On March 2 at 9:10 p.m., France 2 broadcasts the event TV movie “Un Homme abîmé”, a powerful drama about a lawyer and father whose ideal life is shattered the day he is the victim of a rape. Meeting with his interpreter Yannick Choirat.
A Damaged Man won you the Best Actor Prize at the La Rochelle TV Fiction Festival in 2019. The TV movie took a long time to arrive on the air on France 2, which created a big gap between the time you shot it and the time to defend it. It must be strange to promote it with so much hindsight…
Yannick Choirat: Yes, it’s a bit special! (laughs) Afterwards, as it’s a film that I really like, I remember it very well, and the issues it raises are still current. It may have been shot in 2018, but the essentials are still there. It wasn’t really a problem for me to promote it so late – and we had been on the starting blocks for a while, so we really wanted it to come out!
You said in an interview that several actors had declined the role before it was offered to you, and that it had aroused your interest. How do you explain that the role of Vincent can frighten an actor?
Precisely, the rape scene and the modesty of an actor who will have to start doing this kind of scene, I think that’s the central question of the film. If we consider the film only around this scene, it doesn’t make much sense. When I read the script, I quickly realized that there were several reading grids, and that ultimately the rape was also a pretext to talk about something else.
It’s a subject in itself and we deal with it completely, but I think that for some, it affected their image. As actors, we are always exposed, it is our image that we put at stake. But it was justified from a dramatic point of view to go through it to tell this story: how we can remove stones in the building of virility, of masculine supervirility.
Precisely, speaking of overvirility, one of Vincent’s first reactions after his attack when he finds his loved ones is to buy a big car, as if to reaffirm his masculinity through the material…
It’s a bit like that! (laughs) It is a kind of tree that hides the forest. It needed something even bigger to hide the ill-being in which he finds himself when he returns home.
We also observe that he is unable to show proof of love to those around him other than through gifts, as if money were the only way for him to show his affection, failing to succeed in expressing his feelings. .
It’s exactly that. After the violence that fell on his son, it’s the only way he finds to be forgiven… It’s quite pathetic to make up for things like that. I found these things quite strong in the screenplay: it can quickly become ridiculous, but at the same time, it’s so human this way of wanting to catch up when we don’t have the codes, or the values that have been given to us transmitted are archaic.
The telefilm speaks precisely of that, of the importance of deconstruction. He does not avoid showing reactions which can be harsh, even impulsive on Vincent’s part, but which are quite realistic, since as a man who has received a certain education without having the necessary perspective, taking care of oneself can sound complicated.
Yes, and it also shows that we are not alone. We have the right to ask for help from our loved ones, our partner, our children. Sometimes they are much smarter than us about certain things, much more sensitive. But we were so instilled in us about being the masters of the house… That’s a bit like Vincent, I think. The good old-fashioned family man. It’s a whole system that absolutely needs to be reformed.
Chloe, Vincent’s wife, who is played by the formidable Anne Marivin, confronts him and pushes him to ask for help, because she feels he is hiding something serious from her. At one point, she reproaches him for being too proud to speak. Is it pride, more than shame, that prevents Vincent from speaking, in your opinion?
I think it’s the two mixed up. The great difficulty is managing to unravel all these reasons and trying to understand them. It’s pride mixed with shame of not knowing, of being completely lost in this moment of trauma. To tell yourself that it’s nothing, that you can get out of it on your own. And actually no, we will always need someone. That’s the beauty of what the TV movie is about: laying down the guns, taking off the armor and accepting that weakness. The need for the other is so important.
The telefilm is also traversed by the question of homophobia, because Vincent, heterosexual, is raped by a man. There is in particular this very harsh scene that you mentioned, in which he attacks his son Jules (played by Jérémy Gillet) whom he surprises putting on makeup.
There’s that, there’s also the moment when he wonders about his son’s piano teacher, whom he “suspects” of being gay, and also the moment when he goes to seduce a woman in a bar to reassuring himself about being a “real guy”, to see if it still works, to the point of almost sexually assaulting him.
That’s what I like about Pierre’s writing (Linhart, the screenwriter, editor’s note). Even if he picked up this whole process in 90 minutes because that’s what we do in a fiction over a given time, he managed to check off all the steps that would be possible for a rape victim like Vincent. And this share of latent homophobia is ultimately linked to fear. We are dealing with a man caught in a vice between two generations, that of his father and that of his son, and who has trouble making the transition, where his son has already made things happen for him.
