Interview with Jonathan Zaccaï… Are you looking for a new series, one that makes you hold your breath, that feels so close to reality that you become addicted to your screen? Times change and between Netflix, Stan or replays on internet, we have completely changed the way we consume TV.
We have a lot of choices with romantic, funny or suspense-filled series. Recently I have been captivated by a French one created by Eric Rochant (influenced by my girls as it’s often the case if you understand what I mean), that you can see in France on the channel Canal + or even in Australia on SBS.
“Le Bureau des Légendes” (or the Bureau in English) with Matthieu Kassovitz, Jean-Pierre Darroussin, Sara Giraudeau, Florence Loiret Caille… so many talented actors and actresses and of course Jonathan Zaccaï. A series that relates the thrilling and very discreet DGSE agent’s life (Direction Générale de la Sécurité Extérieure or if you prefer The General Directorate for External Security, to summarise the French secret services) with a very realistic touch.
I wanted to know what is true, what is not but most of all I wanted to talk with Jonathan Zaccaï, actor in the series playing the character Raymond Sisteron, so that I could understand how such a realistic series is adapted and perceived by the actors.
A video was requested…
Bonjour Jonathan, merci for accepting this interview, by the way I hope you cannot be tapped (laugh). Jonathan’s laugh tells me that this interview is going to be smooth and with good humour.
How did you become an actor?
I started doing theatre at school, there was a very enthusiastic Monsieur called Olivier who was the director. And well I have also to be honest with you, at this time if you were involved in theatre, it was possible to miss classes. It was of a great way to escape school. Therefore at the beginning, I started as a film extra and as the years passed, I played more important roles at the theatre. Then when I was doing my year 12 baccalauréat, I wanted to be a lawyer and save the world like a lot of us guys. In spite of the work that it required, I decided to be an actor. I loved acting and I found it exciting. I love cinema, theatre… You know it’s quite hard to know what you really want to do at this age.
It was in Belgium, right? We need to remind our readers that you are Belgian … (a wink to the Belgian we love in France and we also like to tease)
Did you arrive in France for your career?
I told myself Paris here I am (laughs). It was a way to become independent, to detach myself from my family. At this time I didn’t know anyone in this city.
What was your first impression when you arrived in Paris?
I already knew Paris because my mother had lived in Paris and I lived there for two years when I was younger.
I talked to everyone in the streets, which is what we do in Brussels. With the spirit of “deconnade” (messing around with things), I wanted to meet people. We talked to girls in the streets, it was friendly atmosphere, good vibes.
It is a city that really makes you dream even if it is not the most welcoming at the start. But it’s so amazing.
Do you have a place in Paris that you particularly like?
A tiny place near Saint-Germain where by the way Scorcese filmed “the time of innocence”
I lived there when I arrived in Paris, I was sharing an apartment with a journalist, Place Fürstenberg. It’s very romantic, there is just a tree in the middle of the square…
Regarding The Bureau, we are looking forward to the new season and my first question watching this series was how this series can affect the actor. Because this series is very realistic, I found myself crying and with the latest events in France, it must be sometimes hard to play your character like for example in this scene when you are hostage, I imagine you think about it …
Yes that’s for sure, it’s very intense because in addition we are really in touch with the DGSE, we show them the episodes, sometimes we have screenings with senior officers at the Ecole Militaire. The real ones who really live what we act out. And it’s true that it’s rare to play characters and meet people who really live day in day out what we act. This is not trivial.
It’s a series in which the characters are very human.
It’s rare to play characters and meet people who really live day in day out what we act. This is not trivial.
The DGSE will perhaps be overwhelmed with applications?
You hit the nail on the head. They had around a 50% increase in applications I think. This is a clear increase since the start of the series, people certainly are brave.
This series still creates discomfort, because once we turn off the television, the series continues.
It was Daroussin who said that now he really analysed what was said to him and he thought of everything that had not been said to him.
When we are given a piece of information, does it perhaps hide something else? It is true that it makes you think and it is surely true sometimes.
Does the DGSE have a right to monitor the series?
Eric Rochant (creator of this fiction) still has a relationship of trust with the DGSE. They send the scenarios to ask what is plausible or not. If it is not plausible, we do not give them the solution or a scenario it’s up to the director to change it. They really do not have the right to divulge information. And Eric Rochant’s world is his passion, he has a real knowledge on this subject. It’s a meticulous job.
Also, how do you see your Sisteron character? Do you have anything in common with him?
I like my character because he is very human. It’s not James Bond. I like to take on the weakness of the characters, all the fragilities. This series represents the truth that people’s fear really has. Running to save someone when you know that a sniper can shoot you is scary, and it’s that realism that I love that makes the show successful.
I am also surprised to see that young people love this series.
I feel pretty close to Sisteron. The character looks like me because I think that if I was a spy I would be really freaked out, I would also have this taste for women and I would also eat cupcakes in front of my computer (smile).
On this point I couldn’t help myself blaming the series for the fact that it was not real “Petit Brun” (biscuits from our childhood) that Sisteron ate. That is Jonathan’s reaction who I’m sure will discuss it for the new season (wink)
But it’s a scandal we have to do something (laughs).
Yes I will act alongside Daniel Auteuil, Ludivine Sagnier and Virginie Ledoyen in “Remi without family” (this can only bring back childhood memories for French people) produced by Jerico and directed by Antoine Blossier, to be released in December 2018.
And “The Big Bath” by Gilles Lellouche produced by the Films du Trésor, also a participation in “Nureev” directed by Ralph Fiennes and of course the season 4 of The Bureau (Jonathan a clue please, not yet, resistant)
As usual I have to ask this question what is this “je ne sais quoi” for you, what do you think of French women?
Ah, but French women are wonderful. They are among the most beautiful women in the world. They are charming. In fact, what a French lady is very good at (and maybe that’s the je ne sais quoi) is that even if a woman is not necessarily beautiful, she will arrange herself to make sure to be irresistible.
They have a lot of taste with a sense of fashion that makes them know how to dress according to their body shape.
Sometimes I find that the hidden beauty is much more beautiful.
After many laughs we finish this conversation by saying that it is Jonathan’s first interview in Australia, I cannot help but mention it and laugh.
Merci Jonathan for sharing your good and contagious humour and this beautiful humility.
In spite of my attempt to try to get him to spill the beans about the next episodes of The Bureau, Jonathan has kept mum without revealing a single clue. There is definitely something of Sisteron in you Jonathan.
Find The Bureau on SBS ON DEMAND