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Jean Reno may be one of France’s most famous faces, but don’t expect to see him in a beret any time soon. Gallic stereotypes are just not his thing.
“I understand the image of romance, camembert, an accordeon and a beret, but that’s not me,” the actor said. “No, I will do something I know how to do.”
Reno certainly knows how to do international English-language productions (think: Mission: Impossible, The Pink Panther and The Da Vinci Code) but does the big screen veteran know how to do TV?
The prolific actor will play his first leading small screen role in Le Grand, a new series from Emmy-winning showrunner Rene Balcer produced by Lagardere’s Atlantique Productions with leading Gallic broadcaster TF1 also on board. Reno plays police detective Joachim “Jo” Legrand, known as simply Le Grand, a veteran cop who relentlessly pursues hard-to-crack cases.
In addition to being Reno’s TV debut, Le Grand will be the first English-language drama series shot entirely on location in Paris. Reno has been proposed several TV gigs throughout his long career, so why start now?
“Because it’s in English. I’ve always thought that if I’m well-known in China, in Latin America, and across the globe, why do small projects only in French?” he explained, adding that his wife is English so he’s used to speaking the language at home. “I’d never have accepted to star in a series if it wasn’t also international, like this one,” he said.
Reno will star opposite another famous French celebrity that has charmed people from all over the world, namely the city of Paris. Each of Le Grand’s cases is tied to an iconic location in the French capital, from Notre Dame to Pigalle to the underground Catacombs. Reno admits to being star-struck by his co-star.
“It may seem banal, but when we were filming Da Vinci Code, we’d spend hours in the Louvre. Being in the museum with no people around was a magnificent joy,” he said. Reno also still enjoys nostalgic returns to the Latin Quarter. “It’s a bit cliché, but it reminds me of my youth.”
His character, detective Le Grand, is also very attached to Paris.
“Woody Allen once said that he’d never leave Manhattan. This character is like that. If you want to hurt him, you send him on an investigation in Marseille or in Beaune, anywhere outside of Paris,” he said.
Reno has built a career out of playing laconic tough guys, but says that this role will show a softer side of him.
“It will be something you’ve never seen before. I’ve played many cops, but he’s not the same,” he said. “We’ll see more about his past, more about his daughter. We’ll exploit the tender aspect of this authority figure. We’ll slowly find out what happened in his life and why he suffers.”
And while his character is attached to Paris, Reno’s heart is split between the City of Lights and New York, where he and his family spend much of the year in their West Village home.
“I like New York more than Paris. It’s another way of life. The energy there is indescribable. Plus, you eat very well in New York,” the passionate gourmet said.
The 63 year-old Reno may be getting older, but the actor doesn’t plan to retire anytime soon.
“When I was young, I thought I’d stop at 50. But today, working with the creative people in this industry is still exciting. It keeps me alive. It gives me hope,” he said.
Reno hopes to continue his career in movies and isn’t looking to settle down into a decades-long series quite yet. “I’ve signed on for the first season so far. I don’t see myself doing this for a dozen years. It’s not my thing.”
Reno will shoot eight episodes for around three to four months.
Le Grand producers were in Cannes after returning from Los Angeles where they met with several TV networks and are currently in “discussions” with U.S. broadcasters, Lagardere topper Takis Candilis said.
Candilis and “Le Grand” executive producers Klaus Zimmermann and Olivier Bibas from Atlantique Productions are well versed in English-language production after recently taking on ambitious projects such as Borgia and Transporter.
The show’s budget is two million euros per episode with French broadcaster TF1 putting up 900,000. It’s an ambitious project with a great deal riding on it for TF1, Atlantique and Reno himself, but the actor is up for the task.
“I don’t have an ego. I look at the story above all. I’ll do the same work I do in movies,” he said, adding that the show will differ from other cop series because of “the ambiance, the mystery and Jean Reno too — I hope.”
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