Cape Town - French actor Lambert Wilson takes on the role of iconic adventurer and filmmaker Jacques-Yves Cousteau in the breathtakingly beautiful new film, L'Odyssée.
Filmed on location in Cape Town, Croatia and Antarctica the film tells the story of thirty years in the life of Cousteau - the well-known researcher, scientist and adventurer whose marine documentaries piqued the public’s interest in the sea.
Wilson, perhaps best known internationally for his role as The Merovingian in The Matrix Reloaded and The Matrix Revolutions, chatted to Channel24 about taking on this mammoth role.
“Cousteau was definitely part of my upbringing and permanently on the small screen as I was growing up. For me as a kid he was a very present figure that I loved. We all wanted to be part of the Calypso’s crew,” Wilson explains.
According to the 58-year-old actor he was in London when director Jérôme Salle phoned him and asked if he would be interested in taking on the role of Cousteau.
“I just knew, no matter what, it’s going to be an interesting character to portray.”
Cousteau, who died on 25 June 1997, was not only an explorer, filmmaker and conservationist but also an inventor. He helped co-develop the Aqua-lung - the first open-circuit, self-contained underwater breathing apparatus.
In Salle’s L'Odyssée we get a fascinating glimpse into the complex character that was Cousteau and the many ups and downs he faced in his life.
“It was a role I was immediately interested in. I don’t look exactly like him so I had to lose some weight and had to learn how to dive. I knew that the character would undergo a transformation over the span of the film and that was exciting.”
(Lambert Wilson as Jacques-Yves Cousteau in L'Odyssée. Photo: Supplied)
DIVING WITH WHALES AND SHARKS IN CAPE TOWN
According to Wilson some of the biggest challenges he faced during the making of the film wasn’t necessarily on the character development side of things but rather the actual physical obstacles he had to take on.
“Diving in Cape Town surrounded by a whale and possibly sharks in very murky and cold water was definitely a challenge. Add to that having to swim with a wig on and carrying all the diving props - it was a nightmare.
“There was this one scene where we come out of the water smiling after going diving and we had to look happy. That was definitely a challenge because the water was so cold and there was literally a whale circling us and there’s always the possibility of sharks,” Wilson explains whilst also mentioning battling the weather conditions and coping with seasickness.
Despite these challenges the French actor fell madly in love with Cape Town whilst filming the biographical adventure flick.
“I absolutely adore Cape Town. I’ve actually been back since we wrapped filming and I’ve made friends there too. I love it so much that I would really consider it a place for me to live. It’s a little far from France and all of my friends but I love it so much there,” he explains.
“As an actor it was also amazing to discover just how great the South African crew and film technicians are. They were just so good and so lovely to work with and I totally understand why. They live in a beautiful place and they work in a field of their passion. When people are doing what they want to do and have access to their passion then they have the most amazing life and it shows,” Wilson praised the local crew he worked with in Cape Town.
As the interview wraps up Wilson explains why he thinks L'Odyssée is a must-watch: “People of a certain generation might be unaware of the importance and impact of Cousteau’s work on our lives today. We go under water and we breathe under water and we take it for granted. We have Cousteau’s invention to thank for this. I mean these are men that almost died 25 times to make it work. We owe that to Cousteau.”
L'Odyssée (The Odyssey) opens in South African cinemas on Friday, 14 July.