Living in parallel with my passion
The same year, I entered a preparatory course at ESC Rouen and the theatre conservatory in the same town. After the competitive exams, I entered the ESC Le Havre, now EM Normandie. I stopped the conservatory because I couldn't do both.
For the record, the French actors Franck Dubosc, Valérie Lemercier and Karin Viard were students at the conservatory that year. I will never know what would have happened to me if I had stayed at the conservatory. I had three exceptional years during my studies in Le Havre. We created a theatre club at the school and put on several shows.
In the third year, we created the first inter-school festival: the "café-théâtre".
Students from several schools came for this event. With Laurent, a friend from my class, we performed a sketch between each of the schools' performances. At the end of the evening, people told us that our sketches were great! Laurent and I said to ourselves that there might be an opportunity to explore.
One year, I had to leave to do my military service. There was no way I was going to go to the army! Instead, it was possible to do a 16-month period in a company or for an administration abroad. I found a job at INSEE in Guyana. When I told my friends in the class that I was going to work in statistics, they laughed a lot. My maths level was rather average.
Putting on your first show
Laurent and I had made a bet that when I returned we would put on a show. We rented a small theatre in the 20th arrondissement of Paris. We made a few calls to invite people to attend and ended up with 400 reservations! So we had to rent the theatre for four performances.
I had already found a job in marketing and Laurent had already started working. We didn't really need the money. With these 400 spectators, we had a very funny show followed by a big party in Fontainebleau financed with the proceeds of the show.
Two years later, we decided to put on a second show. We did six performances because there were even more people registered. Instead of having a party, we offered champagne to all the spectators.
Given the success of the show, I thought that there must be something more to it. We even had the idea of a third show. Laurent and I said to ourselves: what if we went for it?
For my part, I even took acting lessons again. I had started working for the Hachette group to promote the first European theme park. I was in charge of marketing and stock management. There were seven shops and a supermarket.
My manager told me that a new division was being launched. He was very satisfied with my work and wanted me to work alone with a manager. But I had already accepted a proposal from an advertising agency. Hachette had renewed my trial period. It was too late, my decision was made.
Seizing the opportunity
I went to work as an advertising manager for the Eldorado agency on the Champs-Élysées, opposite Fouquet's. We had incredible budgets and worked for big brands like Cacharel, Benetton, Hermès, Les Galeries Lafayette... I arrived like a UFO! The receptionist admitted to me later that when I arrived, she thought I was a courier.
After two and a half years with the agency, I had a realization.
The manager told me that we had been awarded a contract in the humanitarian sector and that we were going to "make a fortune". I was shocked by this announcement! I thought I was useless.
I went to see my boss to ask him to give me a raise and to review my assignments or I would be leaving the agency. He told me he would look into it. However, I had no strategy if I left this job.
An hour later, the director of that small theatre in the 20th arrondissement called to tell me that he was starting to programme shows. He wanted to hire me to manage communications.
In my head, I already wanted to go. But my mind was telling me: you're going to leave a great agency to go to a very small theatre, you'll divide your salary by three. I thought about it all weekend... I imagined not going and regretting it 10 years later!
Getting started as an actor
I worked in this theatre for a year. It didn't go well because the director of the theatre recruited too many people.
This fed-upness finally made me want to start acting.
So I wrote my first one-man show called "Dessous de Fables", a show based on the Fables of La Fontaine.
I found myself performing this show for two months at the café-théâtre "Au Bec Fin" near the Opéra in Paris. Then I wrote another play called "Active la vie". To promote it, I phoned a hundred theatres. Fifty asked me to send them a letter. Twenty asked for a dossier and then ten asked for a script. Three read it and of these three, one theatre wanted to take it on, the Essaïon theatre next to Beaubourg.
I go to this theatre to fix the dates of the show. The person in charge told me that she found the text very good. Ten minutes later, we had already fixed the performance dates.
The show started off well! The first few days we had a lot of spectators, but then the number of spectators decreased quite quickly.
The director of the theatre called me to say that she was not completely satisfied with the production. She suggested that I continue for another week and then stop the show. I tried to keep calm because that would mean closing my business! Indeed, I had received a grant for 26 performances which I would lose if we cancelled now.
I reminded her that we had done the rehearsals in her own theatre and she had never come to see them. It was up to her. I wanted to go through with it, which we did.
The number of spectators finally went up and we ended up with full houses. In the end, it was she who came with the champagne!
Choosing an artistic profession
In my artistic profession, I am often told that I act, sing and write well. However, choosing the artistic path is not financially advantageous. I asked myself why I didn't work more in entertainment. I think I had too much financial security. I had to really dive in, which I did.
My artistic income increased because I met a lot of people. But it didn't make up for what I had before. I thought that maybe I should go into a speciality to be recognised. I asked other artists older than me for advice and they told me that it was better to be versatile. I took this advice with the desire to move forward.
As long as I have a roof over my head, my health and I can support myself, everything is fine! The rest is a bonus.
Friends from my class who have comfortable jobs often ask me: "François, when are you going to break through? I answer them: "I've already had a breakthrough for over 20 years.
For them, breaking through means being a headliner in the cinema, which means being one of the 150 actors chosen from among thousands of actors in France. This is like asking them: "When will you become CEO of a CAC 40 company?
In the world of work, you can have two kinds of vision. Working to make as much money as possible so that you can have fun on the side. Or accepting that one's passion can become a job, even if it means not realising that one is working.
Both have disadvantages: when you work for money, you always want more and have even less time to enjoy yourself. When you confuse passion and work, everything gets mixed up and you have to know how to separate the two.
When you work in a company, you can complain about your boss, whereas in an artistic profession, you can only complain about yourself! You have to have constant meetings with yourself to take stock of your organisation. I am sometimes hard on myself. When I haven't worked hard enough, I feel that I don't deserve this or that.
One piece of advice I would give: when you think about your future, ask yourself what you want. If something comes to you spontaneously, try it. And if you fall down, you'll get back up. You won't find yourself in 20 or 30 years regretting not having tried.