An holistic, emotional approach to elegance, the intricate links between style and cinema and, obviously, Jep Gambardella
Hi Diego, very happy to have you with us today for this little chat. Thanks a lot for taking the time. Hi, it’s a pleasure! How kind of you having me here.
Let's start with the very beginning. You were born in Madrid right? What are the memories you keep growing up there? That’s right. Lots of memories, a quite happy childhood in a city that has changed enormously at every level. That’s probably because I’m getting old! I loved our apartment very much, we had a pool on the rooftop, and even if I don’t recall having lots of friends, I lived very well in my own private world. I didn’t love school but nothing too traumatic, and hated adolescence, a deeply turbulent period from a stylistic point of view, which is something quite normal, and probably healthy as well!
Beyond Madrid, you grew a deep attachment to the city of Valladolid throughout your childhood, a city that you said "has always been my home, my landscape, my land, my smells". Tell us more about that city, what is it to you exactly? Valladolid is indeed the place I considered my anchor for a long time. It’s the capital city of Castile, and has a rich historical, artistic, and cultural heritage, great wines of Ribera del Duero included! It’s the hometown of my family, even though I also have Basque, Andalusian and English origins, and we spent lots of weekends and school holidays over there.
As a child I was probably looking for a bond, a place where I could fit, and I kind of built an emotional frame, adopting the city and the landscapes of the countryside, the colours, the people, the smells, and felt that I belonged.
You now live in Paris. What's your relation to that city? And France in general? I live now between Madrid and Paris, which is a nice combination. I never thought or dreamt that I could live in Paris, but life is surprising sometimes. It’s an incredibly inspiring city, endless for someone with interests in aesthetics, history and art. You’re always discovering new places or rediscovering the classic ones every time, and I often feel that it is a privilege to have all that at hand. Not always an easy city but being Parisian - as Guitry said - is not something you are born with, but something you become. Everyone talks of the splendor and beauty of the city and criticizes practically everything else, but I feel very lucky and charmed to be there, and very integrated as well!
How, and when, did you know you wanted to become an actor? Well, I must say that I don't have a clue! I wasn’t the kind of child that performs all the time and always knew that it was on stage that fulfillment was going to come. I studied law and merely by chance a friend of mine got into amateur theatre so I ended up hanging out with people that studied drama and I thought that it was something I wanted to try. At first not with a professional ambition behind - not at all! - but little by little, and without really knowing what I was doing, I found myself in a professional company, and started to study more seriously. After a while, TV and cinema got in the way and it’s quite scary to look back and realize that I've been doing this for 25 years now, so I guess it’s a little late to change.
Would you guide us through this journey so far? It’s funny to think how things turn out in the end. I would never have imagined that acting was going to be my way of living, and it’s still a strange thing to find yourself on the screen, always an unpleasant experience ha ha ha! I’ve always been fascinated by cinema but it didn’t cross my mind that you could actually do it, be in it. I had writers and painters in my family but no one remotely connected to acting whatsoever, so I ignored what to do, where to go or who to ask. I guess it’s a mix of chance, capacity and something bizarre that you can call destiny or what you like, because it’s really surprising to me. Even to this day, shooting Elite for Netflix, I look around, and I ask myself what the hell has happened! Even more so as time goes by, because as Laurence Olivier said “Acting is a masochistic form of exhibitionism. It is not quite the occupation of an adult” Ha ha ha.
Your presence on social media shows a certain interest in the arts and all-things lifestyle, along with a great taste - at least one we feel deeply aligned with. What's your taste made of? I wouldn’t know what to say…I guess that I’m interested in life, and beauty can be found in unsuspected things, so I try to be curious and surround myself with inspiring things, no matter the field, painting, photography, literature, architecture, cinema of course, antiques, gastronomy, travelling or clothing, I try to enjoy everything that life has to offer. I’ve always been attracted to beautiful things, and if I have the choice, nothing leaves me indifferent, no matter how banal or prosaic the object is. It’s about finding an atmosphere that talks to your senses, almost a physical feeling in addition to the rational analysis.
Preparing this talk I was listening to French illustrator Floc'h - on Augustin Trapenard's Boomerang radio show on France Inter - an artist you seem to also admire not only for his exquisitely elegant, kind of Modianesque illustrations but also for the way he dresses and his overall take on style. What's your relation to nostalgia, and the past? I love Floc’h, I admire enormously his capacity of being himself even on commission, his style, his journey towards becoming the subject of his work, the wit, and the lightness. There’s an elegance in everything that he does, and his taste and the thought behind his taste interest me a lot.
I have a tendency to nostalgia, but it’s not something I stand for, the past can be inspiring but also tricky and paralyzing. Anyway, the past interests me as a setting, as an inspiration that must have a relation with the present, in order to bring it to life and have a meaning. It's in that sense that Floc’h by the way talks about Britain and the past, as a stage that ends up being your creation, not based in imagination, nor in reality neither, but with an illusion of reality. Like the English gardens, who give you the impression of wilderness, the artifice of naturality.
