Freedom of expression in danger: Stéphane Freiss warns teachers

Every day, Elodie Suigo welcomes a personality into her universe. On Thursday, January 18, 2024, it’s the turn of talented actor and director Stéphane Freiss to make his entrance. From January 24, he will light up the stage of the prestigious Théâtre Antoine with his participation in the play titled “The Dead Poets Society”. A work that promises to enchant the audience with its depth and poetic essence. The choice of Stéphane Freiss to embody one of the characters in this play is a real masterstroke, as his talent and stage presence are undeniable. Théâtre Antoine, a key location in Parisian culture, will be the setting for this magical encounter between the audience and this exceptional actor. Spectators will have the opportunity to dive into the fascinating world of “The Dead Poets Society,” a play that explores the depths of the human soul and the power of words. Stéphane Freiss, as a true master of ceremonies, will guide the audience through this extraordinary theatrical adventure. A unique opportunity to discover or rediscover this accomplished artist, who has conquered both cinema and theater. So, mark your calendars for Théâtre Antoine starting January 24th to live an unforgettable theatrical experience in the company of Stéphane Freiss and the entire cast of “The Dead Poets Society”.

Stéphane Freiss is an actor who always displays a radiant smile, brimming with energy and joy on stage. He began his career at a very young age, whether on the web or on the small screen, but it was at the Cours Florent and the National Conservatory of Dramatic Art that he truly found his calling. The public discovered him in 1987 in the film “Chouans!” directed by Philippe de Broca, in which he portrayed the character Aurèle de Kerfadec. This performance earned him the César Award for Most Promising Actor. Alternating between film, television, and even directing, Stéphane Freiss is now taking a break to focus on theater.

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Starting January 24th, he will play the role of Professor John Keating in the play “The Dead Poets Society” at Théâtre Antoine.

franceinfo: This role of the professor was made famous by Robin Williams in the film “The Dead Poets Society” in 1989. Now, you are playing it in a theater production. Does that already feel like a gift to you?

Stéphane Freiss: I will confide something in you. I am among the few people who had not seen the film. So I did not feel pressure regarding this event and this icon that the film represents for past and present generations. I knew that Robin Williams had marked the role, but I felt very free. We took some liberties while respecting certain constraints specific to cinema. We had to allow the audience to transition from “you” to “me.” In cinema, this is easy thanks to voiceover and various shots. In theater, words are essential. So, we worked on an approach that took a certain distance from the film, while hoping to satisfy the fans.

The story takes place in 1959 in Vermont, USA, and follows Professor John Keating, who teaches English literature. He stands out for his unique way of teaching his students, encouraging them to live in the moment and seek freedom. Is that also what interests you in this profession and in this play?

I believe that we should constantly question our certainties at every moment of our lives. This allows us to move forward and avoid collapse.

“It’s in moments of doubt that we truly build ourselves, that we question what we thought was acquired and know it’s an illusion.” – Stéphane Freiss

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I love the message that this man conveys. It is universal. It constantly tells us, “Wake up. Don’t believe everything is acquired!” It is in this way that we will help future generations understand something about life.

We are all touched by tragic events involving Dominique Bernard and Samuel Paty. Through this play, we realize how essential the role of the professor is, how much a teacher can change lives and allow some children, some adolescents, to discover themselves.

The main reason I chose to play this play is because the freedom of expression a teacher must have is in danger. It is essential to convey this message, especially through theater. There is something profoundly empathetic and emotional in this play. Who hasn’t dreamed of having a teacher like John Keating? Did everyone have their John Keating? I’m not sure.

When you were a child, you experienced a very difficult moment, the separation of your parents. You struggled with this situation and withdrew into yourself. At first, you lived with your mom, then you were placed in a boarding school. You even ran away. Furthermore, you have always been deeply affected by your ancestors, as except for your maternal grandparents, they were all deported. Does it feel like your John Keating was the Cours Florent for you? Isn’t that also what life is about, needing and accepting others to nourish us?

Indeed, life is about encounters. What you say is absolutely true. Many things have marked my life and, being someone who takes time to assimilate what happens to me… Last year, I made a film…

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Was this film, “You Will Choose Life,” a response to all of this?

Over time, I realize that it wasn’t me who chose my characters, but rather they chose me. The accumulation of all these character choices has occurred almost without my realizing it. It has built me and brought me a lot of happiness so far, but also a bit of frustration, which is normal because it reflects back to me. It is wonderful to be able to use John Keating’s voice to preach the good word, but it also has to resonate within me. That’s why I do it. It allows me to awaken my critical sense towards the world and myself. It is a real opportunity to do this job today, under these conditions.

Everything is based on the famous “carpe diem.” Do you allow yourself to be happy today? It took you time to accept happiness, due to what your ancestors went through. Do you now accept and live the “carpe diem”?

I don’t know. I try to let myself be vulnerable to those who have a sincere intention of helping me live better. I not only try to live the “carpe diem,” but also to pass it on to my children. My film and this character were in fact a representation of that.


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