Wild About Paul Kircher

He may be young, but French actor Paul Kircher has already won major accolades for his raw performances, including his latest shapeshifting role in a film where humans turn slowly into animals

At just 22, Paul Kircher shines in Thomas Cailley’s latest film, presented at the Cannes Film Festival this year. Le Règne animal (The Animal Kingdom) is a richly layered film, depicting a society in which humans gradually transform into animals. Kircher plays a boy who, with his father (Roman Duris), goes on a transformative voyage. The young actor, with his chestnut curls and adolescent allure, was a revelation in Christophe Honoré’s Le Lycéen (Winter Boy, 2022), in which he played the director’s teenage alter ego. Honoré auditioned more than 300 candidates before discovering this vibrant actor, who was willing to bare it all – in every sense. For his performance, Kircher was nominated for the César Award for most promising actor. It’s been a grand entrance into the world of cinema for Kircher, who, for a long time, imagined himself becoming a singer. But fate decided otherwise.

VALÉRIE COSTANTINO How did you become an actor?

PAUL KIRCHER Well, my parents [Irène Jacob and Jérôme Kircher] are actors. You could say I was born into the theater. My mother was acting when she was pregnant with me, and later I slept backstage in the theaters where she worked. So, it was a favorable environment. I also played music in various rock bands with friends in high school. That’s how I discovered the pleasure of playing in front of an audience. I stopped that two years ago, but music and the stage have been very important in my life. I liked the idea of acting, but it scared me a bit, and I wanted to do something else. Then I was recommended to a casting director, and I landed a role in Adeline Picault’s film T’as pécho? [How to Make Out] in 2020.

VC Have you always been a cinephile?

PK My parents watched a lot of films and showed me many of them. As a child, I loved Charlie Chaplin and Louis de Funès. Then, especially at university, I started watching films on my own. Little by little, I built up my knowledge of cinema. My father showed me James Gray’s We Own the Night when I was young. His world seemed accessible to me, but at the same time, it was a real cinematic experience, and I devoured all his other films after that.

Paul Kircher, from The Animal Kingdom, photographed by Hill & Aubrey.
Paul Kircher, from The Animal Kingdom, photographed by Hill & Aubrey.

Paul Kircher wears clothing and accessories by Bottega Veneta throughout

VC Which actors and directors inspire you?

PK Today, I’d say Jean Yanne in Nous ne vieillirons pas ensemble (We Won’t Grow Old Together) because when I see him act, it really makes me want to make films. Then there’s Jean-Pierre Léaud in La maman et la putain [The Mother and the Whore] and Jean-Louis Trintignant. I really admire them. I recently saw Michelangelo Antonioni’s Zabriskie Point, with that incredible explosion scene. I go to theaters in the Latin Quarter quite a lot, and I rent a lot of DVDs. I’ve seen all the films by Gus Van Sant: Elephant, for example, and Last Days, my favorite.

VC What made you audition for Christophe Honoré’s film?

PK After T’as pécho?, I got an agent, took acting classes during school vacations and started auditioning. Whenever there was a role for a boy my age, I’d go for it. It was Christophe Honoré’s film, but it could have been anyone else’s.

VC What was Christophe like on set?

PK I was impressed to be working with him. I hadn’t seen any of his films when I auditioned for Le Lycéen. I did my job well, but I didn’t talk between takes, and I didn’t try to have a relationship with him. He gave me his script, which was already very rich and beautifully written, with sublime phrases that I didn’t always understand. Christophe gives actors a huge amount of freedom. He really teams up with you – not to achieve anything in particular, but rather to be with you and accompany you. This doesn’t happen through words or instructions before the shoot, but through creating a relationship of equals. At no point did we do a scene more than four times. We tried things out but never got stuck on a scene, even though it was his story.

VC Christophe says of you: “I don’t know whether cinema will be able to match what he has to offer.” What would you say about him?

PK That’s a flattering statement – yet not that much, really. It doesn’t mean, “I don’t know whether cinema will be up to his standards because he’s too strong,” but rather that I’m observing this whole world, and perhaps there’s something at odds with the innocence I had at that point, when we were filming. I loved working with Christophe, but I also loved everything that surrounded the release of the film. When Christophe and I did promotional work together, we said things to each other that we’d never said before, and that was fun. Christophe touches me a lot in the way he talks about himself, through his films, his plays and his books, like an ongoing work of research, and the very personal questions he asks himself.

These strange things live within my character: they arise in his body, which at first causes him fear and rejection, and then, little by little, he tames them Paul Kircher

VC How did you first react to the script for The Animal Kingdom?

PK I loved reading the script and discovering this fantastic universe, and the trajectory of the father and son, who set off into the forest. I really liked what we had to imagine throughout the creative process, everything that Thomas Cailley was still thinking about: the creatures, the mutations, the challenge of making the spectator believe that this fantasy was possible. These strange things live within my character: they arise in his body, which at first causes him fear and rejection, and then, little by little, he tames them. It’s a journey to adulthood via a strong crisis, but he always lands on his feet, and that’s quite beautiful.

VC Is Romain Duris your father figure in cinema?

PK Yes, of course. The filial relationship was brilliant in the script, and meeting Romain was decisive. It’s very enriching to be on a shoot with an actor like him. It lasted three months, and together we built a duo. I learned a lot from the way he approaches his own craft, how he reconciles work and life.

VC The film is full of ideas, from anxiety caused by a pandemic to our relationship with nature. How does it relate to our times?

PK It’s true that the film is very aware about what’s going on, and of course it’s difficult for people my age to say to themselves, “Here’s what my children will do,” or “Here’s what I’ll do when I’m older.” When I was making the film, I kept telling myself that the world would end before the film was released. It often happens that I can’t project myself even one year into the future. Then I consider the ecological issues at stake, and I look at people a little differently. I see others more as partners, as allies, because we’re powerless on our own and strong together.

VC There’s something organic and spontaneous about your acting. How do you prepare for your roles?

PK For The Animal Kingdom, I worked with a choreographer – not to choreograph specific scenes, but to explore different feelings and make an inventory of a different world. I also put a lot of thought into trying to feel my body so that I could deploy it during the film, always trying to understand which muscle was engaged and how to move, and that fascinated me.

VC What projects are you working on now?

PK I’m off to Lorraine for a long shoot, an adaptation of Nicolas Mathieu’s novel Leurs enfants après eux [And Their Children After Them] by the Boukherma brothers, Ludovic and Zoran. The script is great – I’m really happy.

Hair by Laurence Walker. Makeup by Aya Fujita. Manicure by Marie Rosa.

This feature was originally published in Mastermind 14 – buy it here.

Paul Kircher, from The Animal Kingdom, photographed by Hill & Aubrey.

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