21 January 2008

Working Out with Lambert Wilson

Wilson: You better work.

You know you’ve been away from the gym for too long when you can’t remember your locker combination; that, as much as loss of muscle tone or gain of weight, is an excellent indicator that you’ve been shirking. I would tell you that everybody at the gym has forgotten me since my last workout, were it not for the fact that it’s a snobby place and nobody there knows me to begin with. The exception, curiously, is our most famous member, the actor Lambert Wilson, best known in the States as the Merovingian in the Matrix movies. (Which I’ve never seen.)

I saw him again today, and his very presence was a reproach: he’s only a little older than I, and he’s in amazing shape. Of course, as a former Calvin Klein model, he has an obligation to maintain a ludicrously high standard. Moreover, his busy schedule demands a certain level of physical conditioning. French actors tend to work a great deal, but Wilson is driven, making half a dozen films per year, including made-for-TV movies, and usually he’ll star in one or two stage plays per season, and sometimes direct a show. Just to keep his hand in, he’ll make a television commercial — not as a celebrity endorser but just as any other unidentified actor. Since he sings, as well, and since he speaks flawless English, he has additional opportunities to work, and he grabs them.

We’re on something more than a nodding acquaintance because he appeared in Bernstein’s Candide with the American baritone David Adam Moore: that personal connection permitted me to introduce myself. Otherwise, need I point out, I’m enough of a New Yorker that I’d never have acknowledged him. I’ve worked out alongside movie actors, opera singers, Broadway leading men, and porn stars, all of them famous, and very rarely have I seen any reason to speak to them, even to say, “Are you using the fifty-pound dumbbell, Victor Garber, and if so, would you mind not dropping it on my foot?” (Back in the locker room, of course, my little friends and I rip the poor guys to shreds.) But thanks to David, Lambert Wilson and I say hi now and sometimes chat briefly.

Thus he has earned the distinction of being the last man in France who insists on addressing me in English. I daresay he wouldn't mind if I didn’t pronounce his name with a French accent: Lawm-BEAR Weel-SONG. He was educated in England. I’m sure he wants to practice his English, and not to display disdain for my French. I try not to be insulted.

I sometimes wonder why Lambert Wilson is so driven, and I don’t know him well enough to answer. He’s a “fils de,” the son of a famous man — Georges Wilson, a painfully distinguished actor and stage director (and director of the Théâtre National de Paris in the 1960s), whose picture appears in schoolbooks, not only theater histories but the standard texts of great plays. Perhaps Lambert feels he has to surpass people’s expectations in order to prove that his success isn’t merely the result of his father’s connections.

Golly, if only I had such a motivating force, just think what I’d achieve!