Vincent’s son and wife try to make him understand that he is not going to lose her, his manhood, and that she may not be where he thinks she is. I find it very beautiful because it really tells our time. Even though it was shot in 2018, the film shows that there is still a lot of work to be done. Just look at the info for that…
In addition to opening a necessary dialogue, think that the telefilm will also be able to respond to the comment that is often made when the subject of female victims of sexual violence is brought up: “And the male victims, then? We never talk about it ?”
Yes, I hope the film will be seen and there will be a strong identification, because it is not easy to distribute. That’s why it took time, and why it had to be done at the right time. I hope it will resonate with the male sex, because it really forces identification.
And we know that rape victims are unfortunately most often female and that there is a lower proportion of men, but putting yourself in the place of these victims is important to understand why a person will file a complaint ten years later, why we are fighting harassment. All these current problems which come together and which, sometimes, are the object of ridicule.
But in the end, if you can really identify with a victim, it can be a game-changer. I also like this moment in the film with the policeman, with this actor who is really very good because he is sober and doesn’t make a big deal out of it: we have the cliché of the cop a little low on the forehead who asks very limits, but he does his job. And then Vincent finds himself with a female officer to file his complaint, and this is the first moment when the barriers give way. Admitting that in front of a woman means a lot to him.
Through this role and the subject it allows you to explore, I find that there is an indirect continuity with the mini-series Laëtitia by Jean-Xavier de Lestrade, in which you played in 2019. You had had very right words during your speech at the La Rochelle Festival that year, saying that the subject of gender-based violence must also be a men’s affair if we want it to end one day.
Completely. Moreover, the two fictions were presented at the La Rochelle Festival at that time, and I couldn’t help but make the connection. While reading the book by Ivan Jablonka, the author of Laetitia but also books righteous menI had looked into feminist works that spoke of virility, in particular The Myth of Manhood by Olivia Gazale.
He helped me a lot when I was working on A Damaged Man: he tells where this myth comes from, chivalrous values, all this construction around… There was an obvious link for me. In Laetitia, whose subtitle of Jablonka’s book is The end of menwe had portraits of men in the throes of destruction, but also opposite portraits of righteous men, like the investigating judge or the policeman that I played.
Nourished by these roles and all this reflection, do you consider yourself a deconstructed man today?
I think there is still a long way to go! (laughs) I pay attention to it every day. But I know that there are things that remain anchored. It’s normal, it’s human; We don’t change at all overnight. I really think that we need to initiate a collective change. But with social networks, there has been a real acceleration of thought in recent years, in particular thanks to the #MeToo movement.
That’s what I tell myself observing what is currently happening in Ukraine: when you step back, you say to yourself that we are on this planet a bit by accident. Humans have built endless myths, whether religious, social or cultural, to justify our presence on Earth, and we are still asking ourselves the question of gender equality while we all have practically nothing to do here. (laughs)
Finally, what can we find you in next?
I toured a lot last year. I did three series, and I acted in five films that will be released this year. First of all the Sentinelles series, which will be available on April 5 on OCS, which is also topical since it talks about Operation Barkhane in Mali and French interference. A superb series that we shot in Morocco, directed by Jean-Philippe Amar and written by Frédéric Krivine and Thibault Valetoux, who was a screenwriter student at La Fémis.
I also shot in Les Combattantes, a TF1 series that takes place during the First World War with Audrey Fleurot. Then I shot a film with Philippe Faucon about the harkis at the end of the Algerian war, how we separated from these soldiers who helped France and how we betrayed them. Always quite dark subjects, I do not despair of doing comedy one day! (laughs) I also acted in You will not have my hatred, adapted from the autobiographical book by Antoine Leiris on the Bataclan attacks, directed by Kilian Riedhof with Pierre Deladonchamps.
Afterwards, I still did a comedy, L’École est à nous by Alexandre Castagnetti. And then a film which will be released on March 30, Azuro by Matthieu Rozé. It is an adaptation of Little horses of Tarquinia by Marguerite Duras, and I loved making this film, which was shot just after confinement in the summer of 2020, with Thomas Scimeca, Valérie Donzelli, Florence Loiret-Caille… It’s a film that I love because it is really atypical. We have kept the language of Duras, it is the story of the novelist, who left with her friends on an island every summer, transposed today. It’s very counter to all the social films we see today.
And finally I shot in The world of tomorrow, a series around the history of NTM directed by Katell Quillévéré, and I am currently shooting a thriller, Entre ses mains, by Vincent Lannoo with Eric Caravaca. I also vary the pleasures since I’m going to the theater soon with Isabelle Carré, we’re going to play the play The countryside at the Théâtre du Rond-Point this fall.