Actor, Jean Brassard has been around the business since 1979, doing television, miniseries, and movies, however he began his career in Boston when he attended the Boston Ballet. Brassard hails from Quebec, Canada, which has given him the advantage that he is French Canadian, meaning he can play both European roles (such as the Dutch Waiter in “The Fault in Our Stars”) and a gritty police officer as in “Fortier” a television series.
Examiner caught up with him after his latest role in the hit movie, “The Fault in Our Stars” in which he plays the waiter who meets young Hazel Grace, Shailene Woodley and her boyfriend, Gus, Ansel Elgort in a restaurant in Amsterdam.
AL: “The Fault in Our Stars” premiered June 6th and has been a big hit. Did you have a huge party with friends to celebrate it?
JB: I actually was away when the movie premiered at New York’s Ziegfeld Theater. I celebrated from afar!
AL: How was it to work with Shailene Woodley and Ansel Elgort and the entire cast?
JB: My work only included Shailene and Ansel. They were both so fun and easy to work with. They and the whole crew made my time on the set a real pleasure.
AL: Did you read the book in order to prepare for the movie and if so what did you think of the book?
JB: I came to the John Green’s story through the screenplay written by Scott Neustadter and Michael Weber and immediately loved it. I only got acquainted with the book when John Green gave me a copy on the set. I had very little time but I did have a chance to read the whole Amsterdam passage in the book which added some colors for me in working on the scene.
AL: When doing films about cancer, it is all too easy to fall into the trap of sentimentality and clichés, yet your character was so understated and kind, that it brought a sparkle to the film that it would have been lacking otherwise. Did you feel the book and the entire cast bonded in such a way that this was avoided?
JB: You’re very kind to say so. I think part of Josh Boone’s intention was to avoid that trap with Shailene’s easy going yet very connected characterization as Hazel and Ansel brought a lot of humor to Augustus’ character. And so yes, I think the bonding between those three set the tone for both the movie and everyone involved in it. As well as John Green’s presence on the set.
AL: In the movie you have the line, “Do you know what Dom Perignon said after he invented champagne? Come quickly he said I am tasting the stars!” “We bottled all the stars for you my young friends.” While the scene maybe brief, one has to ask, if the character knew their situation beforehand since it was said with such an undertone of tenderness.
JB: Thank you! I’m very happy when I hear this. In my preparation for the scene, I had imagined that my character had been told about the circumstance of the very special young couple who would come to the restaurant. I also had decided that I was a father which made me feel even more caring towards them. And I ended up thinking that this was my gift for the day, to be part of their beautiful love story. I was going to do all I could to bring the magic to their dinner experience.
AL: What or who would you say has been your greatest influence?
JB: I’d say that having grown up right at the edge of a suburb and country fields in Quebec City had a big influence on my life and my sensibility. I got to be both urban and country bumpkin at once. But also my parents, both of them romantic at heart and my father who though not professionally played music, the accordion and guitar were very influential. In regards to acting more specifically, I grew up watching a wide variety of movies too from France, Italy, Canada, United-States and the same with music. I’ll always cherish having been exposed to many different cultures at once.
AL: How do you approach each role?
JB: It really differs from one character to another. Sometimes the approach is very physical and like the old British method, you start from the outside and go in. Like with Admiral d’Estaing which I played in the HBO miniseries John Adams. Being an admiral in that period, he wore a wig, very tight and formal outfits; he was a warrior, a very formal and elegant man. So I felt the need to start with this formal and restrained way and that informed me a lot on how the guy lived and thought. It was quite the opposite with Alain in the film Ten Stories Tall. All of his circumstances were emotional, trying to fit into his girlfriend’s family while his brother is dying in a hospital. So it was all about the internal life of this guy, the constant flood of feelings he was living with on a daily basis. So I find that characters will guide you if you just pay attention.
AL: You have had a long and varied career, doing everything from ‘Law and Order’, to ‘30 Rock’, "John Adams" as well as films such as "Ten Stories Tall". What is your favorite kind of character to play?
JB: Well I love comedy, that’s got to be my favorite. Romantic comedy in particular. My favorite screen couple is Sofia Lauren and Marcello Mastroianni because they are so perfect in that style. Sylvianne Chebance, a delightful French-German-American actress and I worked together on a few projects as either husband and wife or girlfriend-boyfriend, especially in the web series "Horrible People", and I’m always inspired by that great Italian pair. Aside from that genre, I like complex characters that are having to deal with internal and external conflicts at once.
AL: Given that you are French Canadian, are you more comfortable playing roles which require French or a French accent, or ones which are American?
JB: I’m certainly very comfortable with French and the accents, but being that I have now spent more than half of my life in New York City, my brain now thinks in English more than in French a lot of the time and my life is led in both languages.
AL: You went were in the Boston Ballet. Do you still dance?
JB: I have not done ballet for a very long time now. In the end, ballet was not an art form I really connected with but I enjoyed the training I got doing it.
AL: Would you recommend ballet for an aspiring young actor? And if so, how does that help one both artistically and personally? (Given that we all know there are great obstacles along the way to becoming a well sought after actor).
I think one of the most important things ballet gives a young dancer is discipline. It is a very rigorous art and requires daily practice, like playing a musical instrument. And it also about learning a non-verbal language which I think is valuable and makes you use a different part of the brain. Not a bad thing either! For me modern dance is more interesting especially as there is more room for creativity. Would I recommend dance for actors? If it means getting them to be more in their bodies and out of their heads, then yes. But I think that a daily routine of any kind in which you focus on developing your craft can accomplish that. It could be dance, martial arts, yoga.
AL: What do you see in the future for yourself as an actor?
JB: What I’m seeing as an actor next is being part of an ensemble cast on a television drama or comedy series. That would be the next challenge for me.
AL: Do you have any personal and professional goals?
JB: I’m currently writing songs towards the recording of a new CD in the fall and some shows. You may know about my musical tribute to the French star Yves Montand who was a great singer and actor known around the world, (here especially for the movie "Let’s Make Love" which he shot with Marilyn Monroe). The show written with and directed by David Krueger is called "The Kid From Paris" in which alone on stage with a band I tell Montand’s story through narration, theatrical vignettes and songs. We’ve toured with it quite a bit in the last few years and we also produced a cd with twelve studio recordings of the original French versions, it’s called Le Gamin de Paris (you can find it on cdbaby.com or iTunes.) I love doing that show and making that cd was a delightful experience and I want more of that! On the acting front, there are a couple of projects brewing and as soon as I can I’ll definitely be sharing the news on Twitter and Facebook, so do befriend and follow me!Thanks for your interest in what I’m doing
And thanks Jean for spending time with us. We look forward to hearing more from you. You can follow Actor Jean Brassard on his twitter and facebook pages
To learn more about his "The Fault in Our Stars ", you can check out the show at its facebook page
You can also check out The Kid from Paris on Youtube or
http://www.cdbaby.com/cd/jeanbrassard and download or order the new cd.