The making of the movie, Jappelou

Was Pierre Durand closely involved in the film ?

I know from experience that it’s always difficult to involve the person whose story you are telling in a project. It can stir up things that might be painful for the person concerned, and they understandably lack any critical distance from the narrative. So I asked Pierre some questions during the writing process, but I chose to take inspiration more from Karine Devilder’s book, which he had approved, including the accounts of others which it contains. Pierre also had the smart idea of putting me in touch with Frédéric Cottier, his colleague at the time, who became a precious ally, and my coach before and during the shoot.

What did your physical preparation consist of ?

I only got back on a horse six weeks before the start of filming. I hadn’t jumped over bars for 20 years, and when you’ve done competition, you’re not very interested in going out for a little canter. In fact, I had just done a little training for the two films with Jean Yanne and for “Tell no one”, in which I played a horseman. But it was not the same thing. Here, it was a matter of getting back into competition condition. Fortunately, we were filming in chronological order, from the most modest event to the Olympic Games. That allowed me to get back into the saddle gently and gain confidence. When the shoot started in Fontainebleau, where we condensed all the competition scenes into three weeks, I spent eight or nine hours a day in the saddle. That meant I had to spend an hour and a half every evening in the hands of a physical therapist. There were some great moments, like when I found myself in the arena for the French championships, which I had contested myself. I have to say, it went extremely well. With the backing of Frédéric Cottier, and through the strength of my character, I made it!

Several horses stand in for Jappeloup. Was it difficult, as rider, to keep switching partner ?

Indeed, it’s not easy to change once you’ve found your feet with an animal. All the more so since the two horses who mainly stood in for Jappeloup both had to be ridden in a very different style. The first, Sympatico, was a very small horse who looked a lot like the real Jappeloup. He jumped very well, but was 22 years old, so we had to go very easy on him. The official double, Incello, was bigger and younger, and we used him for jumping the big obstacles, like those in the Olympics scenes. But there were also five or six horses that played Jappeloup at various stages of his life and for wide shots.

Did you play a part in the casting ?

I made some suggestions, in particular Marina Hands, since for me it was clear she had to be in the film. I met her when I was 14: we used to ride at the same stables and participate in the same competitions. She’s an amazing actress, a great horsewoman, and she was my first love. So she was perfect to play Nadia, Pierre Durand’s wife. I put forward Marie Bunel’s name to play Durand’s mother. I had just made “La nouvelle guerre des boutons”with her. And my friend Joël Dupuch was a perfect fit, because Christian was looking for people with local character and he’s authentic Bordeaux.

There’s also a nod in the film to Jean Rochefort, who’s another friend of yours.

I would have really liked him to have had a role in the film, but he was shooting in Spain at the time. The little reference was the least I could do to pay tribute to him, because the fabulous life which I lead today is partly down to him. For me, he represents the combination of the equestrian world and that of cinema. As a kid, I knew him on the competition grounds. He was very much a part of the furniture. And when I wanted to become an actor, he gave me a leg-up.

What was your involvement in editing the film ?

Christian asked me for my opinion at each stage of the editing, and we were systematically in agreement about what needed reworking. He is extraordinarily open- minded. Despite the fact that he knows the subject by heart and knew exactly what he wanted, he was never arrogant and always listened to others. I witnessed this during the preparation, filming, and post-production. It was a major challenge for him to take on such a big film, such a complicated project – notably in terms of the logistics, the horses, etc. – with so little preparation. But when you’re dealing with a man who cares deeply for actors and who has such technical mastery, you feel completely confident and the collaboration is a joy.

What did you think of the finished film ?

I found it very moving. The film is everything I hoped it would be: a sort of “Rocky” set in the equestrian world, a sporting adventure based on a powerful human story. It contains everything I like in a mainstream film: great challenges, wonderful characters, a dash of humor and a lot of emotion. And it is visually gorgeous. In short, I’m very proud of it.

Did it make you want to ride again ?

Oh, yes! So much so that I’ve bought a horse and started competing again.


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