French comedian extraordinaire Guillaume Gallienne has a sizeable Japanese fan base, which gratifies him most heartily.

“I feel like the Japanese get me and vice versa — and at one time, I thought I’d even make my home here,” the 42-year-old performer/filmmaker said in excellent English during an interview with The Japan Times.

Gallienne acquired his English skill in his early teens as a pupil at an English boarding school, and his understanding of the Japanese temperament from numerous visits over the years.

Sometimes he came to study noh, Japan’s ancient form of narrative dance-theater, under one of its acclaimed late masters, Tetsunojo Kanze; then in 2006 and ’09 he came with other French actors to stage Jean-Paul Sartre’s “No Exit” — his 1944 play in which all four cast members are dead — at the Tessenkai noh theater in Tokyo. And to foster the “inner serenity” he feels is the defining factor of noh, he’s made a pilgrimage to the Koyasan mountains in Wakayama Prefecture, an early and continuing center of Buddhism in Japan.

“I love the theater and I feel my roots are there, though I was quite taken with film,” he said. “But performing noh was a high point of my career, and I was especially intrigued by the way exponents so easily change their genders from a man to a woman and back again.”

When he was growing up, Gallienne said he longed to be a girl, and during his teens — when he was sent to England to escape bullying at his Paris high school — he practiced copying his mother’s voice and mannerisms because, in his eyes, “she was the most elegant woman in the world, and I thought that if I could be like her I couldn’t go wrong.”

Such behavior would be problematic in most households, but in his family it was disastrous.

“My father was a sports-loving, masculine type who would always take my brothers out to football games, or on fishing trips, or camping in the mountains and such,” Gallienne said. “But he stopped asking me to go along at a very early stage and we never really got along.

“My mother on the other hand spent her weekends in ways I could relate to — she loved to read in the garden, a cocktail by her side, and she was always nicely dressed. That seemed to me to be so cultured.”

Both Guillaume’s businessman father and his mother, a child of Russian-Georgian aristocrats, assumed he was gay — and he thought so himself. “After a while, though, I discovered that wasn’t the case,” he said with a smile.

Later, his experiences as a kind of misfit child in a bourgeois Parisian home would spawn his one-man show “Les Garcons et Guillaume, a table!” (“Boys and Guillaume, to the table!”), which premiered in 2010 at the capital’s Comedie Francaise state theater — and earned him the first of his two Moliere Awards — the country’s highest live-theater honor.

Then in 2013 Gallienne made his directorial film debut with a work based on the same material whose international title is “Me, Myself and Mum.” When it was finally released in Japan in September 2014 — titled “Fukigenna Mama ni Merci!” — fans hurried to partake of Gallienne’s life story as written, performed and directed by the man himself.

Amazingly, he plays both himself and his mum, depicting her as he saw her during his adolescence: domineering, cynical, elegant and wise. “She wasn’t always nice and sweet but she did acknowledge me as an individual. And that really makes a difference when you’re a teenager and you’re confused about yourself and what you want,” he declared.

So does he now know what he wants?

“Oh yes. I’m very much in love with a woman, right now,” he said. “But who knows — 10 years down the line, I could be completely in love with a man. But that’s okay, it’s all right to change. And I learned that from noh.”

In line with COVID-19 guidelines, the government is strongly requesting that residents and visitors exercise caution if they choose to visit bars, restaurants, music venues and other public spaces.

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