Family & Companions
Often compared to a young Robert De Niro or Jean-Paul Belmondo, French actor Vincent Cassel earned acclaim for his intense portrayals of men struggling to contain the violence that seethed within them. The son of successful film actor Jean-Pierre Cassel, Vincent ignored his father's advice and pursued a career in acting. Early breakout performances in such films as "La Haine" (1995) and "L'Apartement" (1996) made him a rising star in French cinema. While bloody actioners like "Dobermann" (1997) positioned Cassel as a popular genre star in Europe, he was more often seen as a full-fledged villain by American audiences in international hits like "Brotherhood of the Wolf" (2001). Never one to shy away from the risqué, Cassel and wife Monica Bellucci co-starred in one of the most controversial films of the decade, "Irreversible" (2003), a profoundly disturbing drama of rape, revenge and guilt. In the States, however, he was mostly seen in less gut-wrenching fare like "Ocean's 12" (2004) until director David Cronenberg turned him loose as a volatile gangster in the acclaimed crime-drama "Eastern Promises" (2007). His biggest hits were still to come on both shores, when the two-part crime epic "Mesrine: Killer Instinct" (2008) and "Mesrine: Public Enemy No. 1" (2008) won Cassel a coveted César Award and director Darren Aronofsky's "Black Swan" (2010) gave him his broadest stateside exposure to date. As one of the most respected international stars of his day, Cassel enjoyed a truly remarkable film career both at home and abroad.
Born Vincent Crochon on Nov. 23, 1966 in Paris France, he was the son of Sabine and Jean-Pierre Cassel, a successful journalist and popular film actor, respectively. Actively discouraged by his father to avoid the acting profession, Vincent happily stood on the sidelines watching his father work with such revered French directors as Claude Chabrol and Luis Bunuel, in addition to appearing in international hits like "The Three Musketeers" (1973) and "Murder on the Orient Express" (1974). At the age of 17, Cassel began training at a circus school, where he dabbled in the big top arts for a few years until he was eventually drawn into the family business. After adopting his father's stage name of Cassel, he landed a few bit parts in French television productions before picking up a minor role in director Philippe de Broca's romantic comedy, "Les Cles du Paradis" (1991). Two years later, Cassel collaborated for the first of many times with writer-director-actor Mathieu Kassovitz in "Café au Lait" (1993), playing the older brother of a penniless messenger (Kassovitz) involved in a complex love triangle.
Cassel soon made his English language debut with a small role in the Merchant-Ivory historical drama, "Jefferson in Paris" (1995), starring Nick Nolte as the eponymous Founding Father. He made a far more noticeable impression with French cinemagoers that same year in Kassovitz's violent urban drama "La Haine" ("Hate") (1995), as Vinz, a young Jewish street punk on a collision course with destruction on the streets of Paris. The movie was not only a boon for the career of Kassovitz - who won the Best Director Award at the Cannes Film Festival that year - but for Cassel himself, nominated for a pair of César Awards (the French equivalent of the Oscar). Seemingly overnight, the emerging star was appearing in a string of artistically ambitious films, including "Femmes" (1995), "L'Eleve" (1996), "Come Mi Vuoi" (1996) and the widely-acclaimed "L'Apartement" (1996). In addition to the many accolades heaped upon the labyrinthine romantic drama, "L'Apartement," the project also marked the beginning of Cassel's professional and romantic relationship with the stunning Italian actress Monica Bellucci.
Cassel and Bellucci went on to appear together again in the hyper-stylized, ultra-violent thriller "Dobermann" (1997), in which Cassel played the titular crime gang leader, with Bellucci in the role of his loyal, deaf-mute girlfriend. Reviled by critics for its style-over-substance aesthetic, the blood-soaked actioner became a substantial hit, nonetheless. More U.S. exposure came with his turn as Duc d'Anjou, a potential suitor to "Elizabeth" (1998), in the Oscar-nominated historical biopic starring Cate Blanchett as the Queen of England. In another, less acclaimed historical drama, Cassel played Gilles de Rais in writer-director Luc Besson's "The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc" (1999), starring Milla Jovovich as the martyred teenage warrior. Behind the scenes, Cassel and Bellucci married that same year, going on to collaborate onscreen several more times and giving birth to two children over the course of the next decade.
Now one of the hottest actors in French cinema, Cassel starred alongside fellow countryman Jean Reno in "The Crimson Rivers" (2001), a crime-thriller about two diametrically opposed cops separately investigating a pair of murders that prove to be connected. In his most recognizable role for years to come, Cassel played Jean-Francois de Morangias, the incestuous, one-armed villain of Christophe Gans' genre-bending mash-up, "Brotherhood of the Wolf" (2001). After providing the voice of Monsieur Hood in the animated hit "Shrek" (2001), Cassel once again appeared with his friend Mathieu Kassovitz as a pair of unwanted and unsavory guests in "Birthday Girl" (2002), a semi-noir starring Nicole Kidman as a Russian mail order bride.
