Arthur Benzaquen

Photo: Courtesy of Arthur Benzaquen

ARTHUR BENZAQUEN

Actor, director, health club owner, producer, Arthur Benzaquen is an all-rounder ‘kind of guy’, who seems to turn into gold everything he undertakes. One of his latest movie ‘The New Adventures of Aladdin’ attracted more than 4 million spectators, making it the blockbuster of the year.  

By Victoria Adelaide | OCT 23. 2017

Victoria Adelaide: How do you choose your actors?
Arthur Benzaquen: Well, it’s about being inspired really. If an actor inspires me, we can write something around him. Also, when you write fiction, characters somehow always remind you of someone you might know, some specific character traits…

VA: What’s your background? Did you go to cinema school?
AB: Actually, a lot of people used to ask me why I wasn’t an actor. So I enrolled in an acting school called ‘Pygmalion’. It was a sensitive period for me because my brother and I had already opened the ‘Ken Club’, and we had about sixty employees. It was a bit complicated to be absent every morning, but my brother encouraged me to do it. So I went there, every morning for five months. At first, I was not convinced but I quickly realized that being an actor was not just about innate abilities one may have, but it was also technical. Of course, you always have actors who are so amazing that they’ve got it all. I played a bit here and there for fun, I never did casting, it was nothing like that. At some point I got bored, my wife was eight months pregnant, I had to go to Miami, I had a lot of work in the clubs. I honestly started to wonder ‘what am I doing here?’ and on top of that I was not keen on the role I had to play, so I started to write. I wrote myself a TV series but when I saw that it wouldn’t be produced as I wanted, I decided to produce it myself. Then I couldn’t find the right filmmaker so I took care of that as well, and one day ‘Pathé’ contacted me to do Aladdin, to my great surprise, so I did it. I enjoyed doing it, it was a bit like a huge enterprise, but I guess my entrepreneur background helped me a lot. I had perspective so it was fine. The weirdest sensation is this feeling that you have missed your entire life if you miss one take.

VA: So you’ll open a new club soon?
AB: We will open a new club, Rue Blanche, in Paris, at the end of the year. With a health club of course, but also with a cinema. With our clubs, we create a ‘living place’ where people want to meet, the heart of the concept being ‘sports’, because this is what unites people the most. We have restaurants, a hair salon, shops, a swimming pool, a steam room, and we tend to be as innovative as possible when it comes to the architecture. Our clubs are also an artistic hub; we bring artists, we have exhibitions, book readings, painting and so on.

VA: And you will call your new place ‘Ken Club’?
AB: No, each time we give a different name. Theoretically it should be called ‘Blanche’.

VA: What is your most recent actuality?
AB: This year I produced Nicolas Giraud’s first movie. We finished the movie and we have just been selected as a favorite at the Angoulème Festival by Dominique Besnehard, so we are very happy. I also produced a TV series of 12×26 minutes for OCS TV, called ‘Hollyweed’. It’s a comedy. We are currently filming “Budapest’, a movie with Manu Payet, Jonathan Cohen, Mr Poulpe, Alice Belaïdi and Alix Poisson to be released in March 2018, and we have many ongoing projects.

VA: Your influences, your favorite authors?
AB: Hmmm…. I always find it hard to answer those kinds of questions because by nature, I am a multidisciplinary kind of guy, I don’t know how to stick to one thing. I may like one author for one thing, and another one for another thing, even though they may not have anything in common and they may belong to totally different universes. But I will feel somehow connected to them in some way. And it is the same for my influences. I am as crazy about architecture as I am about furniture, and cinema it goes from pure American comedy to independent cinema. I cannot reply precisely on that …. (reflecting)… well thinking about it; I can give you a name, maybe Rob Reiner. When we start producing, making movies, we sometimes ask ourselves on what kind of path we are, and what I like about Rob Reiner is his diversity. He made amazing movies but always in a different style. From ‘This Is Spinal Tap’, which is a fake documentary about a rock band in the 70s, to ‘Misery’, a horror movie, ‘When Harry Met Sally’, ‘Stand By Me’ or ‘Princess Bride’, which is truly an adult fairytale, all those universes are always drastically different and because of that each time he is creating a new style because he did what he wanted to do, he didn’t try to copy anybody. Those kind of things resonate to me.

VA: What about the challenge to do as well as or even better. Any pressure?
AB: Well no. I don’t know what ‘as well as’ means, I think this is more the concern of distributors. When I work it’s not what I have in mind, I prefer to create a masterpiece with 200000 admissions that will span generations and at the same time may not cost as much money, because in the end it’s just as enjoyable really. Now of course, Aladdin was shaped to be successful. When you make a popular comedy like this, with a young target audience, and you have Kev Adams playing the main role, yes, it has to work and the movie costs a bit as well (smiles), so we have to make some profit. But for instance, that is not the case with the movie we are filming now with Manu Payet and Jonathan Cohen, which is a lot cheaper. So obviously there is a lot less pressure, we can experiment more, we have more freedom. So is there pressure? No. The number of admissions is not the only barometer. It’s important, but the kind of movie you make, what you present to an audience, if you make them cry, dream, if you tell them a story, if you do a political movie, then you may initiate reflection, all those are ingredients that contribute to the success of a movie.

VA: What changed in your life after Aladdin? Did you notice some changes?
AB: Yes, of course. We have easier access to things, we spend less time trying to convince people that ‘we can’, so we spend more time talking about projects, people listen to us with more attention. It makes things a lot easier. It’s easier but at the same time you have to be more vigilant, because you have less opposition, and opposition also helps to question, to have perspective; so, when you don’t have it as much, you need to be more vigilant.

VA: As a kid what were your dreams made of?
AB: Hmm, that’s a good question… I’m not so sure, but I think ‘young Arthur’ would be happy with what he has grown up to be. I’m very happy with my wife and I have two exceptional kids. So yes, it’s probably the kind of reflection you have before you go, but right now half-way, yes I think he would be happy.

VA: How old are your kids?
AB: Five and eight.

VA: Arthur in ten years? Or maybe are you more the kind of guy who doesn’t project yourself?
AB: Well, I don’t know what my desires will be in ten years. I’m about the moment. But everything is possible, I can see myself retiring early. Yet at the same time, my wife, who knows me very well, doesn’t believe it for one second. I guess she is probably right, as I like to be active. I love helping new talents to produce more and more, and because each talent is different, it’s very rewarding. You meet people who think differently, who operate differently, and suddenly you are in a position where you can make them blossom, take them to places they haven’t been yet, it’s truly enjoyable. So, it could be something I’d like to do more as I grow older, being a kind of Pygmalion, something like that…

VA: You used to be the artistic director of a big music label. Is music something you’d like to get back to at some point and how?
AB: For now I’m not sure I have much to say in this field. I think we have a beautiful musical scene. These past few years have seen some truly great artists emerge, such as Camille, Jain, Christine and the Queens, Julien Doré, BB Brunes, Stromae, Juliette Armanet, Brigitte…I think there is something very refreshing with a French touch that I like. I also like to be just a spectator. I’m not so sure I would like to go back to music…

...I love helping new talents to produce more and more``
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