On the occasion of the January 16 release of the film "The Incredible Story of the Horse Postman" by director Niels Tavernier with Laetitia Casta in the role of his wife, Jacques Gamblin looks back on one of the most significant roles of his career ...

At the end of the 19th century, Joseph Ferdinand Cheval (Jacques Gamblin), was a simple postman who traveled through the Drôme every day, from village to village. Lonely, he is upset when he meets the woman of his life, Philomène (Laetitia Casta). From their union is born Alice. For this child whom he loves more than anything, Cheval then threw himself into a crazy gamble: to build her an incredible palace with his own hands. Never spared by the trials of life, this ordinary man will not give up and will devote 33 years of his life to building an extraordinary work in Hauterives in the Drôme: "The Ideal Palace".

Jacques Gamblin - © David Raynal

Did you know the true story of Postman Cheval?

Not good no. I wasn't sure if it was real or rather a legend. Who was Cheval? I came into the knowledge of this story really thanks to the film. Afterwards, I immersed myself in this character through his great inner journey.

Why did you accept to take on this role which is both very physical and very demanding psychologically?

The riddle was fascinating. There is undoubtedly in this man an element of madness, a lot of mysticism and something also of the order of the cosmic. But once we have said that, we have said nothing, nothing is resolved, nothing is explained. Capturing the mystery of this man, about whom we know very little since he left nothing apart from a few notebooks, was for me one of the engines of my motivation.

Did the fact that Joseph Ferdinand Cheval is a factor have you been determining in his work?

I never thought about it. Apart from the fact that the postman is a man who transmits information and messages, he is also someone who brings imagination and mystery ... His postman activity has enabled him to travel thirty-two kilometers by day. And during his long tour, it gave him time to dream, to see and to observe. I think that all these hours spent on the roads of the Drôme have fed his imagination, for this work that he has accomplished all his life. There is also something in the image of the poetic factor. Personally, I have always liked sending letters and having them read several days later. The postman is a character who in the collective unconscious has always had a part of poetry.

Can you tell us about the unconditional support of his wife Philomène?

It is first of all a scriptwriting point of view from the director Nils Tavernier, Fanny Desmarès and Laurent Bertoni. The character was already in the writing in this beautiful benevolence. A love for a man, such as he is. Laetitia quickly understood that the power of the role lay in this point. She is there and loves this man as he is. It cannot be justified, it cannot be explained. Unlike many of our own stories, sometimes marred by frustrations, we always go looking for things in each other that they don't give us. And we are often wrong, because if he does not give them, it is because he is not made to give them. Philomène only takes what he gives her. This is what is rare, beautiful and modern in this romantic relationship. Certainly, he gives her little, but she continues to love him and accompany him when he is struck by the discouragement, especially after the death of their daughter, to continue his work. It's absolutely beautiful and I think this romantic story is one of the strengths of the film between these two characters crossing and brushing against each other. Since there are few words, everything is lifted up and gaining power. It all happens through the bodies. It is a work over time. It takes 33 years to build it, like his palace. In this sense, it is a film of resistance over time and the acceptance of time.

1879-1912: 10 days, 000 hours, 93 years of hardship - Photo: DR

How do you interpret the touching sympathy of the postmaster played by Bernard Le Coq with regard to the factor Cheval?

I really like in the film my relationship with Bernard Le Coq who plays the postmaster. I had already toured with Bernard and I feel great affection for him and great admiration for his work as an actor. It is also a very good idea to place in this story characters who remain benevolent with the factor Cheval, while he is sometimes taken by some of his contemporaries for a sweet nut. It was important that we understand that it was not systematically rejected in an abrupt and definitive way by everyone. The fact that there is, among others, this character who looks at him, and who is a bit of a second father for him is essential. We must not forget that the postman Cheval lost his mother at 11 and his father at 19 and the character played by Bernard Le Coq allows him in his silence and solitude, to have a little love and recognition. . The fact that the postmaster does not judge him, like his wife played by Laetitia Casta and takes him as he is, it gives power and beauty to the film. Each time my gaze met Bernard's, I was very moved, especially in this scene where I received the medal. It is to him that he will confide a little while he is his boss. It is very rare for people who are not friends, but by whom you do not feel judged.

What do you think characterizes the work of the postman Cheval?

Stubbornness and perseverance. Nothing could keep Cheval from his project. And it is all the more moving that he realized it in a disinterested way, without any objective of seduction, without suspecting a single moment that his Palace, on which he stopped working in 1914, would be declared in 1969 by Malraux "First work of naive art" and would welcome today 170.000 visitors per year.

"To distract my thoughts, I built in a dream, a fairy palace ..." - Photo: DR

Will this role of Horse have marked the actor that you are?

Without a doubt ! I would like to thank Niels Tavernier for having offered me a role that will remain a major part of my life. It's my Christmas present. In the end, he totally messed me up. In a career, you rarely meet characters who speak so much to you. I measure my luck to have been able to meet this one. I have had the opportunity in my career to shoot beautiful roles that remain in people's memories. And then there was this character who is totally unexpected. I can say that the Cheval postman made me travel very far ...

After the Cheval factor, what are your plans?

I continue to play in the theater my show A man who does not hold still. It is also a story of correspondence, this time by email with the navigator Thomas Coville in 2014, during his 4th attempt at a single-handed round-the-world sailing record. And then film projects, he has several, I am not in pain of work ...

Interview by David RAYNAL

Watch the film trailer:

Site of the Ideal Palace of the Postman Cheval in Hauterives in the Drôme: http://www.facteurcheval.com/