Man at His Best

What I've Learned: Gustave Kervern

Actor, closet 'rempit', former hellraiser, contrite father.

BY jason tan | Oct 24, 2017 | Film & TV

I come from a family where we didn’t talk so much, especially about our feelings and emotions. We were all very, very quiet. So I decided in my adult life to be the opposite way because in my family, nobody would say “I love you” whereas I say “I love you” to my kids about every 10 seconds. It’s the extreme opposite because you don’t want to make the same mistakes your parents did. But you have to find the balance... Being a parent is the most difficult job in the world.

My dad was a French and English teacher so I really don’t know why my entire family is kind of shy. We come from Britanny, a region in northwest France. People there are not known to be talkative, They’re tough people, really. Quiet and tough. My whole family, we don’t like to talk too much especially the men. The women talk a little bit more, but that’s always the case.

I struggle quite a lot with my children because I think this new generation is very different from ours. I had them pretty late, when I was 38. They’re constantly on their phones and tablets and it’s really hard to talk to them so I sometimes write letters to them to tell them about life or what I think, or when I have to reproach them somehow because they are so stuck on their gadgets that they don’t even listen to me. The letters are handwritten, so I hope my son can keep them as mementos.

He said nothing. No comment.

This generation of kids are a lot less shy. They go forward a lot easier, it seems, than we do. They pretty much impress me, including the two young actresses in the movie who played my daughters. They were really afraid of nothing and really at ease with acting for the camera.

For them, it’s a normal-life thing, being in front of a screen.

I’m afraid it’s actually the kids who bring us up. Thank goodness my wife is a lot stronger than me, especially towards our son. He’s not scared of me at all. I have no authority over him and it kind of drives me crazy. I give up. She’s the one setting him straight.

My son pretty much knows everything. Every time I tell him something, he already knows it. He’s only 14. But there’s a fragility to him, and our world is now tougher as well, unfortunately, so it’s not easy to show you’re fragile. For instance, at school, they have to show that they’re strong even though inside, they’re not, and they can fall really hard when something happens.

I didn’t show it (In the Courtyard, in which Kervern stars with Catherine Deneuve) to him because I thought he was still too young, especially since there’s the problem of drugs in it. He’s actually very scared for me all the time; he’s more scared for his parents than for himself. I prefer waiting a little to show him those really dark things. Although he knows it’s just acting, he’s still slightly afraid that it’s partly autobiographical and can’t really separate fiction from real life yet.

I actually don’t know how to prepare my children for this world. I have trouble communicating – it’s my own issue. I try to talk to my son; I try to protect him; I always feel he does not listen though I also think he does. It’s really part of my issue to try and warn him about the world and what’s coming.

It’s really hard to impart life lessons when you, yourself made mistakes when you were young or don’t believe in what you’re saying. That makes it more complicated. And every day there’s some new problem that makes you think, “Oh, how can I protect him from that? How can we talk about it?”

I’ve done most things, except I never smoked or did drugs. But I did a lot a lot of stupid things on a motorbike. Somehow, we are all survivors.

I never had a proper relationship until I was 38. I had never lived with a woman before I met my wife, with whom I still am. Loneliness can be tough but I wouldn’t have tried to be in a relationship or have kids otherwise, because that is what society wants you to do.

Find a woman to give you some sort of balance in your life and have kids, because they make you responsible. You have to calm down because you have to be an example for them. It’s a bit old fashioned, but it’s true.

Some time ago I would have just broken everything here or come to the photoshoot naked. That is one thing I did a lot.

My son doesn’t know that I used to be like that; I’m hiding it from him as much as I can. He’s heard of things I did or allegedly did but he doubts them because he hasn’t seen any proof. It’s still kind of old-fashioned to say this but I do want to be a good role model for him – as much as possible – because he is going to end up discovering things himself anyway.

His schoolmates or the people who work in the school grounds, not the teachers, tell him, “Your dad is vulgar” or “He is doing vulgar stuff” so he’s kind of ashamed of me. I hope one day he’ll be proud of me. Right now, that’s not the trend and it’s not good for his mind to hear those things so I’m not showing those to him. It’s a bit of a delicate situation when there’s a public personality in your family and you hear what people think of him.

Gustave Kervern’s recent films include the family viewable Fabulous Patars (Cigarettes and Hot Chocolate) and not-happily-ever-after In the Courtyard

Photograph by Marcus Wong; Hair by Shawn Goh; Translation on the fly by Maud Blachier