Charlie Koubesserian: interview with the king of house-painting
Published: Tuesday June 22, 2010
Yerevan - "He is not just a talented makeup artist. Charlie is a wonderful artist who feels the ‘material' like nobody else," said about him Jean-Paul Belmondo.
Charlie Chaplin, Sacha Guitry, Jean Marais, Anthony Quinn, Bette Davis, Natalie Wood, Robert Hossein, Maurice Chevalier, Jean-Paul Belmondo, Brigitte Bardot, Ava Gardner, Danielle Darrieux, Jane Fonda, Olivia de Havilland, Annie Girardot, Monica Vitti, Jacqueline Bisset, Alain Delon...
These and many other movie stars have trusted highly acclaimed image-maker of French cinema, Charlie Khoubesserian, 78. He has been the image-maker for many films, including Claude Chabrol's "Docteur Popaul" (1971), Alan Renais's "Stavinsky," Claude Zidi's "Sadsacks Go to War" (1974), Philippe de Broca's "Incorrigible" (1975), Henri Verneul's "Horror Over the City" (1975), David Hamilton's "Bilitis" (1977), Georges Lautner's "Cop or Hood" (1979), Jacques Deray's "The Marginal" (1983) and "The Loner" (1987), Desmond Davis's "Camille" (1984), Guy Hamilton's "Try This on for Size" (1989), Claude Lelouch's "Les Miserables" (1995), Patrice Leconte's "Half a Chance" (1998) and other motion pictures and television series.
Charles or Garbis Koubesserian was 17 years old when his father advised him to ask Paris-based Armenian actor and makeup artist Acho Chakatouny to teach him how to become a makeup artist. The prominent master of makeup let his fellow young Armenian in on the secrets of his art, Already in 1951, Koubesserian was praised for his work in the motion picture "The Person Who Says No." In this film, young actor Olivier Mathot changed his persona and turned into a 68-year-old man at the end of the movie. Koubesserian gradually progressed and reached fame in the film industry. He has his own methods and his images are used in theater, cinema and daily life.
In 1997 Koubesserian released his memoirs entitled "My Life Without Makeup" with the preface by his close friend, Jean-Paul Belmondo. The book became a bestseller and, in 2002, Koubesserian released his next book entitled "Charlie Koubesserian the Armenian from De Gaulle to Belmondo." Belmondo donated one of his pictures to Charlie as a joke with the inscription: "To the king of house-painting. Your friend forever, king of impersonation J. P. Belmondo."
In show business they say: "If you want to know the secrets of an actor, ask his makeup man." Is that true?
Charlie Koubesserian: Makeup artists have a huge impact in America and it seems that they are the actors' protectors, but that's not the case in France. When Claudette Colbert was asked the reason for her success, she said that her makeup artist can give the answer. Bette Davis said the same about me. She wanted to take me to America with her, but she asked if I could work without Belmondo. I was forced to turn her down. I had prepared artificial eyelashes for her and she took them to America. Then, I found out that she had been buried with those eyelashes. This is both pleasing and sad. I was very close with Bette Davis. She had worked with many famous makeup artists, but she trusted me very much. Actors usually don't like when people touch their faces. Bette Davis didn't tell me what to do. She just closed her eyes and, after opening them, said, "Oh my God, what a beautiful face!" She is the actress who I remember the most in my life.
Which actors have you enjoyed working with the most and which have you hated working with the most?
C. K.: I have enjoyed working with Belmondo the most. I don't feel like I'm working with him. Working means doing your job and getting paid. But working with Belmondo is like taking a vacation. We laugh together very often. As about the bad experience.... I hated working with actress Emmanuelle Riva during the production of the film "Hirosima, My Love."
You have worked with political figures as well.
C. K.: We were shooting the film "Cyrano de Bergerac" with Daniel Sorano and we were told that Charles de Gaulle's personal makeup man had died. Representatives from his office came and said that they had to choose from five makeup artists and that one of us would receive a notice, if selected... One day they called me to Champs Elysées. I thought it was another one of Belmondo's jokes. But when I went to the office, I found out that I had been selected to be Charles de Gaulle's personal makeup man. I was given a special card and the police honored me when they saw that card. I was de Gaulle's personal makeup man for seven years until his death, although I only worked with him two times. The first time I was involved in a film production in Africa and then I received a call to work with the president. I returned to France, worked with de Gaulle for eight minutes and left for Africa again. After the second time, de Gaulle died. He loved Armenians. He talked about Armenians as a pure and brave nation. I have had touching and important meetings with three great people in my life, including Charles de Gaulle, Bette Davis and Jean-Paul Belmondo.
So, Belmondo also played a certain role in your life?
C. K.: He played a very important role. He is like my brother. I will cite one example: after my only daughter and her husband were killed in a car accident 15 days after their wedding, Beldmono was next to me. He had just left for a vacation to South Africa, but his mother called and told him what happened to Charlie. Belmondo immediately came back. That was where the strength of our friendship lied and it was then that he realized that he had to be next to me to help me not to be broken down and continue to live and work.
You came to Armenia in 2004.
C. K.: When I came to Armenia, I didn't want to stay at the hotel in my country and lived with a family... I will never forget what I experienced in Armenia. I was born in France and I am also French, but my love and heart are with the Armenian people. I am proud of my last name -- Koubesserian. Armenians are a pure and brave nation. My family experienced hardships in Constantinople. During the massacres, the Jews kept my mother, grandmother and aunt in a basement. It is a painful story that I will never forget. I grew up by cutting and keeping every article about Armenians. I am currently interested in Karabakh, our relations with Azerbaijan... I always kept a handkerchief with me in Yerevan because I used to cry a lot. It was as if I was reborn and recognized life. I was born in France, but my heart is Armenian. Armenians should live very well!