Yves Saint Laurent movie actor, Pierre Niney, talks about tackling the role of the legendary designer, his private life and his journey into the world of fashion.

For fashion lovers, the new Yves Saint Laurent movie is a dream. Known for being a genius and creating one of the fashion industries most successful luxury brands, it’s hard to believe that this designer was shy and private.

In the movie, actor Pierre Niney takes on the role of the complex life of the designer who, above all else, lived to create. The movie follows the story from when Yves was a young man of 21, and whose life forever changed when he was unexpectedly called upon to oversee the legendary Paris fashion house established by recently deceased Christian Dior.

All eyes turned to this very young assistant as he presented his first collection for Dior and instantly ascended to the heights of haute couture’s elite class. During Saint Laurent’s breathtaking and groundbreaking show, he met with another fate in being introduced to Pierre Bergé (Guillaume Gallienne), patron of the arts, future love of his life and lifelong business partner. Three years after they met, the two founded the Yves Saint Laurent Company, which would rapidly become one of the biggest luxury powerhouses on the planet.

In this interview, Niney talks about what attracted him to the part, his foray into the fashion world and what surprised him most about Yves Saint Laurent the man.


How did you react when you read the script?
I was thrilled! I knew, right away, that this was a strong story with an engaging, multi- faceted character who was both fragile and full of dignity. I was eager to get to work. Being familiar with Jalil Lespert’s films and knowing how close he was to actors, I knew that this was going to be a compelling film. I knew that he would find the right tone to deal with this legendary story, a mix of love and creativity and that he would give an in-depth portrayal of the two characters throughout the film.

What moved you about the script?
First of all I was touched by how mature Yves was. His unflinching determination to create and invent from a very early age was very impressive. The only thing that made him happy was creating. In a sense, it was his only goal in life. Then, there was the fact that Jalil had chosen to make this love story the centerpiece of his film. He insisted on portraying not only the wonderful fifty-year relationship between Bergé and Saint Laurent but also the difficulties and manipulations that were part of the story. Finally, what I liked was that the film didn’t gloss over the darker aspects of Saint Laurent’s personality, his encounter with alcohol and drugs. All this was part of his life and legacy.

Did you have any idea of what the fashion world was like before you were offered the role?
No, not really. I wasn’t particularly attracted to fashion because I didn’t know much about it. When I started taking an interest in it – a genuine interest – it was rather in the people who made up the history of fashion, the likes of Saint Laurent, Dior and Balenciaga. These creative, unconventional characters were more relevant to me than the catwalks. Having said that, I grew more intrigued by the dresses, the fabric and the style as pre-production and shooting progressed. I was particularly moved when the Mondrian dress for instance was taken out of the museum for the shoot. When you see the Russian ballet collection parading to the Maria Callas aria on the catwalk during the finale and you think of the passion and intensity that this collective work involved, you can’t but feel overwhelmed.

YVES_SAINT_LAURENT_MOVIE-fashion-sketchesHow did you approach playing a real-life character?
Before anything else, it was necessary to lift the sacred aura surrounding the character so as not to be hindered by the responsibility you are supposed to assume when you are about to play such a famous role. I immediately focused on my work and on the joy of acting. My experience as a stage actor was a great help. When you act in a play by Shakespeare, you bear in mind the performances of brilliant actors and a lot of cult theatre productions but you learn promptly to get over the pressure. You need to create a new personal approach. This was what guided me in prepping for the part. Yves was a fragile character with a wounded psyche; he was extremely shy. At the age of 24, he was diagnosed with manic-depressive disorder. I had to portray this aspect of the character too. His shyness is the expression of an unfathomable flaw, which he has been able to turn into a formidable weapon. In the script there is a man who says to Yves: ‘You speak in a low voice’ and Yves replies:  ‘It is to make the other one listen…’

Did you do a lot of research about Saint Laurent?
Yes, I did, I saw as many stories and documentaries as I could, and read every available document, article, interview, bio, you name it. For several months my life was spent with Saint Laurent, I was with him every day as I watched videos and interviews or listened to his voice on my iPod. I wanted to penetrate his innermost thoughts. I wanted to know him better than anyone else on the set. I worked with all my heart, so much so that I became deeply affected by certain aspects of his life; his maturity, his creative ability at the early age of 18, his gift for drawing, his determination to achieve his own goal, his passion for the theatre and his sense of stage served as my working basis. Then I trained with various coaches for several months: drawing, sewing, designing, and sports coaches. I also learned the specific vocabulary used in the Saint Laurent workrooms, which varied over time.

Was Pierre Bergé a guide and resource for you?
I worked on my own as I always do. But he was obviously extremely helpful. He’s the one who had the closest relationship with Saint Laurent. Still today, he is the keeper of his work. As I talked with him, I learned a lot about their lives and about Yves’ private side. Pierre would tell me private stories and tell me about Yves’ sense of humor, about their lives over the years and about places they had been to. I had access to his studio and I was able to meet with Yves’ collaborators or close acquaintances, such as Betty Catroux, Clara Saint, Dominique Deroche, and Audrey Secnazi, who showed me how to draw like Saint Laurent. This was one of the crucial stages in the prepping process.



YVES SAINT LAURENT movie stars Pierre Niney, Guillaume Gallienne, Charlotte Le Bon and opens wide August 15 in Toronto. Check your local listings for dates.




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