SSIFF interview: Hugo Fernandes (Patrick)

Hugo Fernandes is the revelatory lead in Gonçalo Waddington’s Patrick, a film that deals with the loss and rebuilding of identity in the aftermath of a decade of abuse. Cédric Succivalli spoke to the young actor about this difficult role and how his own identity and that of his character became intertwined, to the point of it physically and psychologically weighing him down.

CS: First of all congratulations, you truly impressed me immensely in this film with your acting. It’s pretty rare for an actor of your age, of your generation, to have such a revelatory lead role. It’s a very powerful and difficult role to pull off, and you are astounding from beginning to end. Can you tell me a little bit about your very first impressions when you first read the script, which is such a challenging, daring, and difficult one.

HF: I read the screenplay and seeing that I knew I got on well with the director and all from day one, I was game for it. But I had no idea where I was going and I only realized very late in the process what I was getting myself into. Because this is not a role, a character that speaks to me or corresponds to me, to my story, to my life at all.

CS: Did you have any fears, any reservations while reading the script?

HF: In fact, my first true fears occurred prior to shooting, during the week of preparation when we all met up in Portugal. That’s when I really came to realize that I was taking a risk projecting myself onto this character. Today, I would definitely not play him the same way at all, I think.

CS: Oh really? Why is that?

HF: Because… I don’t know. I don’t know. I really put myself in a… posture, I threw myself into this character who is not like me at all. I even had an acne breakout and everything. I think that deep inside I really generated a lot of stress. My subconscious sort of caused a lot of stress. And seeing that it was shot almost entirely in chronological order, we can really see the evolution of the character. We first started shooting in Cologne (editor: representing Paris in the film). So we did shoot all the film in chronological order save for one scene, the scene of the police questioning in Paris, that was the very last one we shot. And at the end of shooting I couldn’t take it anymore, I was really… I was really at wits’ end. Completely. I worked a hell of a lot, so, so much. From Monday to Saturday non-stop. I had no real base. We were in Sertã in a place that I don’t know, which, as a result, corresponded to the state of mind of my character. It was a place I didn’t know at all, away from my family. So we were in Sertã, then we went to Lisbon to shoot the last two scenes and I couldn’t sleep at night. I had huge bellyaches. My subconscious totally threw me 100% into the role.

CS: Since it’s a part that goes in so many different directions at the same time and with shooting chronologically, you had to discover some extremely tough scenes to play, even if you had already read them in the screenplay. Did you speak Portuguese to start with?

HF: In fact, my father is Portuguese but he never really taught me the language. So we kinda know the language without knowing it and that’s something that I think Gonçalo liked about me: that I could speak it, but that I speak a very broken Portuguese. I think he liked that.

CS: And what about the scenes with this substitute family in the film, your real family that you are brought into again after a decade of absence from Portugal? Did you stick to the screenplay for those scenes or was there any room for improvisation?

HF: Gonçalo was very free, particularly when it came to my character, because my character speaks in French and that is not his native language, even if he understands it a bit. He was pretty free with me, but with the Portuguese actors everything was super scripted, as written, because he writes very well. As for me, with my French, I modulated a few things here and there.

CS: Did you already see the film on a big screen?

HF: Not really, I saw it in a small venue. In a small room. But I think seeing it on the big screen will be a totally different sensation.

CS: Do you stress out a bit about tonight’s big premiere?

HF: Not at all, actually! In fact, even what people are going to think about the film is not really my concern. I am super happy if they like the film but I’m trying to have a certain distance from that.

CS: Good for you! Because you have the lead part in a film in competition that is pretty divisive: some people really love the film, others less so, and it is bound to create debate and discussion, even within the jury, I would say. Do you think about that?

HF: No, I don’t think about that at all! I know everybody says that to pretend to be cool and all. It would do my head in if I had to think about the jury and whatnot!

CS: When did you shoot the film exactly?

HF: A year ago or so we started in Cologne and we finished two and a half months later. So it was more or less at this time last year, because I remember us celebrating Gonçalo’s birthday in Cologne, and it is his birthday today actually!

CS: After this incredible experience on Patrick, do you have some projects ahead, some desire to carry on being an actor now?

HF: I did a short film this summer where I had the lead part. I have another one scheduled for All Saints’ Holidays where I will have the lead role again. But the problem is, I don’t know if you’ve heard about Les Arts Déco (editor: the prestigious École nationale supérieure des Arts Décoratifs in Paris). So I’ve just started my very first year there a few weeks ago. And I’ve got the impression that this school is a bit reluctant when it comes to absenteeism. So I’m going to keep cinema like, you know, something to do during the holidays for the time being. Well, that’s what I’m saying now but we don’t know where this is all heading. I want to leave the door open to… anything, really.

CS: The first year at Arts Déco is a year when you can try anyway, and you try a bit of everything and only get to specialize in a specific Art Department afterward. Do you have any idea what you would like to specialize in?

HF: No, not yet, but I am very curious. I’m in a five years programme there. Before entering Les Arts Déco, I was into serigraphy (editor: silk screening or screen printing), doing frescoes, stuff like that. I am not into performance art. But I think and hope those two things, serigraphy and acting, will join one day and I can sort of mix them.

CS: A last question: do you have any models, in terms of actors?

HF: There is this American guy, but I don’t remember his face well. I mean, I see his face but I can’t remember his name! McCona…?

CS: Matthew McConaughey.

HF: Yes, him! I really like this guy. He has a good face! I like Jean Dujardin as well. It’s not my register at all. I mean, I’d be incapable of doing what he does but I think he is a genius. He is really strong. Then there are quite a few other fantastic French actors, like Vincent Cassel. In certain films I like him a lot, though not in everything he does. And Benoît Magimel, I shot with him when I was a kid. It was my first film, called Des Vents Contraires (Jalil Lespert’s sophomore film as a director), I am the little boy, his son. He was an absolute angel.

Hugo Fernandes (Patrick)