Thirteen-year-old girls love Marc-André Grondin.
Ever since he starred as “Zachary Beaulieu” in C.R.A.Z.Y., the critically acclaimed film about a Quebecois teenager confronting his sexuality during the politically tumultuous 1960s and 70s, the young‘uns have come a-runnin’.
“Yeah, we’ve noticed quite a few young French girls starting to show up at shows,” said Shawn Petsche, guitarist for The Adam Brown. Twenty-one-year-old Grondin is the band’s drummer. “They pretend to have casual conversations while glancing at him, and when he walks by they fix their hair.”
That’s what you get when you’re the star of one of the most successful Quebec films this year. The film has shot Grondin in front of an ever-widening public eye. As “Zac,” he nails the portrayal of a teenager fighting his inclination toward men, while growing up in a very Catholic family in Montreal-Nord. The film has banked nearly $6 million dollars at the box office (in Quebec, that’s second only to the summer receipts for the latest Star Wars flick), fifty countries have bought the distribution rights, and there has been much murmuring about the film being a solid Oscar contender. The film opened in the rest of Canada this month, and the DVD came out yesterday with bonus scenes featuring music by The Adam Brown.
Grondin is touring an international press circuit. While in Venice to support the film, a girl reportedly got down on her knees for an autograph. Two days after the interview for this story he is off to a film festival in Norway. While it’s rather hush-hush at the moment, Grondin says he’s had interest from projects in Europe and America.
“Its an amazing job, but it’s really fucked up. You just throw out your social life and your own identity,” said Grondin in his Quebecois-accented English. He’s calm and chatty, and effortlessly charismatic. “Before you were in line with your toilet paper in the grocery store and no one was looking at you and now they’re looking at the brand of toilet paper you’re going to put up your ass.”
Grondin started acting when he was three. Too young to stay at home while his older brother(actor and DJ, Mathieu Grondin) went to work on TV and movie sets, the younger Grondin was brought along to shoots. An outgoing kid with a bowl cut and high pitched voice, by the time he was five a casting director had approached him for an audition. Over the course of the next few years he spent a decent chunk of his life between the ugly brown and orange walls of the basement of the Radio-Canada tower, acting in the French soap operas Un Signe du feu, Les Super Mamies, and the long-running Watatatow, in addition to performing voiceovers and roles in a few French films. During high school he took a break from acting, but a year-and-a-half into CEJEP he decided to ditch school altogether to pursue his acting career.
And then came C.R.A.Z.Y.
Grondin first met director Jean-Marc Vallée when he was nine, when Vallée cast him in the short film Magical Flowers, about a young boy who dreams of curing his father’s alcoholism. On that film they learned their birthdays were only a day apart, and for the next nine years they tried to meet at a local restaurant to celebrate the special day. When it came time to cast for C.R.A.Z.Y., Vallée realized it had been two years since their birthday ritual, and so had his casting director send Grondin a script.
“I wanted to see how he looked,” said Vallée. “When he arrived I was surprised by his look. He had this kind of sexy Sid Vicious look—not trash, but cool and ‘rebel’ with a lot of sex appeal. I was just hoping that the acting was as good as the look.”
Clearly it was. Vallée waited two months before calling Grondin on Christmas Eve—what was to be the birthday of the character Grondin would be playing in the film. He called and said, “Happy birthday, Zac.”
It was clearly the right call on Vallee’s part, who calls Grondin a natural, self-taught actor, confident enough to “do nothing” on camera when called for, rather than overact.
“The band, without Marc-André, went to see C.R.A.Z.Y., expecting to get a kick out of the fact that he was on the screen,” said Petsche, his bandmate in The Adam Brown. “And within about fifteen seconds we all forgot it was our friend, and I’m not going to lie—we all shed a bit of a tear at the end.”
The mounting success of the film means more visibility and acclaim for Grondin. He worked at the HMV on Montreal’s busy St. Catherine street for eight or nine months following the shooting of the film, but a week after returning from a regional press jaunt he quit because people started to recognize him. He’s had to block persistent fans on his instant messenger (13-year-old girls are confident in the art of googling). He shrugs off being misquoted in the press, and displays no outward signs of a swollen head which is remarkable for someone who appears to be on the precipice of an international career.
“Success doesn’t really change someone,” he said. “I think it’s a matter of the people around you. If you’re well surrounded, it doesn’t get to your head.”
“That’s why I think everyone that knows him will say that he’s such a grounded guy,” says Petsche. “He knows what part of it is a job, what part of it is creative. He treats acting like, ‘Okay, I acted, I put all of my heart in it and the rest is something else.’
That shows up in the music too. At rehearsals he’s not the guy who’s trying to be some bizarre artistic type. He can play both parts, the workhorse and the creative type—the nice medium.”
Acting provides his income, but drumming keeps him sane. His father, Quebec radio personality Denis Grondin, is a drummer and Grondin Jr. has followed suit. Howard Bilerman of the popular Hotel2Tango studios, a hotbed of indie-recording cool in Montreal, says he thinks Grondin is one of the best drummers in town. Vallée was inspired to add a scene into C.R.A.Z.Y. where Zac trashes a drum kit, but it eventually got cut. He also used to paint and sculpt but has had to put those on the back burner due to lack of time and space.
A self-proclaimed workaholic, he’ll soon be appearing in the Karim Hussein film la Belle Bête which is sure to raise his profile—and the hopes of more thirteen-year-old girls.
“I’ve seen many pick-up attempts,” said Petsche. “I think everyone in Montreal is a fan of Marc-André. I think everyone that tries to pick him up is a fan. We just won’t say what they’re a fan of.”
Read Matthew Fox's take on why English Canada must watch C.R.A.Z.Y.
Melissa Wheeler is getting to know Montreal's culture creators. Her column appears every two weeks. Read more columns by Melissa Wheeler.