MEET – Driven by the popularity of Eric Rochant’s soap opera, the Belgian actor caught the attention of the producers of the English cult series. He tells how he found his place among the Crawleys.
From the frugality of the DGSE’s premises to the splendor of the Côte d’Azur rocked by the celebrations of Great Gatsby in the twilight of the roaring twenties. From a Sisteron’s estimate to the immaculate three-piece suit by the dandy Marquis de Montmirail. Met in mid-April in Paris, Jonathan Zaccaï still can not believe he was one of the recruits for the new film Downton Abbey.
IN A new era, he embodies a French nobleman who decides to accompany his parents’ last wishes, even if it means bequeathing to Crawley’s majestic family home overlooking Sanary-sur-Mer. Decades earlier, Widow Countess Violet Crawley (Maggie Smith) had seduced her father there. With Nathalie Baye playing his much more reluctantly neglected mother, Jonathan Zaccai embodies French pleasure and takes the Earl and Countess of Grantham, their youngest daughter Edith and their ex-son-in-law Branson into a whirlwind of evening and idleness at 6 p.m. the water’s edge.
Spotted by the producers of the British cult series thanks to the international success of the Canal + spy soap opera Office of the Legends“Jonathan Zaccaï had never seen an episode of the Julian Fellowes saga about the Yorkshire aristocrats and their servants at the time of his remote hearing – incarceration requires winter 2021.”It was on my list of programs to watch. As soon as I got the role, I saw all six seasons. “ he remembers.
Privileged participation with Nathalie Baye
Immediately transported by “this dives into a bygone world where the boundaries, the framework of the protocol are not ours and are reminiscent of the rules that the royal family and Elizabeth II still follow today”. “All these rank separations are just waiting to be violated. Julian Fellowes combines gravity and lightness. As soon as the emotional charge becomes too strong when self-pity threatens, a well-felt second degree point is introduced.greets the native of Brussels.
Although all the scenes in Montmirail take place on the Riviera in the magnificent villa Rocabella in the town of Pradet, Jonathan Zaccaï and Nathalie took Baye to prepare in London: fittings and rehearsals of the dialogues. “Julian Fellowes’ English is special, not easy to put in his mouth”, entrust to Figaro Jonathan Zaccaï, who had already filmed in Shakespeare’s language for Robin Hood by Ridley Scott.
In the midst of a pandemic and the spring of 2021, the preparations require a week of quarantine with daily tests and a week of pre-production. This English parenthesis was a moment of grace for Jonathan Zaccaï: “I had the amazing chance to spend a lot of time with Nathalie Baye. She is a fabulous woman, cultured and very funny. One night I wanted to take her to a restaurant, but I did not know where to go. I “trained her in Soho, the worst place imaginable. The streets were filled with young people sipping their beer. She found the adventure funny, I was horrified”.
Work with attitude
Acquiring Montmirail’s character was the easiest: “Julian Fellowes is not too much into psychology and explanation. Everything was very concrete. “Based on his astonishingly generous alter ego, Jonathan Zaccaï imagines an extravagant and epicurean man who wanted to honor a complex and distant father who, through Crawley’s dreams of finding another family.” Las Robert fears he is the Marquis’ son of infidelity, Montmirail sees hope in it.notes the Belgian.
Getting used to the clothes of the time was another pair of sleeves. “We immediately understand that we are falling into another world. There were so many buttons. I needed someone to save me from this armor. Left to myself I should have used scissors “, assures Jonathan Zaccaï, who also had to work on his posture. “I mess a lot. I had to learn to stay calm, not jump out of the seat. For the Crawleys, this escapade on the Côte d’Azur is a form of relaxation and light sleep. For me, it was already too strict as a framework!“.
The 51-year-old actor was charmed by the camaraderie that united the historical actors of the saga. “More than a troupe, it is a true family with astonishing humility“. And remember: “Imelda Staunton had just learned on her last film day that she had been selected to play Elizabeth II in the new seasons of Kronen. For parting, she gave us a little nod like the Queen!
The opportunity also for the actor, who is writing his second novel, to tell Brendan Coyle all the admiration he had for him. “We did not have scenes together, but I was fully touched by the character Bates (the officer of the Earl of Grantham, editor’s note) and his battles “. One more regret, never having met the icon Maggie Smith. On the other hand, he will not miss the clean-shaven face he was supposed to wear to Montmirail: “I felt as naked as a picked chicken,” he concludes in a great outburst of laughter.