Magnetic, extraordinary, fragile, these are the words most people have used to describe French-Israeli actor Tom Mercier, after his overwhelming debut in the semi-autographic film Synonymes by director Nadav Lapid, which was not only a box office success but it has made him a force to be reckoned with in the European film industry. However, Tom Mercier is not only dedicated to art, but his own life is also art and each role, each leap into the void, supposes a deep journey of introspection where he discovers new facets of his characters and of himself. It doesn't matter if he plays a young man who denies his past or an army officer tempted by youth, like in HBO's We Are Who We Are, Tom Mercier's own role in life will always be much more interesting.
Who is Tom Mercier? Why did you become an actor?
I became an actor because I didn’t want to play my own role. I tend to analyse my own self through characters. Sometimes I don’t understand my actions in life but seeing things through a character makes me understand myself better.
Synonymes was a highly talked about film, how did you experience all the controversy it stirred?
One of the best things about cinema is that it can be controversial, having the ability to create a dialogue with the public who can love or hate the film, like the ones who left the premiere at the Berlinale in the middle of the movie. Some people may have disliked it but a lot of people felt that the issues were just hard to accept.
Did you expect that when you filmed the movie?
I did not think directly about the audience's thoughts. I focused on putting myself in the shoes of true soldiers that were fighting for their country who can live or not with the trauma of it all but becoming a figure in Israel. Sometimes that leaves you with scars. My brother that was an officer loved the movie and felt so close to it and understood all those feelings. It’s great to touch people but also to annoy them because the movie can disturb your soul. Along with the director, we tried to make the movie for everybody, for the Israeli side, the French side, the Arab side… Everybody.
Synonymes, your debut on screen was a film marked by its strong political character, do you think cinema is a good transmitter of political ideas?
Yes, in a theatre you don’t usually get out in the middle of the movie. We are deciding for you that you are going to be in the dark, without phones. You are focused on the movie, in the story. For example in The Lord of the Flies, you have the chance to think about a lot of topics through the history of that movie. Also, the cinema is beautiful because you can give a voice to everyone.
We have seen you in two very different roles, in very different genres. In We Are Who We Are you played a military who is the crush of the protagonist while in Synonymes you played a young Israeli man, who escapes to Paris to flee his nationality. What is the genre that you would most like to explore?
The future of the world of cinema is unclear. In 2020 I felt that every film I did was the last film because something in this industry is dying and I understand why. We are on the move all the time, changing. A lot of TV shows are entering our houses. Working in the movie industry is a precious thing, there is no necessity to create cinema or even an audience. The market is crowded with movies, there is a line of movies waiting to be released.
From Synonymes to the HBO series, We Are Who We Are, how did you come to participate in such a different show?
I had a few meetings with Luca Guadagnino, the director. I was very confused after Synonymes. My life changed, I stayed in Paris, the film became my life and my life became the film. I think Luca saw that, he saw that I was living life through art. I was in the process of changing my life, realising that I was not satisfied. He gave me the chance to keep exploring myself, my Jewish past… I had the chance to re-explore myself in Italy during the filming of the show.
So you let your character influence your life…
Yes, I need to understand the actions of my characters. As human beings we are always disposing of a part of our personality, so every part, every character you play.
Synonymes had a certain homoerotic background, while We Are Who We Are is clearly queer, does Tom Mercier see himself in the future as a gay icon?
Being accepted by a community is rare. Communities can be sometimes very close, so being able to be a part of a community is great. Due to the way I have of expressing myself, I don’t feel part of the gay community as a gay person and I never intended to be a gay icon. I would never decide to become an icon, that is something you can’t decide.
You have appeared in the prestigious publication Cahiers Du Cinéma and Synonymes won the Golden Bear at the Berlin Film Festival. How have you managed your success?
Working is what really counts. Judging yourself without killing your personality. Becoming more and more professional without losing your innocence, trying to live every audition, every character… Being satisfied but at the same time unsatisfied. It's like how I was saying, I know myself, I’m done. When you play a character you just see a glimpse of the whole personality of the character, you can play a part as a whole. You just live and represent moments of the life of a character.
You have been compared to Marlon Brando, what actors do you look up to?
I love Anthony Hopkins he is a great actor and a great mechanical actor. Daniel Day-Lewis is such a big worker, he looks at every angle of his characters, he is truly inspiring. Denis Lavant is also wonderful, he's the actor who plays multiple characters in Holy Motors by Leo Carax.
Your nudity has been widely commented in both projects. Are you afraid that the nudity will distract the viewer from the true background of your projects?
I think that there is something so simple about nudity. Nudity can’t control its own power. When I filmed that scene in We Are Who We Are in the showers it was like living my real life, It was normal to me, it was like in my daily life. By the way, Luca told me that blushing for things is a very good quality. I’m blushing for your questions so thank you so much.
In Synonymes you carried all the weight of the film, being the first time you acted on the big screen, did you feel pressure because you were the main character?
In this conversation, we have talked about the direction of the movie industry that currently is unknown. For me, in my professional acting career, the main aim is to not neglect the work behind each character. I was stressed out in Synonymes but at the same time, I learned a lot about being curious about my language, on my body. Yes, I was stressed but I thought about the big opportunity, and this marvellous character being my first step was wonderful. This film was tiny but it enjoyed a big success. Everyone in the team believed in the movie.
Did they allow you to keep the famous coat you wore in the movie?
No… they didn’t.
How has Tom Mercier's life changed since he became an actor?
I feel that I'm not part of this industry yet because this industry changes so fast. I think I have a lot of luck with having opportunities in French and English projects. I’m living for myself. Every script that I get I read it very profoundly. I want to keep working, moving…
You have participated in projects of a very indie nature, do you see yourself starring in mainstream movies? What other genres would you like to explore?
With big pleasure. My first steps were in the French industry and with Luca who is a big name. Working with people who admire cinema as a tool to explore life made me a lucky actor. I want to understand cinema from any point of view, infant and behind the camera. I don’t see myself as a director but as an actor, I want to understand the process of movie-making.
What has it been like to work with film icons like Chloë Sevigny?
Chloë Sevigny has had a very long career. Her first movie, Kids, was a crazy outsider movie by Larry Clark and she has been mixing mainstream movies with independent projects, so if you ask me if I want to be in mainstream movies I would love a mix of both. She is very professional, very enigmatic, you never know what’s happening in her head.
Is she as cool as everyone thinks? 
She is very nice. She had a big part in the series so she needed to understand her positions as a colonel. She needed to have her private moments but at the same time, she is very social. She has also such an interesting mix between European and American beauty.
You have appeared in a movie and in a television series, have you noticed differences when shooting?
Luca never worked on the show as if it were a series, he worked on the series as a movie. We had the feeling that we were working on movie material. A lot of directors from cinema are now working in series and that one of the most interesting things in the industry now. There is a change. I can be doing a series or a movie, it’s unclear. It’s not the same as it was before, it’s a different era.
What's next for Tom Mercier?
After We Are Who We Are I went for an audition for a French movie that was very close to my own skin. After finishing that movie I am currently doing a miniseries. For the moment, I’m very lucky because I’m working. Sometimes feels lonely to build characters when you can’t have a lot of contact with people.
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