How does it relate to your approach of style? In style terms, the past has a relevance because I believe in tradition, in something timeless, mainly classic, that allows the person to show personality without disguising himself. Many of the things I like were already there years ago and they will remain beautiful for ages to come. Well-made things, designed to accompany you a long way. Things in the past had a precise function and codes were probably more important, which I think it’s charming and probably relevant today in terms of consumption. We have to ask ourselves if it’s reasonable to buy too many lousy garments that we’re going to change in two months' time. So heritage, and the idea of designing things that you could spend a long time with are crucial these days.
What's elegance to you, and why is it such an important thing? What a question! To me there are multiple elegances. It has to do with grace, with harmony, proportions, balance, distinction and discretion at the same time. It’s a way of moving, a way of behaving, a way of talking. Intelligence is often elegant, but also kindness, refinement but also simplicity…
And it can also be a way of dressing, though it’s not only about the garments, but how you embrace them and how they frame your personality. I think that the definition of Balzac is also accurate : “Elegance is the science of doing nothing like others, and giving the impression that we do the same way they do”.
Gerardo Cavaliere shared with us some very interesting thoughts about how important traditions and codes are to clothing because it always comes from a meaningful functional, cultural or social place. How do you feel about rules in the field of style? Do you follow any? I read your interview with Gerardo and I pretty much agree with everything that he said, so you can go through his lines and know how I feel hahaha! Rules and codes usually have a purpose, a reason, a sense, a function, so a reflection behind. They are interesting not only as frame or guidance but as an heritage, a history that is important to pass on to know where we come from. Maybe if you want to break it I consider that it’s important to know things first. But also because in many codes there is a beauty, a gesture that comes from time and practice, a simple sophistication that makes life nicer and meaningful.
That said, it’s also important to update them to give them meaning and because many of those codes have lost their sense. And yes, I do wear brown in town.
What part do clothes - and costumes - play in your profession as an actor? As an actor, as you can imagine, clothes are really important. I would say they're a crucial part of the process of becoming a character and I sometimes regret that it’s not given the credit, the importance, and therefore the budget it deserves! Costumes are one of the first elements we use as kids when you play imagining you're someone else, a key moment becoming “other”. They’re a tool to express lots of things without talking, they modify the tone, the humour, the posture and the way of moving, so they have a very important place.
From Orson Welles, Cary Grant, Alain Delon and Marcello Mastroianni to Colin Firth, Denzel Washington or Jack Nicholson to name just a few, cinema has always been a great field of expression for men's style, both on and off the screen. What do you think has been, and is now the influence of cinema and all the imagery associated with it to the world of style? The style, how an actor or actress looked, how he or she dressed took an essential part in the power of cinema as a massive art as we knew it in the twentieth century. The movies had that capacity of letting you dream lives that were far from you, and the power of identification with what you were watching, so they probably were the inspiration for lots of people to find a style or get closer by imitation to the characters they were seeing on the screen. The way they lived or dressed was an open gate for imagining and dreaming.
Today, cinema hasn’t got the monopoly anymore, and shares it with music, tv, video games, social media, sports...and everything is at hand. In that jungle it’s probably more difficult to find actors with the influence they had in the past, and with a style of their own in a world of stylists, brands and borrowed suits. I find it harder to dream with cinema these days, but it’s probably my nostalgic side talking!
What are the movies you grew up with, and the ones that still sit in your memories today? I grew up with all sorts of movies, a lot of classic stuff, that nowadays you have to really search to watch but that were broadcasted in national tv all the time back then, they were part of the general culture. So I grew up with Hitchcock, Lubitsch, Wilder, Mankiewicz, Ford, and so many others, and also a lot of BBC productions that my grandfather adored which were great in terms of style and that probably helped in my anglophilia!
What is the role you've been dreaming of playing, like, the one after which you could say "ok I can retire now"? I don’t have that one role...it’s difficult to say one… but I wouldn’t have minded to be in a Merchant/Ivory movie, anything for Woody Allen or, more recently, Jep Gambardella in La Grande Bellezza. And as you may see, I'm telling you about fulfilling films that have great aesthetics hahaha!
You played for television, cinema and theatre; what do you like the most, and why? I like the story. The role, the cast, the director, the text... but the medium is secondary to me. There are subtil differences between them of course, specially in the theatre, which is probably a little appart, but the essence of creating a character and being a storyteller in a way is pretty much the same. I’ve been very happy playing for tv, cinema and theatre, so I don’t choose.
How would you define your own style? I would not dare doing such a thing! Hahaha! But that said, I like nice timeless garments, tailored suits, pretty classic sometimes with a twist and I accord importance to the cut, the proportions, the materials, and the details. Nothing flashy. I like to wear the clothes and not the clothes to wear me, if you know what I mean. I believe in dressing for the occasion, and I absolutely loathe jumpsuits and people in their 50’s dressing as a teenager! Hahaha
As said in the intro, you're among the many friends of our Maison. What's your relation to scarves? I use them a lot. The throat being a sensitive zone for an actor, I try to protect it as much as I can, but it also adds a touch to light up an ensemble.
How would you describe LBH in 3 words? Light, colorful, chic
Who would you like to read in our next Style talk series - someone you could introduce to us? As we talked about him, Floc’h would be great!
Thank you so much Diego, it has been so cool chatting with you, and the best of luck for your upcoming projects. Thank you! It’s been a pleasure and bonne continuation!