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Empire Meets Eric Cantona
The former footballer discusses his film career

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Baguettes, sunshine and films... The Dinard Film Festival is a curiosity: a celebration of British cinema in a seaside town in northwest France. It sounds like it shouldn't work, but it does wonderfully: there's an infectious enthusiasm for movies of all kinds from a welcoming, open-minded audience.

Now in its 24th year, the festival has perhaps its most high-profile jury chair to date - at least, one whose appeal stretches beyond auteurs or all but the most famous actors: Eric Cantona.

The former Manchester United footballer - now an actor of 15 years experience - is still a striking figure, the centre of each room, despite being a surprisingly quiet man. He speaks slowly and deliberately, with long, thoughtful pauses - almost literally chewing over each word, his lips moving quietly while he considers it. As a man who straddles the channel as an icon, he seems a fitting choice to judge the films - not that he's keen to be seen as a judge...

Empire Meets Eric Cantona

Have you been to Dinard before?
No. It's the first time. I'm very proud. Honoured. I prefer to be judged than to have to judge other ones, but I have to do it and I do it as seriously as possible, with a lot of subjectivity. Because it depends on how we are when we watch a movie. If you are in traffic, you are in a hurry, you don't see the movie like if you come with us. It depends on how you are. And in every movie or piece of art, we have a bit of ourself in it. You have 100 people who can go and see the Mona Lisa, you have 100 Mona Lisas. Everything takes you back to your own story. It's why it's so subjective. It's why I hope everybody realises it is just a prize given by these people. Take other people, maybe it's different. Many different point of view. Which is great. I love it.

It it difficult to debate with the jury which is the best film?
You can see some young guy, 20 years old, who thinks they know everything. And you meet somebody like Ken Loach, who is 70 years old, and he's a master - but you shoot his next movie, it's like a new one.
It's not the best film - it's the best film for us. If you take another jury, it'd be different, cos it depends on every observer. But we have to do it! And we do it. So it's the best film for us - that's it. We have seen great movies. I love British cinema - it's why I'm here.

It seems unusual to have a celebration of British film, in France, but the passion of the audiences is infectious...
It's full every time - in the evening, in the morning, afternoon, which is great. In the past it was like this, but this year I think it is even more - I think it's 95 per cent capacity.

You've been acting now for 15 years... How have you changed as an actor?
Have I changed? No. I change as a man. Anything you can do in life, experience after experience - we need the experience, and some people use it and some people don't. That seems very important - experience - and to realise, even after 15 years, every time you need to learn something. I'll be 80 years old - I hope so! - and I hope I will be the same: just want to learn every time. It's a kind of humility that you need. We need humility. Some people, you can see some young guy, 20 years old, who thinks they know everything. And you meet somebody like Ken Loach, who is 70 years old, and he's a master - but you shoot his next movie, it's like a new one. It's so exciting, passionate. It's an example for me.

What do you have coming up?
A film in the cinema, a TV movie... And one in October 2014 - that's a Western [The Salvation] with a Danish director, Kristian Levring. With Mads Mikkelsen, Eva Green and Jonathan Pryce. I think it's going to be a great one. I really, really enjoy it. I'm a lucky man. I can do what I love. And we are paid for. It's crazy.

And to have been able to follow two passions.... Football and now...
All actors have done things before. And it's important to do those things before. It's very important.

Sometimes you have to wait, because if you'd tried it when young it would have been a disaster...
It's better to start in football than in cinema!

Empire Meets Eric Cantona

What's the film in November, You And The Night, about?
It's a crazy thing. No, it's not, it's wonderful! It's people coming to a house for an orgy. And everybody... it's a bit psychologique. Everybody speaks about his own life, so we understand better why they are in this situation at that point. And the director [Yann Gonzalez] is a great director. It is the first long movie that he did - he's done six or seven short movies. It was in Cannes, in the week of the critics. It's great. Very artistic. I don't think millions of people will see it, but for an artistic experience it's great - I'm very proud of it.

Are there certain qualities that the best directors share?
Sometimes someone speaks about their wonderful experience during the shooting, or bad experience during the shooting, but the most important thing is what's on the screen and will stay forever on the film.
The best director is one who can take out 100% of everyone. And it's important to take each man individually. We are not all the same. You need to be a great psychologue. Sometimes someone speaks about their wonderful experience during the shooting, or bad experience during the shooting, but the most important thing is what's on the screen and will stay forever on the film. Yesterday we saw the movie The Girl - so we saw Hitchcock with the girl. Toby Jones: wonderful! He's wonderful as Hitchcock and his [Hitchcock's] relationship with the actress [Tippi Hedren] was very difficult. But what's most important is it's a great film for her [The Birds].

I don't care to live a bad experience. And I think most of the actor or actress... I don't know: I want to believe in that. We do movies for what will stay on the film. And people don't care about if it was difficult or the relationship with the director was good or not. They don't care about that. So if the director has to be hard with somebody, he has to be hard. Gentle with another one. Some of them are more vicious than other ones. But if it's for the good of the film, you can do whatever you want. Is just my point of view.

As long as you know they have the best interests of the film at heart... even if they're being blunt.
Yeah, exactly. If it helps you. Sometimes you need that. And as an actor I ask for that. If it's the only solution. Some directors want more than one can give in the normal relationship, so it needs to be that. Masochist! But we have to be... very... open, if it's for the good of the film. I don't know if you understand what I say.

You have to be open to the process and the end result is the thing.
Yeah. Even if it's something you don't want to do - do it...

Are there any particular filmmakers whose work you really look forward to?
I don't want to name directors, because it's like you want to work with them, so you say, 'Oh, I love...' If I tell you that I love Pasolini, he's dead, so I'll never work with him! I love Pasolini.

Interview by Nev Pierce

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