The London-native, who just starred in the Lena Dunham-produced HBO Max series Generation, and won praise for his stage portrayal of the tough-talking former drag queen who becomes a nurse in the height of the AIDS epidemic in Tony Kushner’s iconic Angels in America, could be said to be having “a moment.”
Next month, he will be seen in Jordan Peele’s racially charged reboot of the classic horror film Candyman.
All this to say, the British actor is as busy as can be. So, naturally, he decided to take up French. As one does. Besides a tutor named Hugo and the graphic novels, gossip rags, and of course, The Cat in the Hat—all en Francais, he’s been watching every French film under the moon. Here, he walks us through the process and gives us his list.
LEO: Tell us why you decided to take French and what that experience has been like.
NATHAN: I’ve always wanted to speak French, well any other language really, but I like French culture, they can come across a bit snobby and so can I—so it’s a good match. There have been a few times where people thought or assumed I spoke French, I don’t know why, but that look of disappointment in their eyes was enough to hit the books. But it’s been amazing… I like that feeling of discovery.
How difficult has it been?
Truly hard. No other way to say it. And when I’m having a good day and feeling great, itʼs followed by three days where I canʼt even say my name in French. Itʼs the same as saying it in English. Actually, my name is Hebrew—see?! Also I gave up smoking, so I canʼt even smoke and pretend to be French in silence.
Are you using any kind of coach or or program to learn?
Hugo, my tutor is very good. I know if I’m being shit because he will yawn. I have some books on grammar and verbs etc., but mostly I see Hugo a few times a week and try to keep him entertained.
Are you reading any books in French?
I’ll try to read anything. I’ve got some graphic novels and a subscription to this gossip magazine Madame Figaro because it’s easy. But basically I’m still three in French so mostly itʼs Cat in The Hat and The Very Hungry Caterpillar. I’m trying to get into the Georges Simenon Inspector Maigret detective novels, so hopefully even if I canʼt order dinner or count in French, I can tell you who killed who in the study and with what.
Are you watching French films to help you learn the language?
I’m watching a ton of films. I’m telling myself it’s also good for my acting. Mostly comedies since they’re easier to follow, but if it’s in French I will watch it. They have an amazing history of film, itʼs a huge industry as well as culture, so I’m really into it. But I also listen to a lot of podcasts on food and tennis. I’ll cook while listening. I also have Le Petit Prince and Mathilda on audio book. Oh.. and I have a TON of French music on the go. So I’m a lot of fun to go on a drive with. Actually now that I list all this, itʼs kind of strange I’m not better at it.
Do you speak any other languages besides English and French?
Do I speak French yet? Can I say I do?
Favorite aspect of French culture you have observed?
I could talk about the art, the amazing reverence the French have for art, their food—I should talk about the food actually—and all their questionable music I love; but for me itʼs that shrug. If I learn nothing else, I will learn to shrug like the French.
NATHAN’S CURRENT WATCH LIST
“These are the ones I’ve been watching lately.”
“Iʼm possibly going through an Isabelle Huppert season. This is a very early movie of hers and sheʼs great and already a little scathing.”
The World is Yours (2018)
“An amazing performance by Karim Leklou and a very fun dance scene in the middle with him, his mom and her friends.”
He even has your eyes (2016)
“Funny and beautiful. I love seeing black people in French cinema. It’s important to see because there is a huge black population in France as well. There’s Francophone Africa.”
The African Doctor (2016)
“A true story about a doctor in the ’70s going to a small French town. You will cry!”
Elevator to the Gallows (1958)
“A masterpiece. I know I’m late at watching this, but it has one of the best openings ever!”
Sink or Swim (2018)
“I cry a lot. You will cry. It’s a sports movie about a male synchronized swimming team.”
Wedding Unplanned (2017)
“Fun romantic comedy. Didn’t cry”
Carlos Trilogy (2010)
CHECK OUT NATHAN
As Troy Cartwright in director Jordan Peele’s Candyman
As Sam in the HBO Max series Generation
As Belize in Tony Kushner’s theater production of Angels in America
As Curtis Donovan in the British series Misfits