BONNIE GREER on the performers who can reinvent themselves for an overseas audience.
In ITV’s latest hit period-soap Victoria, the French actor Bruno Wolkowitch plays the role of the wily and lecherous French king Louis Philippe. From about 1997-2006, Wolkowitch was French television’s version of Al Pacino, a brooding, intense, and sexy presence in a weekly police procedural called PJ. He played the head of a police station located in the 10th arrondissement, an inner city section of Paris where the Gare du Nord is located. The programme showed a side of that part of the French capital that taxis meeting the Eurostar usually speed through pretty quickly. Wolkowitch starred as the emotionally-complex police chief Vincent Fournier. Before he came along, this kind of role would have been fairly straightforward, but in his way, the actor has changed French TV acting. His deep voice and steady gaze made it possible to imagine an intense inner life, hidden from the camera. His killing in the 100th episode of the show was a national media event. His character’s funeral was lavish and intimate at the same time. There will probably be gasps in the francophone world when Victoria is dubbed and shown on TV. The show missed a major trick in not keeping Rupert Sewell’s heart throb Lord M alive long enough to have met up with Louis Philippe. It is always interesting to see an actor famous for one thing in their own country, turn up as something else in another. When I heard that Hugh Laurie was to star in an American doctor show called House I assumed it was going to be a comedy. For a while it was fairly disconcerting to see Laurie acting, in an impeccable American accent, as the misanthropic medic. It was almost hard to watch in the early days because Laurie played it so straight that I was waiting for the punch line. No one in the US knew about Blackadder, Jeeves and Wooster or A Bit of Fry and Laurie. Television critics praised his style when, to me, here was a rather disaffected, cynical Englishman, kind of the Old Etonian that Laurie is. His jokes and pranks and angst would have been recognisable here. But it all played as new and fresh, for example, in Rapid City, South Dakota. And in Paris, too, where Laurie is a kind of sex symbol and example of American cool and sangfroid. These kind of international telly collisions can be disconcerting, but they not only showcase an actor’s craft and artistry, they blindside us, too. Wolkowitch played a Frenchman in Victoria, but the British idea of one: devious, a bit seedy. He and Laurie demonstrate nationality not as something in the blood, but as a construct, a kind of role we play and cherish and defend. But a role nonetheless. As Trump will notice when he meets the National (Ice) Hockey League’s Pittsburgh Penguins at the White House. They are his ‘Make America Great Again’ push-back against the NFL’s noble ‘take a knee’ protest. Except that the Penguins are largely from Canada, northern Europe and Russia.