Jerome Pradon radiates Gallic sex appeal, which has given an extra bite to a career largely spent playing a string of baddies, including the West End's favourite villain, Inspector Javert of Les Misérables.
Theatrenow went to his dressing room to meet the charismatic French actor and discuss his career. The room was surprisingly bleak and functional.
This isn't a very cosy dressing room, is it?
I thought it would be more theatrical! "It suits me! I like the fact that it's quite a blank space. It helps me get into the character, to prepare for what I have to do. It's easier for me to put my life and myself to one side and get into the role of Javert before a performance, if there are few distractions in the room. And it also helps me leave him behind at the end of the show!
"Normally I allow myself one bunch of flowers but at the moment... [He gestures towards a single, dead, flower on a stringy stalk, that lies on top of some cheerful-looking good-luck cards] I think, if you are going to empty yourself before a performance and concentrate on it, then its easier to do so in a room like this, and it would be very self-centred to have a wall covered with a sort of tribute to my career - pictures of me in past productions or letters from people..."
The character you play, Javert, is a baddie, yet he's somehow a sympathetic character as well. How do you explain that?
"Javert is a very well-written character. He doesn't behave like a son of b**** all the time. He changes, he is forced to change, by Valjean, whose behaviour makes Javert reconsider everything: the rules by which he has lived his life, how he sees life, how he sees God.
"Although I've played a number of baddies in my career, Javert is not like the others, there's a sympathetic quality to him, as you said, and the fact that he can step outside his old self and attitudes, can ask himself where he went wrong, is very moving.
"So I get moved by his story, too, and I find the suicide scene especially well-written. As an actor it's a great role to play, you can get a lot out of it for yourself as well as for the audience."
You've been in Les Mis before, but in a very different role?
"Yes! I played Marius in Paris - and in French, of course! I enjoyed the role very much, but the run in Paris was relatively short, and there was not the opportunity for me to play Marius over here, and now I'm playing the villain rather than a hero!"
You played another memorable villain, at the Bridewell, in Killing Rasputin. Did you do much research for that role?
"Yes, I read a lot about him, and when I'd been doing some filming in the Ukraine for Sharpe's Rifles, the television series, I had about ten days holiday in Moscow before coming home, and I was able to go to a number of places where Rasputin had been, which was fascinating for me. We made a recording of Killing Rasputin but unfortunately the show didn't get taken any further. But that happens in theatre."
You've had an equally successful career on both sides of the English Channel. What's the main difference between the London and Paris theatre scene?
"People think of London as being much more of a theatre city than Paris but Paris had loads of theatre; a very vibrant theatre scene. Paris is quite a small city compared with London, but this gives a good sense of energy, that there is so much theatre going on there.
"The main difference is that there is no tradition of these very long runs of shows, especially musicals, that you get in London. The theatre season is also a defined one rather than all the year round. In Paris the season lasts about nine months, and in mid summer the theatres generally shut down - there would be very few running now, in August."
Fortunately Les Misérables is carrying on all through August - and for every month in the foreseeable future - at the Palace Theatre, where it has been playing for some sixteen years. Jerome Pradon can be seen in the role of Javert until December 2002.
by Paul Webb