This Monday, August 22, 2022, France 3 is broadcasting “La Chèvre”. If the cult film by Francis Veber still attracts the French public, it is obviously thanks to the comic power of the equally cult duo formed by Gérard Depardieu and Pierre Richard. However, behind the scenes, the days of filming were particularly eventful.
The story of “La Chèvre”, released in 1981, is that of a catastrophic duo. There is François Perrin, a man as unlucky as he is endearing, played by Pierre Richard. And then the private detective Campana, played on screen by Gérard Depardieu. Together, the two men embark on the search for the daughter of the great CEO Bens, kidnapped in Mexico during her vacation. On the program therefore: many adventures and now cult scenes. If today the film has entered the hearts of the French, at the start, everything did not (at all) go as planned…
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Gérard Depardieu should not have been part of the cast
As the RTL teams revealed, the story of “La Chèvre” could have been quite different. Indeed, after writing the screenplay for his film, Francis Veber’s choice did not immediately fall on Pierre Richard and Gérard Depardieu. At that time, if the first was already well known for his comic power, the second had never done comedy. On the contrary, the director first thinks of Lino Ventura to embody the character of Detective Campana. The actor then accepts… but is not at all enthusiastic about Francis Veber’s first choice for the role of François Perrin: Jacques Villeret. The director turns his back and then falls back on Pierre Richard, “a choice validated by Lino Ventura”.
But it was almost too easy. And Lino Ventura’s whims continue. The actor “suddenly withdraws from filming. He claims that his fee is ultimately not important enough”, revealed RTL. So much for the official reason given at the time by the star of Tontons Flingueurs. In truth, it is very different: “Like Jean Gabin who was wary of filming with Louis de Funès, he was afraid that Pierre Richard, with his blunders and his gags, would steal the show from him.” Not disconcerted for a penny, Pierre Richard then takes things in hand and himself suggests the name of Gérard Depardieu to play the role of detective Campana. Jackpot!
An untenable duo
We know it: to make a good film, it is not always enough to have good actors. And from the start of filming, Francis Veber and his teams had to worry. It must be said that the conditions were, to say the least, extreme. Shot in Mexico, the film took place under 40 degrees, in a fauna particularly hostile to all human life. It was then necessary to deal with all that ensues: exhausting heat but also insects of all kinds and snakes not really reassuring. So much so that in the middle of filming, Pierre Richard was stung by a wasp, while Gérard Depardieu, who was walking barefoot, was stung by a scorpion! What to add to the morale of the actor who, if he was very happy to give the reply to Pierre Richard, regretted not playing the role of François Perrin.
Pierre Richard, meanwhile, had no problem playing the role of this unlucky guy, who goes on blunders… and slaps! In 1981, for the promotion of the film, he explained as follows: “I don’t have a taste for painkillers. I have a job. Don’t think I am amused to take slaps. Unfortunately, there are people who are born with a slapped head. It would seem that I am one of those people. I take them very well, moreover, with a smile, because I’m used to it. In this film, I am indeed sent straight to the slaughterhouse because we know that disasters are going to happen to me and we want to use these disasters to get to the truth. So they send me with Gérard Depardieu, who plays Campana, the detective, to the Mexico, in a dangerous and mysterious country, and then I am observed. As an entomologist observes an insect. We know that my disasters will advance the truth.”
Added to all this are the escapades of the duo during the filming of the film. Very good friends in life, they made Francis Veber’s head spin. “We were like two kids with a kind but authoritarian father”, has already declared Pierre Richard about this unforgettable shoot. “We drank secretly in the bedroom, we went out at night as soon as he was asleep. We made fun of him because he worked out every morning and we hid behind the glass to watch him sweat.” Result: the film became cult. Hat !
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