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New York Times (07/Jan/1983) - French actor remembers Hitchcock



French actor remembers Hitchcock

Philippe Noiret, the distinguished French actor, can be sardonic in two languages. Talking about his current movie, "Coup de Torchon," now playing at the Paris Theater, he says, "Last year in France, we have 12 nominations for Cesar, which is our Oscar. And we avoid every prize."

Even so,"Coup de Torchon" has been chosen as the official French entry in the best-foreign-film category for the coming Academy Awards. Whether it wins or loses, Mr. Noiret will probably maintain his calm. He is not a flappable sort. The writer-director Bernard Tavernier, who made "Coup de Torchon" (and four other pictures with Mr. Noiret, including the well-regarded "Clockmaker") says one of the reasons he likes the actor is that he doesn't ask questions.

"About anything," says Mr. Noiret agreeably, and adds that Alfred Hitchcock didn't want actors asking questions either. "I made a supporting part in 'Topaz,' with Hitchcock. It's not true he didn't like actors. I think he didn't like boring actors, actors asking questions every day. We -the French actors in 'Topaz' - were not at all frightened by him, but everybody else was. The first time I came on the set, it was so silent, I thought they were shooting, but not at all, they were just setting up. We French actors were the only ones to go to his trailer and say, 'Hello, Mr. Hitchcock,' and he welcomed us in a very touching way. Every evening, after 5 o'clock, he sent us a bottle of champagne. That was very nice."

Mr. Noiret says he is an actor by accident. "I can act, and I can ride a horse; those are the only two things." In high school, he had a teacher, a priest, who took an interest in him. "He told me: 'Well, what are you going to do? Do you have any money in your family? Because you are going to fail all the exams here.' And I said, 'No, we don't have any money.' So he said, 'What do you think about acting?' "

Mr. Noiret's father thought very little of acting. "He told me, 'I'm not so happy, but if you want to do it, you can always have lunch, dinner and a bed at home.' That was very nice. And in one year, I started to work."

Before he ever made a movie, Mr. Noiret spent 18 years on stage, seven of them in the Theatre National Populaire. "We didn't have any minutes to make anything else," he says. "Eleven months a year, working from noon till midnight, playing, rehearsing, touring."

It was in the Theatre National Populaire company that he met Monique Chaumette, the actress who is his wife. "She was married," he says, "and we were not very friendly together, because I was not easy at this time. I was a bit aggressive. But after a while, we became friends. Then six years and a half later, she quitted her husband, and I don't know if it's because of that, but suddenly something changed between us. Funny, really, that surprised us. It was 24 years ago.

"We left the company, and after that we had the child, and she wanted to raise the child. And also, we like very much to be together, so she refused some play because I was going to the States, or South America, to do a thing. She said goodbye to her career, and I'm a bit ashamed. But now that Frederique is on her own, she is going to start again."

Frederique, the Noirets' 22-year-old daughter, is working in films as an assistant director, and her parents are very proud of her. She's an only child because, as Mr. Noiret points out, "we started a bit late." Still, better late than never. "My wife told me from the beginning," he says, "she only married me because Robert Mitchum was not available." Speechless at the Sight Of Clint Eastwood

Alexa Kenin, the 20-year-old actress who plays a tone-deaf waitress with aspirations to be a country singer in Clint Eastwood's "Honkeytonk Man," didn't have to test for the part. Which is lucky, because she couldn't have got her mouth open. "When I met Clint Eastwood," she says, "I was in, like, shock. I was Jell-o. I had trouble looking at him, and he was saying, 'So, how are you?' And as the interview went on, I started to, like, sweat, and I couldn't talk. I think that's why I got the job."

Miss Kenin's mother, Maya, had been an actress, but she's no stage mother. "The only audition she ever went to with me, she couldn't take the other mothers," Miss Kenin reports. "We're sitting there, and this woman is saying: 'Well, Denise has done this, and she's done that. And now she's 13, she's not a kid, not an adult, and I don't know what to do about her.' Talking about this girl like she's a piece of meat. And the kid was just sitting there. It was horrible. When we came out, my mother said: 'Never again, Alexa. If you go on another audition, you go by yourself.' She couldn't take it. But people automatically assume the mother of a kid who's acting must be a stage mother. They don't believe there are kids like me who call up agents when they're 7 years old.

"I really did. I called an agency and said, 'I'm 7. Do you want to meet me?' They said O.K. I was all excited, and I got dressed up, and my mother came with me, and we found this seedy dive on 49th Street and marched upstairs, and there's this woman, and she says, 'Show me your teeth.' You know, the way they inspect a horse. She opened my mouth and said, 'Ah, you need braces.' Well, we dropped that for another three years. My mother said: 'This is ridiculous. You're going to school,' and I went to school."

Miss Kenin, who clearly got her tongue back, once she'd quit the awesome Clint Eastwood orbit, is still going to school - now it's Columbia University - and writing papers and taking tests, but always, always, taking time out for acting when a job comes up.

At 3, she was taken to see "The Nutcracker" and for three months afterward pretended to be the little girl in it. "My parents sent me to a psychiatrist," she says. "He said, 'She just wants to be an actress.' "

Her first part was in a CBS television special called "House Without a Christmas Tree," she was 10 years old, and she didn't know that if the star, Jason Robards, forgot a line, she wasn't supposed to supply it. "I was trying to be helpful," she says, "but I learned not to do things like that."

Plays and movies followed. She got the part of Kristy McNichols's friend in "Little Darlings," a picture in which she looked like "the blimp of life." Why? "There was nothing to do in Madison, Ga., but eat," she says. "Then, when people saw the movie, the conversation would go like this: 'You were in "Little Darlings"?' 'Yeah.' 'Boy, were you fat.' So I lost almost 20 pounds. Now I exercise every day for an hour."

Carrying a full school load and having a career at the same time is tough, but Miss Kenin wouldn't have it any other way. "All my friends who are getting out of school are wondering what they're going to do with a philosophy degree," she says, "what they want to do with their lives. They're all confused. But me, I know what I want to do. It's not always so easy, but I'm lucky, I've started." Film With Bizarre History

"Winter Kills," which will come to Cinema Studio 1 on Jan. 21, has had a history, to quote the movie's publicity man, Reid Rosefelt, "as bizarre and improbable as the plot of the best-selling novel by Richard Condon on which it was based."

It took William Richert, the film's director, six years to make the picture, which has appearances by Jeff Bridges, John Huston, Anthony Perkins, Richard Boone, Eli Wallach, Ralph Meeker, Elizabeth Taylor, Toshiro Mifune, Dorothy Malone and Sterling Hayden, and since its brief showing in 1979, he's given it a whole new ending. Three times during production, the picture shut down while Mr. Richert searched for money to finish it. Mr. Rosefelt says one of its producers was murdered in New York, and another, caught in the biggest marijuana bust in history, is serving time. He also says that Mr. Richert still owes $5 million to creditors who range from the Internal Revenue Service to Universal Pictures. But this time, he and Claire Townsend, who used to be at 20th Century-Fox, are themselves releasing the film. They call their new company the Invisible Studio.