When I walk into the interview room, Mathieu Amalric is standing by an open window smoking a Marlboro. It’s fine because he’s French. But even in France smoking is becoming verboten.
“It’s like here now,” Amalric says. “We like to imitate America. So now you’re not allowed to smoke in parks near children. I was raised in a house where my mother and father would smoke. No problem.”
Amalric — most seen by American audiences as the Bond villain in “Quantum of Solace,” but also in “Munich,” briefly in “The Grand Budapest Hotel” and heard but not always seen in “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly” — is in New York because of a series, "Mathieu Amalric: Renaissance Man, running over the next month at Anthology Film Archives and FIAF's CineSalon, that considers him both as an actor and a filmmaker. The series includes his sometimes manic acting stints in Roman Polanski’s “Venus in Fur” and “Kings and Queen,” one of many films he’s done for Arnaud Desplechin. (Their latest, “My Golden Days,” is due in America soon.)
But Amalric is also an award-winning filmmaker with his own distinct voice. He netted Best Director at Cannes in 2010 for “On Tour,” which is represented, as is 2001’s “Wimbledon Stadium,” 2003’s “Public Affairs” and last year’s “The Blue Room,” a compact and precise take on a particularly experimental novel by noir legend Georges Simenon.
In America, at least, though, he’s still best known for his performances. He fell into acting by accident. He explains how he was making a short in the 1980s, which was to include a scene featuring his grandmother. She fell ill and was suddenly due in hospital, leaving him mere hours to find everyone and bang out the scene. He was able to get in touch with everyone but the other actor. So he played it himself — forgetting that that meant he’d have to play the role in every other scene as well. Later Desplechin saw the role and cast him as the lead in his 1996 epic “My Sex Life…or How I Got Into an Argument.” (He also has a walk-on in Desplechin’s 1992 film “La Sentinelle.”)