Rémy Girard is a French-Canadian actor. He’s the star of The Barbarian Invasions (opening today in Denver), which is a followup to a 1986 movie called The Decline of the American Empire. The new movie reunites the director and all of the cast from the first film.
Girard was recently in Denver to promote The Barbarian Invasions. Over a cup of hot tea, he talked about working in Quebec, which has a vibrant local film industry (imagine Texas producing dozens of movies each year that Texans go to see but that other Americans skip). He also spoke about reprising a role 17 years later, and about the health care system in Canada.
Marty Mapes: Tell me about working in Quebec. It seems like a little island of filmmaking.
Rémy Girard: We have a pretty good market. We do export, but it’s not the same thing. In English Canada, [they] mostly consume American products. It’s easy because it’s the same language. If you want to be a star in Canada you must come to the United States.
|Girard says their 17-year reunion was magic|
I say, “We are like the Americans you love so much: we are interested first by what we are doing, and after this we are going to see what happens outside. We consume our culture before.” You say it’s a language barrier? Nah, it’s a mentality, it’s not a language barrier. We have cable. We watch American TV. We watch American movies. It’s not only a question of language barrier it’s an attitude. Quebecers consume their culture first.
Our three blockbusters last summer were, for the first time, three Quebec productions, ahead of American productions.
MM: How easy was it to find your character after 17 years?
RG: [It was] easy to retrieve his sense of humor, his cynicism, the way he delivers. That was quite easy. I was checking the first movie to remember the way he moves, but in the second, geez, I was in bed, so it doesn’t help me any more. But yes, the most difficult part was that he was dying, he was really sick, and was not as so happy as I would expect he has to be.
I always thought that even if he separated from his wife he was gonna make it because he had this insatiable lust for living. I also thought that for this kind of guy, the search for happiness was quite easy. That was not the fact when I read the second script. I was very taken aback of what happened to him.
MM: You wouldn’t have written it that way?
RG: No. He was not very happy. We can predict in the first one he would not be very far with his wife, sure, but with his kids, that surprised me. That surprised me a lot why he abandoned his kids.
MM: Did you talk to Denys about that to try to change it?
No, I accepted it. I was surprised but I was challenged. The challenge was how to make this character who has such an insatiable lust for living, make him dying and maybe make him accept it.
MM: Did you always know there was another movie behind the first one.
RG: Never. It was a surprise for everybody. Even with Denys. I know he was writing on death — what happens with death, what happens with euthanasia — and threw away these scripts during a lot of years because he always told me “it’s sad, it’s pathetic, it’s deep, it’s melodramatic, it’s uninteresting talking about death.” Then he had the flash. “I could reunite this gang again and make Rémy dying.” And this was the trick. This was the break. And his genius thought was to add the next generation. Kids. I’m sure that Sébastien didn’t like the first [movie]. Jesus. He says that to his father in a way. He says “you broke our lives, with your cheap love affairs.”
MM: The first film was more of an ensemble. Did it make sense to you that Rémy should be the central character in this one?
RG: It makes sense to me that he was the one who has to die.
RG: Because he was the most living... lover of them all. Dramatically it’s intelligent to make him die. I think facing death you have a great consciousness of futility. And I think it’s hard to take when you have to make the last trip. When it arrives for me I would like to say “okay, I have done what I had to; maybe not all I had to do, but I have done a hell of a good part.”
That was the secret that I always find the saddest for him. In the ambulance when he’s going to the country house he says “why me? Maybe I should find something to leave. Maybe I should find a sense of all this futile life.” He says to his son “I studied in Berkeley and look at me, I was a little teacher in a little university in a little province in little North America and even my loving affairs were cheap.”
MM: Was the reunion of actors as emotional as the reunion of characters?
We work together on TV, in theater, but this was the first time we were all together. And it was magic, I think.
And we are great talkers between us. We always have something to say. After the shoot we are always talking: “blah blah blah blah.” It was like we had shot the first movie months ago. This was the kind of magic we had.
And we are aging, everybody. We were all in the 30s when we made the first, and we are all right now in the 50s when we make the second, except Dominique who is in the 70s. And we were all alive. In 17 years you can lose one or another. It was something. We were very happy to do this. Very happy, this old bunch.
MM: Is Canadian health care as bad as it’s made to look in the movie?
RG: Not as bad. We must pay attention when we talk about “health care is bad.” Our health care is not bad. The problem is not the care itself. The problem is not the doctors, the nurses. If you come to Canada and you become sick you will be very well cared for. The problem is not there.
The problem is this system is free. We want it free, and it’s very very very expensive. Why? Because the population is aging, near retirement. We were the population who paid for this system. Who will pay this system after us? That’s the problem. Financing.
They really have to find a solution. They won’t scrap the system. They can’t . You have something free during 30 years and tomorrow morning you say “Okay now you’re gonna have to pay?” Wait a minute. Nothing works like that.
For example, the first scene is worse that it is in reality. But for sure we have patients in corridors and hallways, in emergencies especially. Not in long care or ordinary care, but emergencies are a big big big mess. If you have a complete level closed for financial reasons, what do you do with these patients? You put them in the hallways waiting until one bed will be free in the hospital. It’s the domino effect.
MM: Do Canadians come to US for cat scans?
Yes, for the same reason. We don’t have enough scans. So you have to wait one month, two months to have a scan. So the solution is the government buys you a trip to Burlington. It’s more expensive. Why don’t they buy another scan? It’s expensive to take a guy, put him in an ambulance, drive him to Burlington, pay the scan, and come back with him.
MM: But Americans are trying to by prescription drugs from Canada.
RG: You have the flip side. Our system is free. Here you have the opposite problem, I think. That’s why the most questions that I had here in the United States were about the Medicare system. I think it anguishes the American people. And they are afraid: “Are you telling us that your system doesn’t work? Because it was an example.” Wait a minute. It works, but it is expensive.
But for sure you have another problem. You have a low income tax. We pay. When we say it’s free, wait a minute. My income tax is 52% of what I earn. That’s the counterpart. I think the maximum rate in the United States is 30%. So you have a deal possible. The Americans will have to accept that maybe the income tax passes to 35% and have this system.