Jean Reno is a Professional in The Da Vinci Code, by Tim Nasson
Some actors might be insulted at being compared to a bull. Not Jean Reno. The 57-year-old Moroccan-born French actor was flattered that “The Da Vinci Code” author Dan Brown created the character of Bezu Fache, referred to as “the bull” by his subordinates, with Reno in mind.
Reno, who has played his share of cops during his 30-year career, takes the role of Fache, a French police captain investigating a murder at the Louvre, in the upcoming movie adaptation of “The Da Vinci Code.” But he didn’t know of his connection to the character until he met Brown last year on the set of the suspense thriller.
“He told me during the first two weeks when we were shooting inside the Louvre,” recalls Reno, phoning from New York. Brown’s revelation made playing the character of Fache more meaningful for the actor. “Can you imagine somebody in the middle of America writing a book with a character in mind that is you?” he wonders aloud. “I felt very touched by that.” It is no wonder that the author of the popular yet controversial work thought of Reno when he was writing it. The internationally known actor has delivered memorable performances in such diverse films as “French Kiss,” “Leon (The Professional),” “Ronin,” “Mission: Impossible,” “Godzilla,” “Crimson Rivers” and most recently “The Pink Panther” (playing, yes, a French policeman).
The hulking actor had read Brown’s novel several months before Academy Award-winning director Ron Howard (“A Beautiful Mind”) cast him as Fache. But he never imagined himself as that character while reading the book. “I didn’t think of it as a movie,” he says. “I read the book as a book and I thought it was an interesting thriller. The ambiance was fantastic (but) I didn’t picture anybody in particular in that role.”
Once cast, however, Reno was excited at the prospect of working with Howard and two-time Oscar winner Tom Hanks (“Philadelphia,” “Forrest Gump”). Hanks plays the central character, Robert Langdon, an American professor who goes in search of the Holy Grail based on clues he discovers within Leonardo Da Vinci’s masterpieces.
Reno describes Howard and Hanks, who previously worked together on “Splash” and “Apollo 13,” as a great team. “Ron is a very precise director,” observes the actor. “He’s got an idea of what he wants exactly. At the same time, he lets you free inside the scene. He will correct you, but always with sweetness in his voice and manner.”
Reno likens Hanks to a racecar driver. “He can change the details and the emotions in millions of ways,” he says. “He seems to do that without any effort, which is the mark of a great actor.” Reno also relished the opportunity to work with French actress Audrey Tautou (“Amelie”), who plays a brilliant cryptologist who helps Langdon decipher clues left by her murdered grandfather. “I was happy to work with those people more than to be in the movie,” he says, speaking with a French accent. “That’s my (goal), to work with people who are interesting, and they were fantastic.”
Shooting in England and France for five months last year was an interesting and unusual experience, he recalls. The production was shrouded in secrecy, and unlike most major Hollywood productions, no press was allowed on the set. “It was nice that way because I prefer to make a movie and then show it to an audience when it is finished,” Reno says.
He was particularly thrilled to have the opportunity to shoot inside the Louvre, the famous Paris art museum that houses some of the world’s greatest masterpieces, including Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa. “It was the same every night,” says Reno. “Tom and myself, we’d be walking through the Louvre and the only thing we could hear were (our) footsteps. Nobody, just us, a few lights and the paintings. Can you imagine that? It was as if somebody gave us the entire museum.”
Reno explains that standing alone before the Mona Lisa was thrilling. “It’s like becoming blessed, because you react like that in front of the painting,” he says. “The smile. The eyes. Nobody knows the mystery. Ask Tom Hanks. It’s the same. You find the painting a little small. You move and (her eyes) follow you.”
Reno, who began his acting career in France in the late 1970s, says he has never been motivated by money. But surrounded by such priceless masterpieces for months, he indulged in fantasies of being rich enough to buy one. Though he has played numerous law enforcement characters, Reno found Fache unique: he is a deeply religious man with ties to a branch of the Catholic Church known as Opus Dei.
“I don’t know Opus Dei very well,” he admits. “I’ve read some articles on them. I imagined that he was very strict and highly moral, so my character not only had a duty as a cop and a man but a moral duty. I lived with that during the shooting and (Howard) was happy with my interpretation.” Though raised Catholic by his Andalusian parents, Reno does not consider himself a religious man but says he enjoys a spiritual relationship with God. “I love God and I try to respect the relationship that I can have with the church and God and human people,” he says. “Every time (something good happens), I say thank you to God. But I’m not a preacher.”
The film, like the book, is not without its detractors. Some have called for a boycott of the movie for its alleged anti-Catholic bias. Without getting too immersed in the controversy, Reno simply regards the story as a thriller.
“I don’t think it’s a holy book or a holy movie,” he says. He will say, though, that he hopes the film will open a dialogue on the church’s stance on the role of women.
As for his own future, Reno has two independent films coming up: Kenneth Lonergan’s “Margaret,” with Oscar winner Anna Paquin, and a World War I epic called “Flyboys.”
The twice-divorced actor is also preparing for his July wedding to an American yoga instructor. “You can say I’m stupid, but I like the idea of being married,” says the father of four. “We’re buying a place in New York. We’re going to spend a lot of time here.”