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Written by Jessica Jabroux. All photos by Olivier Rieu for Style Quotidien. Styling by Céline Seguin. Jacket and shirt, Zilli.
 

The first things you notice after meeting French actor Grégory Fitoussi are his endearing smile and affable nature. Thanks to his role as Henri Leclair in the British ITV drama Mr. Selfridge, the six-foot-one Fitoussi has become an international sex symbol almost overnight. With his alluring green eyes, smoldering good looks and charming French accent, it’s hardly a surprise. The compelling new series tells the tale of Selfridges department store founder Harry Gordon Selfridge, played by Jeremy Piven, and his push to make consumerism trendy in early 1900’s England. Fitoussi’s role in the show is that of elegant Frenchman Henri Leclair, hired by Mr. Selfridge to decorate the store windows. The series, which recently concluded its first season, has broadened Fitoussi’s audience beyond France and into the UK and US. Of course French audiences have known Grégory for years as Assistant Prosecutor Pierre Clément in the popular Canal+ series Engrenages (known as Spiral on the BBC).

When we sit down for a chat at the Hôtel de Vendôme in Paris, I am impatient to confirm whether his character Leclair will return to season 2 of Mr. Selfridge. Especially since the Season 1 finale showed him tendering his resignation to take a flashy job in New York. However, I decide to start from the beginning to find out exactly what makes this sexy French actor tick. It turns out that Fitoussi hadn’t always planned to be an actor. In fact, he originally went to school for journalism, but decided later that it wasn’t for him. “I’m not good at writing,” he admits with a laugh. “I’ve tried several times, but it’s not for me. I would have been a terrible journalist I guess. You have to realize that you’re maybe gifted for some things but not for others.” But he had always been interested in acting, and soon it became a passion that he couldn’t ignore. “I was looking for something, and acting saved me,” he confesses. At eighteen years old, he accompanied friends to an audition for a music video and got the part. Soon other work followed, including a high profile role on the French television series Sous le soleil. Yet he still wasn’t sure that he could make a career from acting. “At the beginning, each time I had a part, I would think ‘OK, after this job I’m going to go back to school’ but then the parts kept coming,” he reveals. “Still, it took me at least four or five years to feel comfortable saying that I was an actor when people asked me what I did for a living.” Now thirty-six years old, Fitoussi has worked steadily as an actor since that fateful first audition. Along the way he studied with legendary Actors Studio instructor Jack Waltzer. “He was the only choice for me, because I wanted someone older who had a lot of experience,” he explains. “He helped me to really focus, and taught me to be more precise with my acting. I did five workshops with him, and I was impressed with him from the very first time that I met him. I felt like he knew exactly where I was as an actor, and I knew that I could really learn a lot from him.”

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Exclusive Interview with Mr. Selfridge Star Grégory Fitoussi

Speaking about the mechanics of acting, I ask him if he does a lot of preparation for his roles beyond what is written in the script. “Some of the parts require you to create a back story,” he explains, “but sometimes you just need to trust your instincts and your feelings about the character. I really do work differently each time. Sometimes I even take inspiration from the people around me, to observe their behavior. It helps me to try and understand a character’s motivations, and it helps to make things more meaningful.” After reflecting further, he adds, “You have to be in the moment. Thinking too much is not good for an actor. You prepare as much as you can, of course, because you want to be precise and professional. But then you have to forget everything and just have fun and lose yourself in the character. Because any character can do anything, and if you don’t think that he can do anything, then you are going to be limited as an actor.”

Beyond simply delivering his lines, Grégory has the ability to become the characters he plays in a physical sense as well. These almost imperceptible physical nuances and subtleties only add to his performances. I wonder aloud if this is carefully orchestrated on his part, or if it simply comes naturally to him. Grégory thanks me for the compliment, and then explains, “Sometimes it’s just feeling and imagination, how you imagine your character. I really like to work with an inside rhythm. It’s really important for me because it’s not in the brain to act. You have to trust your feelings and your instinct. If you believe in something, it’s going to be good, it’s going to be true.”

I ask him how he chooses his roles. “The actors and the director are really important. You have to trust who you’re going to work with. I have turned down parts because I didn’t think that it would be a good fit with either the director or the other actors. You don’t work alone when you’re an actor, so it’s delicate. You’re not good by yourself, you’re good because you’re surrounded by good people and professional people who want to make something good – that’s how you’re good. You’re not good alone. It doesn’t exist,” he asserts. And what about his performances? Does he ever view them? “Most of the time I watch what I’ve done, but there are a few movies that I didn’t watch and I never will,” he confesses. “It’s too tough, especially when you’re so different from the character you’re playing. It’s hard to see it on screen. Even if it’s you, it’s not you and it can become schizophrenic,” he explains. “Sometimes I can see one scene in a movie and think ‘OK, this one is not that bad’ … but it’s really hard to be happy with my work. But I think a lot of actors are in the same situation.”

We talk about Season 1 of Mr. Selfridge and what a great experience it was for him. But he admits that there was a language barrier when he first arrived on set. “I was so lost at the beginning,” he admits. “I couldn’t understand a word they were saying on set. The first month was tough. Everyday I was asking myself ‘What am I doing here?’” he laughs. “But everybody was so nice and so welcoming, I quickly found my place.” And what about Season 2? Will his character return? Yes! “I’m really happy to return. The story line for my character for the second season is really exciting. It’s going to be different and the character will come back with a very different mood. I can’t wait to go back.” When I touch on the romance between his character Henri Leclair and shop worker Agnes Towler, played by actress Aisling Loftus, he is quick to praise Loftus’ work. “I think she’s really gifted,” he says. “It was a pleasure to work with her.” When I ask him what it’s like to work with Jeremy Piven, he’s happy to share. “He is very interesting to watch when he’s working. He so focused, so different than the character he is playing. He’s always professional, he’s never late, and he knows his lines perfectly. And he’s really generous and aware in order to help the other actors around him to make everyone’s performance better.”