We are in conversation with the 26 years old Italian-French actor and performer Sebastien Tagliavia Halnaut, he told us about how's surviving during the lockdown caused by the pandemic.

young actor and performer Sebastien Halnaut

Picture by Flavia Castorina

Suddenly we are all without a stage, without an audience, bounded in the monotonous space of our rooms. Both real-life and artist's life seem to be a mirage, we dream and regret that duality hoping to get it back. But then, has it ever existed a separation between the two?

I believe that the dream cannot exist without reality and reality without the dream. As a young actor I happen to be out of work, but I’m constantly looking for it, I send emails, update my CV with photos or videos, practice in front of a camera, study scenes and prepare for new auditions. Then I go to bed and dream of being on the biggest Hollywood sets, working with the greatest actors of the world, winning awards... the very first feeling when I wake up in the morning after these dreams: a bad feeling? No, a wonderful one!

Guess what I have been dreaming a lot these days? I was acting with my colleagues, but I was also having a coffee with a friend or a beer with my best friend, I was having dinner with my parents. Not being able to live the daily life anymore, this became my most recurring dream. In these months I understood better the meaning of the verses of Shakespeare's The Tempest: "We are such stuff as dreams are made on; and our little life is rounded with a sleep."

Picture by Filippo Serra

Many young people want everything quickly, without doing an apprenticeship, without learning the hard way through sweat, effort and sacrifice.

Everything is a show, often banal, conventional, repetitive but performed as unique, unrepeatable, wonderful; can an actor today take back the right to be on stage? What can his new habitat be?

I think that with all the technological means we have today, a way to make art, despite the difficulties, is always there. There will be a change in the coming months to allow actors and technicians to work safely but the problem is knowing who represents us, who speaks for us as a category. Artists have always been underrepresented, in the last 30 years very few politicians defended, invested and spoke for our culture. I suggest everyone to see on Youtube the monologue by the writer Stefano Massini, "Io non sono inutile" (I’m not useless), where he asks all of us citizens to think about what our quarantine would have been like without actors, singers, musicians and writers, that is, without books, movies, music and songs. The actor will regain his habitat, which is not only the presence of the audience, but also being in action, always. I have recently read in "Acting in front of the camera" by Michael Caine: "Acting is not only more than a part-time job: it's even more than a full-time job. It's a full-time obsession."

A young actor, a performer, who works on the body, on the presence, on the narrator's voice and today also on how his image is perceived by the potential and real audience. Was it the same for the generations before yours or do you think that now everything has changed or is changing for the better or worse?

I don't know if it has changed for the better or for the worse, maybe in both ways but you don't have to be nostalgic or nihilistic. Today there are many more means to emerge, more productions, more schools where to study. But there is also more competition. Technological progress, social media, TV, they are all in unstoppable progress. Being always in the spotlight, as pop artists, is a constant excitement. In 1981 MTV was born, the first music TV, and the American singer and songwriter Billy Joel said: "They destroyed the vitality of rock 'n' roll! Once it was a matter of listening, now it is a matter of watching!". For a rapper like the Italian Guè Pequeno, rap should no longer be listened to, but watched. However, the media influence can be harmful for the artistic dream. Many young people want everything quickly, without doing an apprenticeship, without learning the hard way through sweat, effort and sacrifice. I think of a phrase by Ian McKellen: "I suggest every young actor not to lose too much energy thinking about when their time will come, or the role that will change their life, or when they will finally be a star, but to concentrate the energies in building their career step by step. For example, look at me: nobody remembers my face before I turned 60!". He is one of the best actors in the world.

Picture by Flavia Castorina

Art as a spiritual revolution, the idea of a shared Beauty, the importance of Culture and its conquest are among the ideas that worked even twenty years ago but are they motivations still valid today or do you feel that there has been an irremediable epochal and generational fracture?

Art is affected by the air you breathe in every age, be it good or bad. Today we do not have political movements that put Art and Culture at the centre of their action. I think that to be in opposition to these movements means having a true ideal and no weapon will ever be more powerful than culture as a possible existential solution. I also think that looking at the works of the past as models for renewal will give us that spiritual richness that we need, like oxygen.

We must use technological progress, the online platforms through which films, books, music, become accessible to all, at the right price, to feed our inspiration.

Quentin Tarantino says that if there hadn't been Sergio Leone's western films, he wouldn't have existed. If there hadn't been Stanislavsky, cinema wouldn't exist today. I have re-watched great films like "Breakfast Club" by John Hughes (1984), "Dead Poets Society" by Peter Weir (1989), "Scent of a Woman" by Martin Brest (1993), "The Shawshank Redemption" by Frank Darabont (1995), "La Haine" by Mathieu Kassovitz (1995), "The Truman Show" also by Peter Weir (1998), "The Great Dictator" by Charlie Chaplin (1943); in "Romeo + Juliet" by Baz Luhrmann (1996); thanks to the genius of the director and the talent of excellent actors, the seventeenth-century Shakespearian poetry played by characters in a modern setting remains intact in its expressive power and precious content. Shakespeare is the greatest playwright ever: he said what needed to be said, he said what was said, he said what will be said. True great works are sacred and immortal, but if we do not use them anymore, then they will be gone forever. And if they will no longer be there, the only thing left is a banana stuck to a wall sold for millions of dollars and passed off as art!

