Photographs: Getty Images, Neon; Collage: Gabe Conte
When Anatomy of a Fall won this year’s Golden Globe for Best Picture - Non-English Language, director Justine Triet thanked the cast, including Swann Arlaud, whom she called “the sexiest lawyer in the French Alps.” Since the moment the film premiered in late 2023, the internet has similarly been enraptured by the elusive actor, who plays the attorney defending Sandra, the protagonist at the center of the Academy Award-nominated film’s did-she-or-didn’t-she courtroom drama.
“I think he’s not the kind of man we’re used to seeing in movies,” Arlaud suggests to GQ, when asked to pin down his character’s appeal. “He’s in love with Sandra, but he just does not say it. He doesn't try anything. He doesn't think about himself, he's just here for her. I'm not responsible for this, I'm lucky because I was born in this century.”
The 42-year-old grew up in an entertainment family. His mother was a casting director; his father was set designer. Arlaud originally wanted to be a visual artist. Those around him urged him to audition for roles they knew of, and when he found himself feeling lost at 25, he took them up on it. After landing small roles in some miniseries, he went on to star in films like 2018’s By the Grace of God, for which he took home a César Award for Best Supporting Actor.
Before traveling to Norway to film his next project, an adaptation of David Vann's novel Sukkwan Island, Arlaud zoomed in from Paris to talk to GQ about catty French courtrooms, the questions of justice explored in the film, and—bien sûr—his hair-care routine.
When you read the screenplay, which scene made you want to be in this film?
There was no particular scene. It's really exciting to play a lawyer. I think that was the first reason. And of course, the script was so brilliant. I think lawyers are actors in a way—they have to build the story, believe it, and convince people, so they have to play a part. As an actor, we are also lawyers, because we have to defend our character.
Are French courtrooms accurately depicted in the movie? People were talking about how the courtroom scenes felt like reality TV, in terms of how catty the lawyers get. Is it like that or is it much more procedural?
No, I think it's like that. I think the difference [compared to courtrooms in other countries] is that in France you can speak whenever you want. When the other lawyer is leading or is talking you say, “No, no, I don't agree! What are you talking about?” You can have verbal fights.
This is French, and it's kind of a mess. The whole scene is a mess. Maybe Justine took some liberties about the prosecutor, because I think normally maybe they have a bit less movement. She wanted to show the contrast between the two lawyers. She wanted the prosecutor to be [really] nasty. He's moving like an animal. Also, the defense is on the ground, but the prosecutor and the judge are on a higher level, so they are judging them.
You’ve worked on a lot of shows and films about crime and justice. What draws you to these projects?
I'm interested in stories, and maybe I'm more touched or moved when there is a subject with a lot about injustice and French social problems. It’s not a choice. It's intuitive. I go where I feel something and when I want to be part of it.
What do you think about this story that has captivated so many people?
There are so many things—people like stories about crimes, courtroom scenes, and everything. Also, I think there is something modern, feminist, in a way because the first character is a woman and she's free and maybe that's a reason why she's accused, like she's free to be a good writer, she earns more money than her husband.
It’s precise. It's brilliant. But it's not like, “Okay, we're doing a feminist movie.” Cinema used to show women as objects of decoration. I think this is a point that's important about the success of the movie.
Obviously, the dog was so good, too.
Yeah, I was going to ask you about the dog.
The fun fact was that we have, of course, cats or dogs trained for cinema, but he was not. I think Justine [saw] the dog and the woman who was taking care of him and asked, “Do you want him to play in a movie?” The last scene when Sandra goes into the office, lays down, and the dog comes to her, is not scripted.
Your hair was like a character of its own in the film. What’s your hair care routine?
I don't do anything. It's funny because Justine said, “Okay, I want you with long hair and I want it like this,” and she showed me some pictures of me at an awards ceremony and said, “Yeah, I want you to have this haircut,” so that was her idea.
You shot a lot of this film in the French Alps. Did you get to explore much of the area?
Yeah, it's a strange region. It’s really beautiful, but on the other hand, there is something very scary about it. When the sun sets, you begin to feel like, “Okay, there is some ghost, maybe, in the house.” Maybe that was because of the story we were shooting, but yeah, there was a strange feeling in this area.
Do you think that Sandra killed her husband?
Nobody knows. I don't know. It's like in the movie—every person, each one of us, has to choose. Justine didn't want to give us an answer, and when Sandra was asking her, “Just tell it to me. I have to know. I have to play guilty or not. Tell me,” Justine was like, “I don't know.” Me, as my character Vincent Renzi, I believe she's innocent, because I have to believe it and I have to convince everyone of her innocence.
It's the same when the kid is like, “Okay, I don't know now. What can I do?” Marge Berger [the court monitor in the film] tells him, "If you have a doubt, then you have to choose.” For the child, this will change everything in his life. He had already lost his father and he cannot lose his mother—so, yeah, he would think that she's innocent. But nobody knows. I think this is the strength of the story, is that the movie ends and we still don't know, and we see that child and say, Okay, you're going to live your whole life without knowing really if your mother killed your father.
Originally Appeared on GQ