Canadian theatre legend Louis Negin was the first actor to ever appear nude on a legitimate British stage, in John Herbert’s Fortune and Men’s Eyes in London’s West End back in 1967. “In London at that time if you went to see a play with nudity in it, you had to join a theatre club which couldn’t be closed down by the police,” Negin recalls. “When Lord Chamberlain dissolved that law, Herbert’s Fortune and Men’s Eyes – with its explicit scenes of gay rape in prison – was a huge success in the West End.”
But it was an incident on opening night made sensational headlines worldwide: “There I am in the nude onstage and my mom stands up in the audience and says, ‘Louis, put your pants back on!’ I thought I would faint on the spot. The story ran in newspapers around the world. My mom did interviews and there were paparazzi camped outside the house!”
London-born Negin – who first moved to Montreal during its Sin-City heyday – has also performed on Broadway; met or worked with almost every glamourous star of the 20th century, from Marlene Dietrich and Marilyn Monroe to Joan Collins and Isabella Rossellini; and co-stars (along with Roy Dupuis, Geraldine Chaplin, Marie Brassard, Udo Kier and Charlotte Rampling) in director Guy Maddin’s new movie The Forbidden Room, closing film of the 44th edition of Montreal’s famed Festival du nouveau cinema.
What is your favourite pastime?
I have spent three-quarters of my life in cafés drinking cappuccino!
How long have you been a Montrealer?
Though I once lived in Toronto for 40 years, I always kept a tiny pied-a-terre in Montréal, at Carré St-Louis. Every time I felt the pressure was too much, I would run away back to Montréal and be very happy, go to a good restaurant, make love, drink wine. I’ve always had great affection for Montréal ever since I first came here when I was very young and dreaming of Hollywood. I arrived in Montreal and, my god, I was suddenly in nightclubs with showgirls, going out with gangsters, and I must have been about 15 years old!
What is the coolest thing you’ve done so far this year?
I filmed two music videos, which I had never done before in my life. One was for Montreal-based artist and musician Daniel Isaiah for his single Heaven Is on Fire which also starred Marie Brassard.
What is it you love most about acting?
I love that you are allowed to use your emotions.
What is it like being the muse of Guy Maddin?
It’s having a director that you love, and hope he loves you. You go through times when you think, ‘Oh, I’ll never work again. The phone isn’t ringing, they hate me, nobody wants me, go back to hairdressing!’ Sometime in life you will meet one person – a director or producer– who is on your wavelength. (Guy) says one word and I know exactly what he means and I know where to go with it.
Who is the most glamourous actress you have ever met or worked with?
I’ve worked with a lot of very famous stars, and I think one woman who had the glamour of another time was English actress Margaret Leighton. At the time we were doing the play Much Ado About Nothing on Broadway (in 1959) with John Gielgud. I was cast because I had good legs and looked good in pink tights! Maggie always had 1920s-style make-up and hair and looked impeccable at all times. She was so together, beautiful and charming. Maggie always was a lady, just perfect.
What is your favourite Montréal memory?
It was my introduction to all the nightclubs. It was like being in a Jimmy Cagney movie, then suddenly it was all for real.
I’ve gone through a million restaurants, but my favourite is L’Express on Rue St-Denis because it is very sophisticated, where you can feel like a movie star. It’s what you expect a French bistro to be. The place has memories. I also really enjoy Le Filet on Rue Mont-Royal, which is a place to go if you want to have fun. It’s noisy, glamourous, a great place to bring guests from out of town.
Where do you like to go for drinks with friends?
I go a lot to the Arts Café on Rue Fairmount. They get a lot of well-known people, like Xavier Dolan, many great French-Canadian actors, lots of artists, writers and film people. It could be the Left Bank in Paris! I miss that a lot when I’m not here. Toronto may have great big $10-million restaurants, but it just doesn’t have that kind of ambiance.
What is the next big thing you’re planning?
I did a play with Marie Brassard (2008’s critically-acclaimed The Glass Eye) which was about (my) growing up in Montreal. Now I want to write the second half of it. I’ve started writing it, but it’s weird going back in your life and sorting through all the memories because you remember very strange things!
Louis Negin co-stars in The Forbidden Room, closing film of the 44th annual Festival du nouveau cinema. The festival runs Oct. 7 – 18, 2015. The Forbidden Room will screen on Oct. 17. Festival website: www.nouveaucinema.ca.