French cinema’s young lead, Finnegan Oldfield, a charismatic, free man, puts in a stunning performance in Anne Fontaine’s Marvin. BY Didier Péron
— Almost overnight, he was suddenly in every film : a sly, lascivious young sexual predator in Eva Husson’s Bang Gang, an introverted son in Les Cowboys by Thomas Bidegain and then a stylish, inscrutable terrorist in Bertrand Bonello’s Nocturama. Six films in two years and, in September, he is playing the lead in Anne Fontaine’s new and keenly awaited film, Marvin, which is freely inspired by Edouard Louis’s best – selling autobiography En finir avec Eddie Bellegueule ( The
End of Eddy ). Finnegan Oldfield admits that he went to the screening organised for the crew in a total state of anguish. He hadn’t seen any rushes and more than any of his previous roles, the work with the director consisted in bringing him out of himself, in a role of composition, whereas it is usually his natural strength of character that makes him stand out on screen, by coming across as someone who couldn’t possibly be pretending. Marvin is a working – class homosexual, who flees the violence of his family to rid himself of his fear of failure and shame by going to Paris, where he finds himself in a completely different world and uses the wounds of the past to win his personal and artistic freedom. “In this type of role, in which I change the way I speak, or walk, and I have to play opposite actors as impressive as Isabelle Huppert, for example, is like turning somersaults. Either you fall on your neck, and you’re dead or you fall on your feet.” Sitting at a café in the scorching heat of a summer’s day in Paris, Finnegan Oldfield, gesticulates energetically like pitié. a young feline rock star, his blue eyes look into yours to make sure that you understand everything he doesn’t say or leaves up in the air between interjecting “seriously” or “that’s cool”. “All the paradoxes that inhabit him make him attractive,” Anne Fontaine explains. “You could tell yourself that he’s an ordinary boy, but, because he left school early and has carved out a path for himself, you feel that he has already been through personal upheavals, which he uses to overcome something deep inside him. You could think he’s immature, then suddenly his maturity shines through, with just one look, or a good line. He’s an original, unconventional, and he really has grace.” His mother entered him for an audition for a short film when he was only 13 : “The film was called Pas de
Little girls found their Barbie dolls beheaded, dismembered by a serial killer [ … ]. As soon as I had a microphone, and was in front of the camera, I knew that this was for me. I remember my surprise when I discovered the incredible amount of time you had to wait between takes […]. Other film shoots were to follow, spread over time, but at an age where things go both too quickly and too slowly. Finnegan champed at the bit at school, couldn’t bear the discipline in class, or the course that was inexorably being set for him: a job that wouldn’t necessarily be very thrilling. So, with his parents’ consent, he dropped out after year nine and devoted his time to chasing after auditions and making his way with the precociousness usually associated with child stars in the States. “Leaving school so early calls everything into question. You have to attend special establishments for problem teenagers, rebels, because if you’re under 16, you can’t stay on the streets, otherwise you end up in a children’s home ( laughs). It puts you in the ‘failure’ category, and weighs down on you, people begin to say there’s something wrong with you, so you freak out, mess up your auditions, get depressed and you’re ready to do anything to find a way out…”
But no doubt because he has understanding parents, and notably a father, who is of British origin, works in a record company and imports Jamaican music for people who like swaying rhythms and getting stoned, “Finn ” doesn’t go off the rails and his bad – boy side, according to his friends, conceals his shyness and self – doubt. It is the armour that shields his genuinely kind nature. The young film director, Katell Quillévéré, picked him to play the part of Anne Dorval’s son in Réparer les vivants, a character full of pent – up frustration whose mother is waiting for a heart transplant. She has nothing but praise for the young actor: “He’s got what it takes to become one of the best of his generation. His physique is very versatile : you can hide his beauty and he becomes the boy next door who you wouldn’t really notice, and the next minute, he is incredibly photogenic and overwhelmingly beautiful. He’s difficult to situate socially and when he’s acting, he’s ultra sensitive.” After the Marvin shoot, to everyone’s surprise, he left Paris, closed his Facebook account, and communicated less. He went to London, and Bristol, worked in a pub to recharge his batteries and perfect his English. He had a run – in with the boss, had a contact for another “really pretty” pub, which caught fire : “My English dreams went up in smoke, I came back to Paris,” he jokes, mentioning several projects including one with the cartoonist Mathieu Sapin, a comedy on the presidential campaign: “I spend my days learning Emmanuel Macron’s speeches, it’s weird …” Bertrand Bonello tells how he chose him for Nocturama without even getting him to take a screen test, just on a feeling, discovering him later on the set : “He’s very anxious before every scene, with a sort of fear of not understanding, whereas often, I have to admit, there’s nothing to understand. But as soon as the camera starts rolling, he’s spot on.” It is clear that Finn does nothing lightly, or by halves. “He is really engaged with life, he observes, he see his friends, who have no connection with the film industry, and continues to do odd jobs here and there. He finds his inspiration in concrete things,” says Karine Nuris, who has coached him since he was 17. He is always looking for the truth. He feels that he has an instrument in his hands, he wants to improve it, but he can’t bear it to be a composition, a demonstration by a narcissistic actor. Marvin might increase the level of feverish admiration around Finnegan Oldfield, but he seems impervious to the futile side of being an actor. Nor does he seem to be keen, for the time being, on embarking on the ego trip of an overexcited young lead. He has learnt to distrust the great maelstrom of the film world, which launches and discards actors with the changing moods of the time, and it’s less the acting that drives him than the extraordinary collective atmosphere on film shoots, “which I now know I could never live without”. The less he’s aware of himself, the more he likes it.