“…but as an actor, if that’s how you think about it [total control], you’re sort of lost. You have to let go. So much can change between what you read and what you do on stage and what inspires you and what they keep in the editing room…you have to let go…”
“…I don’t think I’m ready. I don’t think I’m a strong enough writer. I don’t want to put something out there that I’m not proud of. I’m too judgmental of my own work at the moment to do it…“
By Elle Morris
Photography by Leslie Hassler
“I’m on a deserted island and might not have great service,” Francois Arnaud says apologetically as we begin the interview.
Arnaud, originally from Quebec, now calls New York home after some time living in Los Angeles. “I missed the East Coast and the atmosphere of a big city I guess,” he says. “Although I needed out now, just now. But New York is home.”
The need to get away from home and take a break is understandable, once you’ve taken a glance at Arnaud’s schedule. There are so many projects listed on IMDb for 2017 that I feel tired just looking at it.
“Well I’ve been working a lot this past year and sort of lined up a few independent films…” he says. “And I was so exhausted when it ended that I needed to take a little break and spend some time with myself. But yeah it’s exciting. I just wanted to take a little break to be able to come back in full force.”
The most recently completed is the upcoming TV show Midnight, Texas, based on the books by Charlaine Harris (author of the Sookie Stackhouse books that gave us True Blood).
“We wrapped on Midnight, Texas two weeks ago,” Arnaud confirms. “We were in New Mexico for four and a half months and there was a lot of night shoots and long hours in the middle of the desert so it was very grueling. But hopefully it’ll be rewarding as well.
“My character, Manfred, sort of leads this ensemble. He’s a medium. He talks to dead people. He’s a lonely young man who is really damaged, and who’s best and only friend is his dead grandma’s ghost. He is sort of a crook. He used his gift for personal gain in the past and it’s pissed off a couple people and he’s on the run and he decides to hide in a place called Midnight, Texas and he hopes to find peace of mind and he finds exactly the opposite. Midnight is a little town that sits on the thin veil between the world of the living and the dead.”
Arnaud is no stranger to TV. To an American audience he is likely still best known for his role as Cesare Borgia on The Borgias, which ran from 2011-2013 on Showtime. TV critics are fond of calling this “the Golden Age of TV.” Modern TV shows offer some of the best small screen writing and filming quality, and have attracted some of the biggest names of our generation. The Borgias may have helped to kick off this new age.
“[Getting the role] happened pretty naturally and fairly quickly. I was doing this film I Killed My Mother with the director Xavier Dolan, and when it went to various film festivals I traveled with it a little bit. That’s how I got an LA agent and fortunately one of the first projects I auditioned for in Hollywood—along with Pirates of the Caribbean—was [The Borgias]. I don’t know what it is—maybe the fact that Neil Jordan, the creator, is Irish and there was that sort of connection of bad Catholics, but I flew to London to meet with Neil and to screen cast with Jeremy Irons. I was terrified. And I think me being terrified sort of set the dynamic of our characters in the show. I played a son who was trying to prove himself to his father and I think it sort of developed our parental dynamic.”
In spite of the time when they lived, the historical Borgias are known as some of the worst Catholics—rumors of incest and murder trail their legacy as much as Pope Alexander VI’s actual corruption and bribery. We think of that time as an era of extreme religious devotion and piety, but does a modern secular perspective play into how an actor plays a character?
“I don’t think my religious beliefs, or non-beliefs, affected my playing the character,” Arnaud muses, “Obviously it’s tied to religion but The Borgias took place centuries ago and it’s not a moment where people contemplated the possibility of being an atheist or refusing religion. The Borgias saw it as some sort of monarchy and I think we can all find comparisons with what’s happening right now in the U.S. and all over the world where a lot of democracies start feeling like nepotism.”
Most recently on the small screen Arnaud was seen on Blindspot with cover girl Jamie Alexander, though he is unfortunately no longer involved with the series. (“I don’t think I’m revealing too much here, but my character died in the finale of the first season. And it was sort of how I got to go away to do Midnight, Texas.”)
He also has multiple independent films on the way, which is an interesting path to take in this day’s focus on mass-appeal blockbusters. The attraction for him?
“I think I am attracted to have more of a sense of responsibility towards the final product and vision,” Arnaud says. “But that can very much be held in other media. In television, everyone very much has a strong hold on the project. In Permission, which is coming out of Tribeca in a month, it’s Brian Crano out of New York’s second feature. I just responded to the script immediately, in part because of the role he wanted me to play but also the script in general with the tone and what is says about my generation.”
Think pieces abound regarding social media, millennials, and the sort of impact that social media has on millennials (not to mention sweeping generalizations about laziness). As an actor, Arnaud occupies a space that not only is in constant transition but, because of social media, almost requires being available to fans via platforms like Twitter and Instagram. Plugging in to that access isn’t always the easiest.
“I understand that is what’s expected of us, especially on network television it’s a byproduct of what we do. I tried to stay away from it as long as I could for fear of it driving me insane,” he says.
I point out that ours is a celebrity-junkie culture that buys into sex appeal. The more popular (and lovely to look at) a celebrity is, the more access is demanded.
“But that’s not something I’m constantly trying to project. Sometimes it’s part of what’s asked or expected from the character I play. That’s where I sort of draw the line; I can’t control people’s reactions. And sometimes I feel like I’m losing control, that I should be a director and have total control of what I put out there. But as an actor, if that’s how you think about it, you’re sort of lost. You have to let go. So much can change between what you read and what you do on stage and what inspires you and what they keep in the editing room…you have to let go.”
As Arnaud’s path develops and evolves, is there any chance we might see him on the live stage?
“I went to theater school—the National Conservatory in Montreal—and I did theater for a few years there and since I started doing more television and films, the more I haven’t been on stage and I do miss it. That’s really what I wanted to do on hiatus, on my break now from Midnight, Texas. We’ll see if that happens in the next few months or not. I would love to. I miss the rehearsal process, and the feeling of being part of a company.”
What about work behind the camera?
“I hope so. I’ve been daydreaming about it for a very long time. I don’t think I’m ready. I don’t think I’m a strong enough writer. I don’t want to put something out there that I’m not proud of. I’m too judgmental of my own work at the moment to do it. I think I have to acquire more freedom. It may be on my path, we’ll see.”
photography by Leslie Hassler
stylist Rachel Wirkus
stylist assistant Mia Torti
grooming Joanna Pensinger
location Monarch Rooftop Indoor
Lounge & Courtyard of Marriott
Citizens of Humanity jeans, t-shirt
Paul Smith shoes
J Crew belt
CP Company olive t-shirt
St James jacket
Stan Smith shoes
American Apparel navy t-shirt