Of Gods and Men: Interview with Lambert Wilson

The great French actor Lambert Wilson plays the lead role of Christian in the superb drama, Of Gods and Men, which inexplicably failed to make it to the Academy’s list of five nominees of the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar

Music

“Music occupies an absolutely primordial place in my life. I think that I could have been a singer. In fact, it I had done a little work on myself before diving into theatrical studies, I think I would have most certainly extracted from myself this passion, which suits me better. I listen to vocal music very often, as well as to a lot of religious and liturgical music– a lot of singing especially.

Historically, since the time of the Greeks, singing – lyrical art – was always linked to the dramatic arts; unfortunately modern actors are no longer connected to singing. Today however, in theatre directing in particular, one speaks of rhythm, intonation, dynamics –- we are in fact using a lyrical vocabulary.

I think music must be constantly integrated into an actor’s work. It is useful to me in my work, in order to prepare myself emotionally for certain scenes. Singing is organic, it is not intellectual– it’s a feeling, an emotion, a physical action. It was singing that prepared us the most to perform these particular roles.

Studying and Singing the Score

During the shoot of another film, I began studying the scores we would be singing in OF GODS & MEN. It was really during the classes with François Polgar that we began the real work, that the actors fused into a team and the community spirit began.

The first interactions were a bit embarrassing because none of us were great singers, but it helped break the ice between us. As actors, it is because we had to work together on singing that it helped us become this community of monks. We had to fuse in some sort of higher level and reveal our own identities at the same time. For me, singing, besides the biographical work each of us did on our respective characters, is what constituted the essential foundation of our preparation. At the Tamié Abbey, where we went on a retreat, monks spend four hours a day singing during the seven religious offices. We all loved doing this work with multiple voices–it’s the principle of fusion in the choir. It was a very exhilarating journey.

In fact, it reminded me of the very simple emotions I loved when I was little. I did a little choir singing in kindergarten, and I totally loved it. In fact, that is why I say I am a frustrated singer: I think there is no more beautiful activity than singing.

What is surprising with the actors is that they gave themselves to this singular exercise with a lot of candor. On the set, when we were waiting for the lights to be adjusted, for example, instead of idling time away, we sang together. Suddenly, we would start singing a “Salve Regina” or another tune because we took real pleasure in it. We felt a real sense of sharing among us– it’s a very simple joy, almost playful, to start off from the same bar and to manage to reach the last one together”.