Cassel next took part in the most controversial film of his already unrestrained career with a co-starring role in "Irreversible" (2003), a deeply disturbing revenge-drama from New French Extremity filmmaker Gaspar Noe. Told entirely in reverse order, it followed the harrowing events of an evening in which the vivacious Alex (Bellucci) is savagely raped and beaten after leaving a party alone. Convinced that the police will never bring the attacker to justice, Alex's grief-enraged lover (Cassel) embarks on a nightmarish odyssey of revenge accompanied by Alex's hesitant former boyfriend (Albert Dupontel). Premiered at the Cannes Film Festival that year, the film ignited a firestorm of controversy with outraged attendees walking out in droves during the unflinchingly brutal rape scene. Overall response was divided, however, with just as many critics citing its artistic achievement as those condemning "Irreversible" for its "adolescent pride in its own ugliness."
Meanwhile, Cassel appeared as the sleek, but fiendish Lord de Guise in "The Reckoning" (2004), a medieval murder mystery starring Willem Dafoe and Paul Bettany. Cassel also reappeared in American theaters as the Night Fox, modern-day France's most successful thief, in Steven Soderbergh's "Ocean's 12" (2004), the hugely successful sequel staring George Clooney, Brad Pitt and Matt Damon. Cassel returned to work with "Dobermann" director Jan Kounen for the action-packed western, "Renegade" (2004), playing a U.S. Marshall whose past comes back to haunt him in the form of the villainous Blount (Michael Madsen). In "Secret Agents" (2004), Cassel and Bellucci essayed members of a crack team of French secret agents whose mission to thwart an arms dealer is compromised after the discovery of a mole in their midst. In the U.S.-produced noir thriller "Derailed" (2005), Cassel once again employed his darker side when played a sadistic criminal who blackmails a Chicago ad executive (Clive Owen) with the help of his conflicted mistress (Jennifer Aniston).
As both star and producer, Cassel delved into the horror genre proper as a satanic handyman preying on a group of vacationing twenty-somethings in the gruesome thriller "Sheitan" (2006). After a quick reprisal of his Night Fox role in the hit sequel "Ocean's 13" (2007), Cassel lent his talents to director David Cronenberg's crime-thriller "Eastern Promises" (2007)" as Kirill, the unstable son of a Russian-born crime lord (Armin Mueller-Stahl) and volatile friend of the family's taciturn enforcer (Viggo Mortensen). The following year, Cassel won the César for his bravura performance as France's most notorious criminal in the two-part crime biopic "Mesrine: Killer Instinct" (2008) followed by "Mesrine: Public Enemy No. 1" (2008). Shown back-to-back in French theaters, the films were hugely successful and marked what may have been the apex of the actor's career in his home country.
In a brief respite from the carnage that marked so much of his recent oeuvre, Cassel played the father of a young girl (Laura Neiva) experiencing a sexual and emotional awakening in the 1980s-set coming-of-age drama "Adrift (2009). Unsurprisingly, he re-embraced his darker side in the ultra-violent road movie "Our Day Will Come" (2010), helmed by first-time director Romain Gavras. He also took part in one of the most talked about movies of the year, director Darren Aronofsky's "Black Swan" (2010), in which he played the sexually manipulative Thomas Leroy, director of the New York City Ballet Company opposite Natalie Portman as his psychically-fractured ingénue. On European screens the following year, Cassel portrayed the title role of "The Monk" (2011) in an atmospheric adaptation of 18th-Century novelist Matthew Lewis' classic gothic melodrama. Cassel then reteamed with Cronenberg and Mortensen for the period docudrama "A Dangerous Method" (2011) as Otto Gross, the protégé of the father of modern day psychology, Sigmund Freud (Mortensen).
By Bryce Coleman
Cast (Feature Film)
Producer (Feature Film)
Appeared in his first film, "Les Cles du Paris."
Played a memorable supporting role in "Jefferson in Paris."
Re-teamed with Kassovitz for the film "Le Haine/Hate."
Played the title role in the film "Dobermann."
Had a featured role in "The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc" in which Kassovitz also had supporting role.
Re-teamed with Kassovitz to play a detective investigating a crime in "The Crimson Rivers."
Provided the voice of Monsieur Hood in the animated film "Shrek."
Supported Nicole Kidman in the film "Birthday Girl," which also featured Kassovitz.
Re-teamed with Belluci in Gaspar Noe's highly controversial "Irreversible."
Played a shepherd who carries out satanic rituals in "Sheitan."
Appeared opposite James McAvoy in the Danny Boyle drama-thriller "Trance."
Played the charismatic leader of a cloistered community in "Partisan."
Starred in the romantic comedy "One Wild Moment."