star musician cum actor

Interview with Marco Prince, by Sylvie Chalaye

Paris, February 2000
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Son of a Beninese father and Togolese mother, he came to France at the age of seven. Today, he has become French funk star. Singer and musician, Marco Prince is better known as the leader of the group FFF, and for his film music in Frantic by Polanski, or Vive la République by Eric Rochant. But, in addition to music, he has discretely been pursuing a career as an actor for several years now. He has just made in Total Western, Eric Rochant’s latest film, and Peter Brook has given him his first theatre role in Le Costume, with Sotigui Kouyaté and Bakary Sangaré.

How did the meeting with Peter Brook arise?
His assistant called me and asked if I would like to meet Peter Brook. It was in order to create the music based on the play and South Africa of the Sixties. I met Peter Brook several times, we spoke a lot. Little by little, the idea that I could also participate in the play, not just as a musician, took root.
It was in the rehearsals that your place became clear…
I started off playing a very little role, then a bigger one, then a bigger one, until I ended up having the place that I have today in the play. I am delighted to have been accepted into such a prestigious troupe. Sotigui Kouyaté, and Bakary Sangaré and Marianne Jean-Baptiste are friends of mine now.
How did Peter Brook work on this production?
It varied a lot. He might focus the day’s meeting on the sensorial, and only on the sensorial, very concrete things or, on the contrary, on very abstract things. During the first month’s rehearsals, we practically didn’t touch the text. He would say that the text was secondary, and that it was first and foremost necessary to find the characters’ rhythms of life, their sense of breathing. At times we would change roles. I ended up playing Maphikéla, or even Matilda.
What has this experience meant for you?
A real responsibility. Whatever origin you are, South Africa’s history is highly exceptional for a Black person. As soon as you start delving into it a little, it brings back crushing, painful things which you don’t necessarily want to remember. The play turned out to be entertaining, whilst also being very disturbing. As we were working with powerful feelings, it was important to manage to approach them the right way. We didn’t have the right to make mistakes about certain things, nor the right to fall into the facile.
What was Peter Brook’s position in the rehearsals? How did he approach things?
There were tensions, as in all productions, but there were tensions on a human level. It was impossible not to realize that there were four Black actors and a White director, and that this reproduced a kind of approach exactly like the sate we were talking about. A Black majority and a White director: it was quite comical, we spoke about it, we even joked about it often. But what would have been the outcome of this play if it had entirely been the doing of a Black director? I am not sure that people would have spoken about it. When you are a Black actor and you face up to things, profound moments of sadness arise.
You had already played in several films before turning to the theatre.
I had a vague desire to become an actor at the outset. But I was very quickly revolted by the fact that a Black actor does not have the means to express him/herself in France, or… that, in any case, I would have to suffer a lot! (laughs).
Were your first experiences as an actor hard?
We were a bunch of crazy kids. I lived in an apartment with Isaach de Bankolé, we used to see Alex Descas a lot too. We were a gang of friends who weren’t afraid of anything, we were convinced that we were the young Black brigade. We went to all the auditions. We didn’t let anything slip by, we used to phone each other to tip one another off. Even when they were looking for a blond, blue-eyed thirtysomething actor, we would go along, out of provocation. We used to enjoy irritating the audition team. Then, little by little, we started to work. Isaach had the luck of taking off with Black micmac, which drove us apart a little. I was involved in music, and the group began to be a big hit.
And you dropped the cinema.
Rather than being unhappy waiting to play just another road sweeper or drug addict, I concentrated on music again. The bottom line was that there was room for one Black actor, and that was all. And when the script-writers wrote a role for a Black person, they wrote it for Isaach. Especially when he began to represent something in commercial terms. But, on my way, I made a film with Losey called La Truite. I did Frantic with Polanski, I even crossed paths with Sotigui Kouyaté twice in Neige, the film by Juliet Berto, then in a television drama with Cyril Collard called Tagueur.
Do you have any other theatre projects today?
I really enjoyed doing this production with Brook, but because it was him. I really want to be in film in fact. And to play roles which are not exclusively written for Black people. I would like to be able to go to auditions and to no longer hear the famous refrain: « Yes, but there aren’t any Blacks in the film »!
Do you belong to the Collectif Egalité?
Not really. There is something which bothers in this action, something which held me back. I wonder if that is where the battle really lies, if Black people’s representation in television series is essential. What is the situation politically? That is what’s much more important for me, rather than knowing whether there will be a Black cop on TV soon. I am really afraid of quotas, if things don’t come naturally, you might as well take them, rather than obtaining them through laws. I expect there to be an awakening amongst the young generations, for authors to start writing. I want to see Black people stand up in Parliament and take part in debates every day. The question is political. I am sure that a Black doctor character at 8.30 p.m. can help things advance in people’s minds. But, things will not fundamentally change through entertainment . It’s a delusion, in my opinion. The combat is situated in the polling booths. I will not be proud to see a coloured brother in a poor TV series just because the quota has to be respected.
But quotas are not a finality in themselves.
In my opinion, the debate lies elsewhere. I prefer justice over representativity at any price.

///Article N° : 5437


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