Pierre Koulak

Pierre Koulak: Acting with Great French Film Stars

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YEREVAN/PARIS —  Pierre Koulak (Koulaksezian) is a French TV and cinema actor, director and author. He was born in 1942 in Saint-Chamond, Loire. Very early on, his talent was noticed. He studied at the Saint-Étienne Dramatic Center (Jean Dasté), where he first acted.  Later Koulak performed in sketches with Fernand Raynaud at the Théâtre de l’Étoile and Alhambra. Thus a friendship started and Raynaud considered Pierre Koulak his best friend, so in this capacity, the latter was the author of a biography of the actor, published in 2011. His gestures and especially his ability to improvise brought him to the attention of French film and TV producers, where he starred in “Horace 62,” “Action Man,” “Pasha,” “Thibaud,” “Borsalino,” “Borsalino and Co.,” “Adventures of Rabbi Jacob,” “The Marseille Contract,” “Arsène Lupin,” “Jean-Christophe,” and many others.

This interview was conducted through Pierre Koulak’s nephew, Ruben Koulaksezian, whom I thank immensely for his willingness and cooperation. By the way, Ruben is the author of an English book – Little Armenias: The Travel Guide of the Armenian Diaspora, that Mirror-Spectator has written about on September 17, 2020 (Alin K. Gregorian, Little Armenias: It’s a Small World After All, https://mirrorspectator.com/2020/09/17/little-armenias-its-a-small-world-after-all/).

Pierre Koulak, left, with Anthony Quinn in “The Marseille Contract”

Dear Mr. Koulak, many thanks for your agreement to give an interview to the Armenian press. What do you consider your most remarkable work?

There are many, but I would say that my role as Marcel the “Korean” in Georges Lautner’s “Pasha” with Jean Gabin, released in 1968, is probably the most striking one. Indeed, I had my name on the poster of the film, splashed all over France, alongside the great actors of the time. “Action Man” released in 1967, with Jean Gabin and Robert Stack, as well as “Borsalino” with Alain Delon and Jean-Paul Belmondo from 1970, are also just unforgettable.

You have worked with many legendary actors. Is there anyone whom you can single out?

I played with the greatest, Jean Gabin, Jean-Paul Belmondo, Robert Stack, Louis de Funès, Anthony Quinn, Johnny Halliday, but I would say that it was Alain Delon who stood out the most. He had an absolutely grand talent, and as he said himself, he did not “play” his characters, he “lived” them.

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Comic legend Louis de Funès remains very popular for Armenian audiences. What particular memories do you have from him?

It was very pleasant to shoot with Louis de Funès, and the film “The Adventures of Rabbi Jacob” contributed a lot to my fame in France. He was very professional and efficient, but not particularly talkative. He came to the set and left once when the job was done.

In an article your surname was referred to as Bebekian.

At the very beginning of my career, I happened to use this name, because in my family everyone calls me, even today, “Bebek” (child).

In Armenia many have seen your films, without knowing your Armenian origins. Could you please tell us about your roots?

Unlike other French Armenians in artistic circles, I have always put forward my Armenian heritage. Hiding your Armenian origin was easy, it made it easier to succeed, especially in cinema or music. I have always been proud of my origins, and my friend Fernand Reynaud, a famous humorist at the time, loved coming to eat at my house and tasting my mother’s Armenian cuisine. My family is originally from Marash, in Cilicia. Those who survived the genocide were deported to Aleppo, where they remained for a few years before leaving for France in 1930. In my family we were four brothers and three sisters.

With Alain Delon and Jean-Paul Belmondo in “Borsalino”

What Armenian traditions does your family keep?

I think we have preserved most of the Armenian traditions — in parties, celebrations, family meals, relations between generations, respect, education, the importance of religion. We have been little influenced by French traditions. When I was a child, we lived in a hovel on the banks of the Gier, in Saint-Chamond, and since only Armenian families, the poorest ones, lived there, the French called the building “the Armenians’ house.” There was also a dam in the mountains around Saint-Chamond, and the elders said that the mountain air reminded them of the mountains around Marash. Every summer, Armenians went there with their families to picnic and enjoy nature. This tradition was such that the French also called it “the dam of the Armenians.”

Have you ever been in Armenia?

Yes, I visited Armenia, and I really felt a connection with this land, even though my ancestors came from Cilicia, hundreds of kilometers from Yerevan. But this is the Armenia of today, it is our homeland to all, all the Armenians of the world.

In Armenia many know “Fort Boyard,” but they have no idea that the composer of the original credits of it was your brother, Paul Koulak (1943-2021).

My brother Paul was very creative. He started to be interested in music very early, when the whole family was working in the markets. By dint of work and patience, he managed to be selected to do the credits for this young program which was created in 1990, called “Fort Boyard,” and which has become the oldest French television program still broadcast today.

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