Diving footballers are terrible fakers, but that doesn’t mean that all footballers are bad actors. Eric Cantona’s theatrics in the Theatre of Dreams have led to a successful movie career, and now former Chelsea defender Frank Leboeuf is tackling his own switch from the playing field to the movie set.
Since hanging up his boots in 2005, the French footballer and World Cup winner has appeared in eight different screen roles and performed in two plays in France. His latest movie role sees him appearing as a French resistance fighter in World War II drama Allies.
Here he explains why footballers can make good actors, how he took tips from John Malkovich and why France still isn’t ready to embrace his new career.
Why did you decide to do go into acting?
It’s something I’ve been passionate about ever since I was young. Even before I thought about football, I wanted to be an actor.
It’s not random: it’s something I’ve wanted to do for a long time. In 2000 I shot a movie, Taking Sides, while I was still playing for Chelsea. Then after I stopped playing football I did acting courses for two years in Los Angeles. I worked hard on that. I was practising 4-5 hours a day on stage or behind the camera to learn the process. It wasn’t like I assumed that because I was known people would take me.
How have people reacted to the career change?
In France I can’t audition because they still think I’m a footballer and don’t take me seriously. But in England they’ve given me the opportunity. I shot two movies here last year, Allies and The Theory of Everything. They give me a chance to show my new skill, and I’m thankful for that.
People said very stupid things: they say, “Oh, every football player wants to act.” But there are only three really: Vinnie Jones, Eric Cantona and myself.
Did you ask anyone for advice?
My actor friends in Los Angeles didn’t even know I was training to be an actor! I never said anything. I was playing football with Jason Statham, Owen Wilson, Anthony LaPaglia, but I never told them.
So you didn’t go to Eric Cantona?
No, I don’t really know Eric. We played each other perhaps twice when he was at Manchester United, and when I joined the national team he left.
I did get to know John Malkovich when I went to Marseille. I talked to him a bit about the business, but I didn’t want to bother him, so most of the time we talked about football and wine! It’s my path, and I have to go through it myself.
Why do French footballers want to be actors?
You have Vinnie Jones! Jason Statham used to be a diver. It’s not just France who has sports people who want to be film stars.
Are there similarities between acting and football?
We know the cameras, we’re not afraid of showing off. We also have to be careful what we say in front of the camera; sometimes we don’t want to tell the truth because the journalist wants to make us admit something we don’t want to. You have to be an actor when you’re a footballer.
But it’s hard to compare. If you are in a play you at least have people in front of you, but if you are in a movie you have to shoot and reshoot and then wait for a year to see what happens.
What about football – do you still play?
No, I gave up playing four years ago. When I lived in LA I enjoyed playing “soccer” though, and joined a team called Hollywood United. I played with Owen Wilson, Jason Statham, Vinnie Jones and Steve Jones from the Sex Pistols – a fantastic striker! I talked a lot about football in America, which was really weird because they know nothing about it.
How did you get the part in Allies, your latest film?
I was on holiday when my agent called me and told me to audition. I read the script and liked it, but I was in the middle of the Grand Canyon in the United States. In the end my wife recorded me on my iPhone and I sent it in. Luckily the director Dominic Burns liked it!
The experience was amazing. The film’s set in France, but it was all filmed in the middle of the English countryside near Derby.
Is it hard having to act in English rather than French?
It’s harder to perform, yes. My English is OK, but I have to work to find the emotion and say it the same that I would in French. So far I haven’t had many lines to learn, but one day I’ll have a chance to be more involved in a movie. If it’s in English, then fantastic.
Allies is available on DVD and digital download from Monday 3 November, courtesy of Eone