“When my grandmother first entered the set, I cried in torrents”

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Thomas Jolly, 4 years old, in 1986. “At that age, I was already beginning to stage my family and my friends in shows at home,” he says.

“Here I am on what must be Christmas Eve 1986, in Normandy. I’m 4 years old and my hair is still straight. I love this velvet sofa, these little slippers and this shiny suit that my grandmother Denise had made for me. Later, there will be other costumes for other Christmases: I remember in particular a model all in gold and silver…

At that age, I was already beginning to stage my family and my friends in shows at home, in La Rue-Saint-Pierre, a village in Seine-Maritime. Before I tackle Seven pranks for schoolchildren, by Pierre Gripari, given to me by my mother when I was around 6 years old, I was doing cartoon scenes. I have great memories ofAsterix and Cleopatra, in particular, where a friend played the taster when it was I who played Cleopatra!

I regularly went on vacation to my grandparents, near Saint-Martin-du-Vivier. My grandfather gave catechism lessons to children in their house, I saw them disembark on Wednesdays and, I who did not receive a religious education, I was on the side, listening with half an ear without really understanding . My grandmother had been a nurse. Ah, my grandmother… A very beautiful woman, a whimsical side that I have always loved. Scarves, jewelry, hats, gloves, colors… Elegant.

“I thought to what extent we theater people had already lost, at the age of 20, the exceptional dimension of what it is to go on stage. »

At the end of my studies at the National Theater of Brittany, in 2005, Stanislas Nordey, who was the director, gave us carte blanche to put on a play. I have chosen Photography, by Jean-Luc Lagarce, a little played text around friendship, this complex relationship which remains a mystery to me. The play tells the story of seven old friends who have experienced a tragedy. With an absent, Catherine.

Members of my class, aged 20 to 25, played the characters, and I wanted it to be imagined that these young people were actually dead and that this Catherine, who has a monologue, was the only one who survived. For this, an older actress was needed. “Ask Isabelle Huppert, Nordey suggested to me when I was just a 23-year-old college student. I had another idea: what if I proposed to my grandmother? Without really believing it, I call her and she answers me: Yes, of course, I’m coming.” I was touched.

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On stage, I ask him to start from the back of the stage, to come and sit on a chair in the foreground. She had to remain static, silent, while the text of the monologue was projected behind her and Isle of the Dead, by Rachmaninoff. When she first entered the set, during rehearsals, I cried profusely.

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I thought to what extent we theater people had already lost, at the age of 20, the exceptional dimension of what it is to go on stage. I saw her in great vulnerability covering the twenty meters that I had traced and it overwhelmed me. During a lunch, I thanked her again for having accepted. It was there that she confided to me that, when she was younger, her first dream was to become an actress.

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I was upset. Perhaps this is one of the keys to my vocation? Does the desire to play pass in a filial way, in an underground way? In this family where no one went to the theater or the opera, it’s as if I had inherited, without being aware of it, a frustrated desire to finally make it happen. »

The Dragon, by Evgueni Schwartz, directed by Thomas Jolly. At the Quai d’Angers, from January 18 to 25. Then on tour.