giving it out here and there. And then last year they finally gave it to a big troupe in Paris, for the first time in 25 years. That’s when I was like, ok, I may have a shot… and I got it! So, very few people saw it, maybe if you were living in Paris, but it’s not a play that’s been performed over and over. The first half of the play is kind of similar to the movie, and then the endings like, what the fuck!?
Your character and his coworker in the call centre have been described as neurotic in previous performances of this play. In what way do you encompass this characteristic?
You can do whatever you want with this character, because the text is so insane. The way they wrote it was like, we don’t want a single line of our dialogue to be normal. So everything they say has a twist. Whether it’s an old French way of speaking, really countryside, or a little abrasive. Some of the sentences don’t make much sense. That’s why this movie is so iconic.
I don’t think there is one way of playing this character. I still kept it close to base, but I tried to be much more energetic. In the 70s and early 80s the humour [of this play] was much like British humour; you’d let the line kind of give you the laugh, and you’d have very little movement. But now, [humour is depicted in a style] much more like Will Ferrell and Jim Carey; calling on a reaction to actions. So, that’s more what I’ve been feeding on, characters such as Mr. Bean who’s extreme, and also, Jean Dujardin; characters from the 90’s and early 2000’s who are more gestural.
Where: Theatre Ke Centre, 613 Kaixuan Road (Close to Wuyi Road)
Metro Lines 3/4, Yan’An West Road.
When: 25th – 28th November @ 19:30, 29th November @ 16:00
Wednesday: 160RMB presales, 200 RMB on the door.
Thurs-Sun: 220RMB presales, 240RMB on the door.
WORDS BY HANNAH CHERRINGTON-HALL