photographer : David Koskas
Thomas, tell us about Henry
I see him both as an idealist and as a proud man.
He was clearly influenced by his childhood and by the
education provided by his mother - the compassion he feels
towards mankind runs deep. I also imagine him as someone
who was quite difficult to live with, because of his perpetual
inner struggles - moreover, he never committed himself
sentimentally. At the same time, theres something
childlike about him, a kind of artlessness.
Without that candor, would he ever have
taken up such a vast cause?
Probably not. However, if he hadnt been so uncompromising,
he would never have achieved his goals. If he had been
in the least impressionable, he would not have withstood
the considerable political pressures. Without that overinflated
ego, that charisma, no man can leave his mark on History
in that way. In preparing for the role of Henry, you used
episodes of his life that do not appear in the film? Yes.
Dunant was ahead of his time, rather than a hero. He was
not without cracks. Dont forget that he spent forty
years living as a wreck, a down-and-out, and that he ended
up in an asylum. We also know that his pride prevented
him from accepting any help from his friends - or from
Napoleon III - to save him financially. All this was obviously
useful in building up t he character. What also helped
enormously was the knowledge that Dominique Othenin-Girard
had of Dunant.
How did you build the character up together?
Something quite astonishing happened to me. Whether
consciously or not, Im not sure, I drew my inspiration
from Dominique, from his personality, his attitude: In
my eyes, he became Dunant. And so we constructed the Dunant
of the film together. On the set, Dominique fought with
a conviction, an energy, a personal investment and a generosity
that reminded me of Dunant. He knows how to instill his
will to succeed in the people around him and to take them
to where he wants. Together, we went all the way with
a kind of challenge. We wanted to say wonderful things
to each other; we supported each other when needed. It
was with joy in my heart that I walked onto the set every
Did his American work style make a difference?
Above all, I felt how much independence he derives
from his international experience. He is a free man who
doesnt pay heed to pressure: he doesnt care,
he just shoots as though it were his last film ever.
The film brings together three distinctly different
worlds. What was it like, moving from one to the next?
It was a shift that - done harmoniously - gave a new
dynamic to the film, which set out to combine the three
facets of one man seamlessly. The greatest shock was when
we moved from Austria to Geneva: from war, from the wounded,
from the blood, dirt, and smell of death on the battlefield,
to civilized Switzerland with its Calvinist rules and
prim attitudes. And then, we ended with the beginning
of the film, the Algerian period. In Algeria, where we
worked in beautiful landscapes under a burning sun, the
shoestring atmosphere on the set reminded me of shooting
a short film: the team was always united, energetic, resourceful
and good-humored, despite the unusual working conditions.
Dominique was really in his element, he loves that.
What about your partners? What a cast!
I met a marvelous friend and colleague in Emilie Dequenne,
one of those rare actors who burst out of the screen.
Noémie Kocher is full of grace. And then there
was the wonderful Swiss gang: Samuel Labarthe, Jean-François
Balmer, Vincent Winterhalter, Antoine Basler
had the pleasure of meeting up again with Michel Galabru,
with whom I had worked on Le silence de la mer (The silence
of the sea). I really enjoyed the international experience,
the blend of languages and cultures among the French,
Swiss, Austrian and Algerian actors.
The film will also be distributed internationally -
millions of viewers will tune in. How does that inspire
We all need the humanist compassionate messages that
the film conveys. Above all, I hope it will touch the
younger generations who wish for peace. Lets not
forget that Dunant was the first to set up an NGO (non-governmental
organization), that he belongs to that all too rare race
of men who can change the world with messages of peace.
The film about this man is truly beautiful and am proud
to have been part of this adventure.