Vincent Cassel Talks ‘Liaison’ & Making an Authentic International Thriller

Mar 3, 2023

The Apple TV+ series Liaison is an international thriller that brings mercenary Gabriel (Vincent Cassel) back into the life of estranged ex-lover Alison (Eva Green). While working to unravel a conspiracy of politics and espionage, cyberattacks lead to chases, fights and double-crossing, as the two find themselves forced to face their past, in order to save their future.

During this 1-on-1 interview with Collider, Cassel talked about how early on he got involved with the project, that the opportunity to work with Green sold him on doing this, really embracing the international nature of the story, the challenges of shooting during COVID, the relationship between Gabriel and Alison, being disciplined with his physicality in his own life, and his desire to be surprised by the projects that he does.
Collider: How far along was this project when you signed on? Did you get to read all the scripts ahead of time, or was it still being developed? Did you know what this full story was going to be, when this project came your way?

VINCENT CASSEL: I was approached by the production a long time ago, almost two years ahead of it shooting, so I didn’t read the whole thing at first, but I had a pretty precise idea of what the plot would be. And then, they sent me the new episodes. I was involved, but there was still no director and no actress involved, so I wasn’t quite sure it would actually happen. And then, I heard that Eva Green would say yes, and that, for me, was a definite green light to be 100% involved with the project.

Image via Apple TV+

Since you were involved with this before any of that was finished and lined up, what was the thing that interested you? Was it something about the type of story or was it this character, specifically? What was the thing that really caught your interest?

CASSEL: It was a combination of a lot of different things. First of all, I think the story is precise enough and it’s an extrapolation of what could happen after Brexit. It’s interesting to have this preview of the future. For me, to have a project like that with Apple, and knowing that it will have a wonderful, huge audience worldwide, it was an opportunity for me to come up with a character that could be identified as French. It’s important because, suddenly, you can present something a little different than an American view of what a spy would be. This guy is someone who’s beaten about for the whole movie and the woman he loves talk to him badly. There is a certain kind of vulnerable masculinity about him. He’s full of flaws, but at the end of the day, you can count on him.

This is an international thriller, and you have a variety of different languages and locations throughout this. Do you feel like that really lends a natural authenticity to the project, when you have characters speaking their actual language, as opposed to forcing everybody to speak English?

CASSEL: I really believe so because that’s a reflection of reality. Traveling around the world, I can see that, most of the time, when people don’t speak the language, everybody will speak English. That’s the way it is because this is the world. Up until now, the world’s most spoken language is English, but then sometimes, you get to places where people don’t speak English, and then you have to cope and learn a different language. It’s the mix of all that, that really gives you an insight of what reality can be outside of America. It also provides an interesting tension, where people have to figure out how to communicate with each other in these different life or death situations. It adds to the tension, which I thought was really cool.

How did you find the experience of shooting in these different locations? Did you have a favorite country or location that you most enjoyed shooting at?

CASSEL: Because of COVID, we were stuck in London for a long time with the quarantine. I mean, it’s not the worst place in the world to be stuck in. We spent quite a lot of the time there. But as a Parisian, I love to shoot in Paris. I really love it because I could take my motorbike and go, and there was always a restaurant that I knew. I’m sure it’s like shooting in New York when you’re a New Yorker. It’s always a pleasure, but in this one, in particular, we had to travel around. That was part of the deal, from the beginning. We couldn’t go in a lot of places because of COVID, so we had to fake them. Syria was actually not Syria, as you can imagine. It was not even Morocco, where we were supposed to go, at first. We had to rewrite some stuff because of COVID and the fact that we couldn’t travel around as easily as we would have loved to. But at the end of the day, it looks like we’ve been all over the world, and that’s the most important thing.

Image via Apple TV+

One of the things that I really like about international thrillers is that they don’t have to follow an American storytelling formula. They don’t have to have everything tied neatly with a bow, at the end. How do you feel about where this leaves things for your character, Gabriel, and for Alison? Do you feel like he’s someone that’s just going to do this job until he’s buried in the ground, or is he someone who could just walk away from it all?

CASSEL: No. The thing is that, honestly, if we’re being realistic, once you’ve made that choice, as a young man, and you enter that life, there’s really no way out. You know too much. You’ve worked for all the secret services in the world. You’ve killed. I don’t know how many people, but I’m talking about hundreds of people. So, you can’t walk away. The day you’re not useful anymore and you become useless, then you might just disappear at any time of the day without anyone knowing.

Did you think, at all, about what might happen to Gabriel and Alison, beyond this? Do you feel like they’re destined to be together and ride off into the sunset somewhere, or would there always be challenges for anything between the two of them?

CASSEL: Knowing their position on the international map, it feels like it would be a little bit unnatural for them to stay together, but sometimes love can make miracles. I don’t know. If, one day, there is a second season, we’ll see how they work this out.

How did you find the experience of the demanding physicality that came along with this? There is a good amount of action, and there’s some pretty intense scenes and sequences. Was there any specific training that you had to do for this? How was that for you?

CASSEL: I, as myself, need to keep in contact with my physicality, so I have a tendency to always find something to do, even when I’m not working, because that’s something I need to do. I’ve got so much energy in me that I need to do something physically. I don’t literally lift weights and workout, but I’ve always worked on movement, whether it was when I was doing ballet years ago, or when I was at circus school, or when I was into Capoeira for years. And then, I went through boxing and I’ve been surfing in many different locations. I never lose track or contact with my physicality, meaning that somehow I keep myself ready for any kind of situation. So, when that thing comes up, I’ve kept on training, but it’s not like I had to train again to be ready. My first day of shooting, I was running after this guy in the hospital, and that was funny because I would warm up and stretch myself. The actor I was playing with was actually 29, and I’m 56. I said, “Maybe you should warm up.” And he said, “No, no, no, I run a lot.” And then, on the second take, he stretched his muscle and couldn’t work for three months. That was so funny. Well, no, it wasn’t funny. Physicality is something that you cannot lose track with. You cannot do nothing, and then train for something. That is totally unnatural and stupid. It’s a way of living, really, whether you take care of your instrument or not.

It’s all about the discipline.

CASSEL: Yes, that’s exactly what I’m talking about.

Image via Apple TV+

Your acting career has really been all over the map, in different genres, different mediums, different countries, and different languages. What gets you interested in a project? When you read a script, do you know right away if it’s something you want to do, or if it’s something that’s not suited for you? When you’re working in all different areas like that, is it just an instinct?

CASSEL: I guess that’s what it is. I wanna be surprised. I wanna be caught in a situation where I don’t really know how I’m gonna get out of it. I wanna be surprised and I wanna be in trouble. It’s above the script and above the character. It’s a combination of who the director is, when it’s gonna happen, and where it’s gonna be shot. I would never sacrifice my personal life for work. That’s one of my rules. Everything has to combine. So, the choices make themselves. They happen by themselves.

You’ve done Westworld and you’ve done this series. Do you enjoy working in television, in the sense that you get to spend extra time with a character and dig into aspects that you can’t in a movie, just because of time?

CASSEL: To be honest, I would never sign on for something that lasts too long. I would never commit to something where they can call me, a year and a half later, and say, “You have to come.” Freedom is the key word for me. With this one, and with everything else that I’ve done, I know where it starts and I know when it ends. That’s really important to me. If I don’t see the end of the tunnel, I’m not interested. But I have to say that, certainly, when you have a little more time to explore and to have fun with the character, that’s always interesting. With this one, I never thought about it as a series. It was more like a long movie.

Liaison is available to stream at Apple TV+.

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