“There Is Something of Myself in Pierre Cadault”

When the very first season of Emily in Paris launched on Netflix in October 2020, the fictional Parisian fashion designer became an instant icon. From the name of his pet iguana to his spat with Valentino and even his affair with Elton John, fans know everything about the colorful past and present of this larger-than-life, on-screen couturier. We spoke with Jean-Christophe Bouvet, the French actor who plays the extravagant Pierre Cadault.
Jean-Christophe Bouvet. © David Balicki

France-Amérique: You have starred in more than 70 movies over your career, along with as many TV shows, dozens of plays, stints in arthouse cinema, and acclaimed appearances in box-office hits. What led you to the role of Pierre Cadault?

Jean-Christophe Bouvet: I began receiving offers from American filmmakers after I played the role of the Duc de Choiseul in Sofia Coppola’s 2006 movie Marie Antoinette. But I have to confess that when I was contacted in the summer of 2019 to audition for Emily in Paris, I only had a vague idea of the character’s potential. I was unfamiliar with the fashion world and had never played a role that came remotely close to a designer. But after I spoke my first lines, Darren Star [the show’s creator] insisted that I be given the part. So I was cast on the spot, and I’ve been having a lot of fun ever since.

Who – or what – inspired your portrayal of this regal, extravagant character?

I have to admit that there is something of myself in Pierre Cadault; his sensitivity, his extroverted character… For the rest, all I had to do was draw inspiration from certain aristocrats I knew in my youth, such as the Comte de Bervard or the Comte de Taille. They knew the rules of etiquette by heart and were merciless toward those who lacked good manners.

What do you think has made Pierre Cadault’s character so popular?

For a large part of the world, France is still considered the home of haute couture, at least for women. As a designer, Pierre Cadault embodies the quintessence of our country. It is only natural that he should be the epitome of everything that can be envied or criticized about the French: their sense of sophistication, their taste for quality, along with a certain arrogance. And let’s not forget that his creations are losing steam in the show, yet he finds himself back in the limelight thanks to Emily Cooper from Chicago. Pierre Cadault’s journey once again highlights the strong bonds of friendship and cooperation between our two countries.

© Marie Etchegoyen/Netflix
© Stéphanie Branchu/Netflix

We heard a rumor that your character was inspired by Karl Lagerfeld…

It’s true that he can be exquisitely snobbish and likes to cool himself with a fan, but I think that the resemblance ends there. Pierre Cadault actually borrows from many French designers: His initials are those of Pierre Cardin, but the spelling of his name is similar to that of Jean-Paul Gaultier. In the third season, the setting for the Pierre Cadault retrospective was inspired by the 2017 exhibition for Dior’s 70th anniversary at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris. There is also a reference to Yves Saint-Laurent. YSL couldn’t bear the thought of death, and so he had his French bulldog replaced with an identical animal, also named Moujik. There were a total of four Moujiks during the couturier’s lifetime! This is mirrored by Evangelista, Pierre Cadault’s iguana, whose passing is carefully hidden by his staff…

What does Pierre Cadault tell us about the fashion world today?

Emily in Paris presents fashion as a ruthless world; one in which everyone has to constantly renew and challenge themselves while fending off serious competition. Pierre Cadault is constantly battling his young former protégé and rival, Grégory Elliott Duprée. And at the same time, the show shrouds the creative process in a mysterious combination of magic and excellence. Audiences will sense that the director has a real respect for fashion. Marylin Fitoussi, who has been designing my character’s outfits since the first episodes, also deserves a round of applause.

How do you think fashion designers feel about this character who, in many ways, caricatures their profession?

They love it! I’m always being invited to their fashion shows. Last January, Guillaume Henry, Patou’s creative director, stopped and bowed down in front of me as he walked across the runway! And it’s the same for the public. In both Paris and New York City, people are particularly fond of my role. A fan recently stopped me on the street in Manhattan and, when he saw my clothes, he exclaimed: “I didn’t know you were a fashion designer for real!” I should say that I hadn’t exactly chosen the most discreet outfit that day…

© Stéphanie Branchu/Netflix
© Carole Bethuel/Netflix

Pierre Cadault’s daily life is one of splendor and ostentation. Has your role in the show given you a taste for luxury?

I think I’ve always appreciated beautiful things. My parents told me that I was conceived at the Negresco [one of Nice’s main palace hotels]. That must be where I get it from. As a teenager, I was exposed to a wide variety of social circles, from the bourgeoisie to the old French aristocracy and the world of show business. I took the best parts from each one, and now I’m happy everywhere! That’s why I enjoy acting in both auteur films and Emily in Paris, where the working conditions are particularly comfortable. On the set of the show, aside from the actors, there are around a hundred assistants and technicians on hand to listen to our needs and suggestions. They really take care of us. That reminds me of a story: We had to shoot during the pandemic. In order to respect social distancing rules, the production team had the American Cathedral in Paris and its majestic nave converted into a refectory where everyone could eat without getting too close to each other. Quite the royal treatment

Lastly, what connection do you have with the English language and the United States?

First of all, I’d like to point out that I studied semiology. It was as a linguist that I fell in love with English after my first visit to London when I was 17. It’s a city I love dearly. If I add up all my stays, I’ve spent almost six years of my life there. But I probably owe my vocation as an actor to the United States. As it happens, I had an aunt who made her career on Broadway in the 1930s under the name “Bobette Christine.” I vividly remember our meetings when she was in Paris, and the aura she had around her. I think she must have made a real impression on me as a child. So you see, with Pierre Cadault, I’m reconnecting with my family heritage!

Interview published in the September 2023 issue of France-AmériqueSubscribe to the magazine.