Picture by Flavia Castorina

The image of ourselves, narcissism and the need to be looked at by others, a time not far away full of actors, singers, politicians, with the selective and ferocious arrogance of social media seems to have infected everyone, we show every single detail of us to others, and they call it privacy...

It happened to me once when a theatre manager wanted me to fit in a look that didn't belong to me at all. I told him that I didn't like it, but he shouted: "Who cares! The others must like you." I think if you really like yourself, then other people can like you as well. If you are in conflict with yourself, you will be in conflict with the whole world. That's why I recommend everyone of my generation, from 15 to 25 years old, to watch Peter Weir's "Dead Poets Society", a movie that changed my life. Professor John Keating, played by the amazing Robin Williams, says: “Now we all have a great need for acceptance, but you must trust that your beliefs are unique, your own, even though others may think them odd or unpopular, even though the herd may go, "that's b - - a - - d.” As Robert Frost said, "Two roads diverged in the wood and I, I took the one less travelled by, and that has made all the difference.”

You said that technology has given us huge expressive advantages too, and that learning how to use it is getting easier and faster. Is speed a new value or should we slow down, reflect, take breaks, and stand out from the crowd?

I personally do not believe that a constant use of technology equals being mainstream. It is true that taking a pause to reflect does not hurt anyone, I often need it too, but I find it reductive and dangerous to wage war on technological progress. Medias, social medias, and computers are part of our age, part of our history. A young person can stand out when they can make use of them, different from others. Keeping technology out means to stay out of the world. For an actor it's fundamental to have an agency, but maybe also to have a social profile. If a show isn't well promoted, how many people will come to see it?

It's clear that in an age of constant acceleration, one risks succumbing to the homologation of the content, just to remain visible to the generalized mass of users, but form and content must be differentiated, if they match it’s good but not necessary.

Picture by Filippo Serra

My dream is to be able to reach young people, to share hopes so that one day they will recognize themselves in me. I want to dedicate a work or a prize to young outcasts, marginalized, different, those brutally defined as "losers", to make them understand that if they are different it is only because they are probably special.

What influences you the most when thinking about the future, quality or quantity, being there, or just being?

That's a question I often ask myself. A few months ago I met someone who told me that the question asked young people, "What do you want to do when you grow up", bothered him a lot. According to him, asking this question put them in a state of anxiety that made them think about the future with anguish, without focusing enough on the present. It’s like live and let live. I believe that growing up living the street and hanging out in different environments, in this country there are young people from 17 to 25 years old who don’t know what to do with their lives. They have no dreams or ambitions. I just turned 26 and I often come back to Milan and meet people I grew up with, they still don't know or imagine anything about their future. For me they are always the same, stuck in a sterile adolescence that never ends. But that initial question clearly reveals how people like me tend to daydream too much. This makes one idealize the future but loses sight of the contingency of the present and its undelayable needs... finding a balance between what is necessary and what is superfluous, between dream and reality, this is the real challenge. So my final answer is both to be there and to be.

Picture by Filippo Serra

What do you think your real stage could be in the future, on what condition, at what price?

My dream is to be able to reach young people, to share hopes so that one day they will recognize themselves in me. I want to dedicate a work or a prize to young outcasts, marginalized, different, those brutally defined as "losers", to make them understand that if they are different it is only because they are probably special. Many adults think that the adolescent crisis is a ridiculous thing...but that’s not true. You are vulnerable and you begin to understand that life is not a game, so how much will it hurt the first time you are rejected, when until the day before you were feeling invulnerable? In my adolescence I had a great time, I met those people who I think will remain my friends for the rest of my life but I also saw horrible things, that I will never forget. I've seen good guys who couldn't get over their first pains wasting themselves with drugs and becoming zombies, friendships ruined for something very silly. But I've also seen teenagers, who were not considered by anyone, build a personality by working head down, with humility, living with their own wounds that made them stronger. Jack London used to say that adolescence is a time when experience is won by bite. Plato, instead, said that a boy, of all the wild beasts, was the most difficult to treat. And I would like to share with you this quote, that is not from a great writer or philosopher, but from an Italian rapper (or trapper) of today, whom I listen to a lot. His name is Tedua and he says: "I am weak. The future is in the hands of the weak ones who have taken courage."

Interview & Article by

Giampaolo Testoni

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