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Class of 2010: François Arnaud, the valedictorian

On a particularly sunny morning in late April, François Arnaud is talking with NIGHTLIFE via phone, from the comfort of his home. Armed with cell phone in one hand and cigarette in the other, he’s lounging on his balcony and taking in the clement springtime weather. He’s every bit entitled to the downtime after the whirlwind year he’s had. With key roles in the eyebrow-raising Les grandes chaleurs (as a sexy clepto who successfully woos his much older social worker), the no-preamble-needed J’ai tué ma mère (as Xavier Dolan’s empathetic boyfriend) and on TVA’s Yamaska (as a magnetic rebel named Théo), Arnaud’s profile is rapidly soaring.

But the well-deserved R&R balcony time will soon come to a halt for this cover boy in the making. Showtime will be shipping him off to Budapest by the end of June to commence shooting on its anticipated new series The Borgias, a Canadian-U.K. co-prod about the Italian Renaissance’s powerful and ultra shady noble family. “I’m not going to lie, it’s a little scary,” admits Arnaud, who’ll play treacherous son Cesare in the series - with the pilot to be directed by acclaimed helmer Neil Jordan (The Crying Game). “Sometimes, I feel like … God, five months in Hungary! (laughs) I’m going to be alone; my life is here, my friends are here, I hope not to grow lonelier by going far away.”


Ironing out the details
In conversation, Arnaud’s disarming honesty catches me off guard, and yet he’s quick to offset any (sensible) fears about time spent abroad with sheer schoolboy enthusiasm for what lies ahead. “I’m going to meet all kinds of people too, that’s for sure. I have the opportunity to play a fascinating historical figure, there’s really nothing to enhance. The real story is so wild that it doesn’t need to be cranked up.” As Cesare Borgia, Arnaud will play opposite an iconic Brit with a gravelly voice – Jeremy Irons. And Arnaud is already relishing what’s to come. “To scream my head off at Jeremy Irons,” enthuses Arnaud when asked what he’s most looking forward to. “I already did that in auditions and I was very happy, to grab him by the collar and just yell at him. What a trip.”

The Borgias won’t mark the first time Arnaud performs in English, although his previous Anglo ventures mainly consisted of short films and an outdoor rendition of Scapin’s Deceits (or “Les fourberies de Scapin”) in a Molière in the Park-type formula. Experience or not, he’s clearly hankering for a shot at performing in a different language. “Right away, when you play in another language, you’re granted this new freedom. In French, you can’t play with emphasis as much or put the accent on certain words, as it always goes at the end of the sentence. In English, you can EM-phasize certain things. In Quebec, we kind of do that as well, when we say things like TEL-lement! We borrow that from English.”

Newbies get their curtain call

Linguistic cravings aside, Arnaud acknowledges he’s greatly indebted to Dolan and the success of J’ai tué ma mère for setting the wheels of an international career in motion. “People like Xavier are shining their spotlight on our city’s extensive pool of emerging talent,” he says. “There are many friends of mine in his latest [Les amours imaginaires]. They’re not “vedettes”, but they’re young and they’re fantastic. Sometimes, I still get the impression that our industry turns a cold shoulder to novelty.”

Not that Arnaud would know about that firsthand. Since graduating from the Conservatoire d’art dramatique de Montréal 3 years ago, producers, broadcasters and playwrights have all been vying to get a piece of this hot thespian commodity. And in signing on to The Borgias, he’s had to renege on previous commitments – a part in Tom à la ferme, a Michel Marc Bouchard penned play, and the TV show Yamaska, which must now find another actor to take over the role of Théo.


J'ai tué mon teen angst
“I was very lucky,” concedes Arnaud, with respect to his post-graduate stream of opportunities. “I worked hard as well, but I got really lucky. It’s strange because I have so many friends who finished theatre school and they still spend more time behind a bar or in a restaurant than on stage. And it’s not a matter of talent or work ethic.”

The actor believes shooting stars owe at least part of their shimmer to perfect timing and chance encounters. But it’s also something Arnaud steadfastly pursued at a very early age, as a way of coping with his teen angst and finding a creative outlet. “As a teen, I wasn’t very happy,” says Arnaud. “Theatre became my outlet to let everyone know I existed. After that, it’s as if I just tried to honour what theatre had done for me.”

By taking his years of training and experience to the next level (and abroad), Arnaud is well on his way to achieving that goal. When I ask whether he’s aiming for a global, multilingual career, he’s refreshingly honest and doesn’t cop out with one of those BS “I’m just so blessed to be where I am” generic answers. He tells it like it is. “In Quebec, it’s difficult to make a living as an actor and only work on interesting projects,” he explains. “I have no intentions of leaving Quebec, only to widen my spectrum of possibilities, to learn about other methods of working. It’s not because it’s in English, or because it’s a foreign shoot. My only career ambition is that I eventually be able to choose the projects I’m involved with.” And for the time being, François has made his move. Neil Jordan, the Italian underworld and those Hungarian spa baths await. Bon voyage!


The Borgias
Winter 2011 | Showtime


To read our Class of 2010 feature in its entirety, click here.