When Dominique met DeNiro

Dominique Serrand appears opposite Robert DeNiro in DeNiro’s latest comedy, “The Family.”

“It was terrifying.”

Dominique Serrand

That’s how Dominique Serrand describes his acting turn opposite Robert DeNiro in DeNiro’s latest comedy, “The Family,” which opens nationwide Friday. From the looks of the trailer, Serrand – co-founder of Twin Cities theater groups Theatre de la Jeune Lune and The Moving Company – had plenty to be frightened about, what with the star of “The Godfather,” “Raging Bull,” “Cape Fear,” and “Taxi Driver” lurching across a desk at him.

“He’s just brutalizing me, which he had great fun doing,” said Serrand by phone from Chapel Hill, N.C., where he’s directing a new production of “The Tempest” at Playmakers Repertory Company

 “He was very much into it, smiling for the camera as he went. We did it seven or eight times. They were all surprised because they were saying not to brutalize this old guy too much, but I’ve done some acrobatics and I jumped over the desk and they liked that. It was fun.”

In late September last year, the 62-year-old Serrand was visiting family in the south of France when he got a call from a casting agent who’d heard he was in the country. He did a short audition film, got the job and script, and a few days later when the production team secured the date for the filming of his one scene, then and only then did they tell him he’d be acting one-on-one with the incomparable DeNiro.

“So of course I just got freaked out,” said Serrand, who plays the corrupt mayor of a small French village in the film, which also stars Tommie Lee Jones and Michelle Pfeiffer. “I’ve always admired him immensely, of course he’s one of the finest actors we have. So it was like finally, sitting across from really a huge icon in the cinema. … I was quite moved. He’s pretty incredible on the set, and quite generous.

“The day of the shoot, I went to the little village in the West of France, and did costume and make-up and the whole shebang. And I had to shoot it in English. That’s why I got the part, the whole film is in English.

“We rehearsed the scene without him, in the big room with all the lights and cameras and people, and when we were done rehearsing, finally they brought him in the room and said, ‘Action!’ I was just terrified. But it was a great day. I will remember it. He was just amazing to get inspired from. Brilliant, brilliant actor and his behavior on the set was quite incredible. He doesn’t move, he stays very concentrated, doesn’t talk. We didn’t talk, we didn’t say a word, and then, ‘We’re done!’ ”

At that, DeNiro hugged and thanked Serrand, and the two actors went their separate ways. This weekend, they’ll be joined together on movie screens all over the world. Will Serrand steal away to a Chapel Hill multiplex to re-live the brutalization?

“No, I think I’m going to wait,” he said. “I’ll see it eventually. I don’t want to see how bad I was.”

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