Jean Leon told me: Who is your favorite Hollywood artist? And I said Natalie Wood because she was always my favorite actress, and he answered: “We were very close friends with Natalie, we went to her house to spend some evenings”
Playwright, theater director and filmmaker. His work includes: the direction of great musicals such as The Miserables or Macbeth to the production of his own works such as Venus (in which he is currently immersed).
Víctor Conde is a dreamer who (like Jean Leon) has been brave enough to passionately satisfy his vocation. Before beginning his career, he had the opportunity to have dinner with Jean Leon at La Scala. He still fondly remembers the conversation he had with him.
When did your love affair with art begin?
Always. My parents had been theater actors. It was a thing that was always at home, even before I knew it. We had a big bookshelf with books and I started reading theater… I started watching and reading theater when I was very young. In the end, I was only interested in fiction, stories and that way of creating feelings. In a way, there was no other option, it was a very natural thing.
Has it been difficult for you to get here?
I still don’t know where I have arrived. I keep doing… And suddenly I realize that a long time has passed and that there is something similar to a career, to an accumulation of titles and works that I have done. However, what I feel is different. I have the feeling that I have a lot to do. Although it is true that it has cost me a lot to get here. I have never lost the illusion, and I think that in the end that has been the engine in this walk.
Have you had to sacrifice many things?
Yes, I have had to sacrifice things… But I don’t remember them. Or, at least, I have not experienced them as a sacrifice. I have had to leave my city, my family and my friends. Sometimes I even had to travel, work abroad and spend long periods away from home. However, I don’t see all of that as giving up. I see it as the doors you have to cross to do things. I do not like to think about getting places, but about doing things.
It is curious because, listening to your story, we discover a certain parallelism with the life of entrepreneurship and adventure that Jean Leon had… Do you think there is something of Jean Leon in you?
I really think I am a dreamer, and I think he was it too. A career like his is not understood without being a person who has dreams. I think that is what connects me the most with Jean Leon’s personality. Being a dreamer.
“I think I am a dreamer and I think he was it too”
How was this meeting with Jean Leon?
A family contact (Pascual Iranzo) introduced me to Jean Leon. When Iranzo found out that I was going to live in Los Angeles, he told me: “I’m going to introduce you to a friend of mine.” One day, at his hairdresser’s on Paseo de Gracia, he introduced me to him. Jean Leon looked at me and said: “You’re going to Los Angeles, I’ll give you my phone.” He took an envelope and wrote the telephone number with his name and the name of his restaurant, La Scala. I was very young, and I went to live in the United States because I had studied cinema in Barcelona. I took a suitcase and I planted myself in Los Angeles. Furthermore, I didn’t know anyone, nor did I have permits, visas, or anything…
What happened after?
When I got to Los Angeles, I called him several times until he finally got on the phone. We are talking about a time when there were no mobile phones… I was calling the landline of La Scala Restaurant in Beverly Hills! Jean Leon got on the phone and told me: “Come to lunch tomorrow”, and I went… For me, it was very exciting because if I had decided to study film and go to California, it was precisely because I was a classic Hollywood mythomaniac. Suddenly, I found myself at La Scala in Beverly Hills with those round red sofas that I had seen in documentaries, in movies… I didn’t know where, but I had them in my head! He invited me to have dinner, and we were at a table eating. He and I, talking about classic Hollywood. I remember I ordered a pasta dish. Later, over the years, I found out that it was Marilyn Monroe’s favorite dish.
What was Jean Leon like on a human level?
I remember him very strongly, with a lot of impetus… I remember him as a being with a lot of determination. When speaking, when moving… I remember the look a lot. He had a look with fire. He was a person who focused you and went through you. But at the same time there was warmth. It wasn’t aggressiveness, it was rather burning. He was a very impressive person, not imposing. One of those people that when you enter a place, you notice them from the first moment. I remember the first time I greeted him, with Iranzo… He was a personality.
“Jean Leon had fire in his eyes”
Yes, totally. And especially when talking. It was very concrete. I remember dialogues we had. I remember his voice, which was very direct, and that he took your attention when he spoke to you. Not only that, but I remember that it made me think that I had to measure very well what I said to him in order to be in tune.
Did he give you any advice?
More than advice, I remember some messages. The tone of the conversation changed when we started talking about classic Hollywood. He said to me: “Who is your favorite artist?” I told him that it was Natalie Wood, and he began to tell me that he was a close friend of Natalie’s. In fact, he told me that he had been in her house. From then on, the conversation became almost like a fiction… Like a movie! Suddenly names like Marilyn Monroe or James Dean or Natalie Wood appeared in the conversation in a very natural and daily way… Like real people! Not like mythical characters from a Hollywood fantasy.
I remember that something magical happened there, and the conversation was very nice. I have remembered it a lot since then. For many years I have kept the envelope with Jean Leon’s phone number written by hand, until one day it disappeared as things disappear… But one day it reappears anyway. Things come and go.
How was eating at La Scala?
For me, La Scala was the paradigm of the cinema of the 50s or 60s. You would go in there and see a set that you had seen in many films. What I remember most were those red, round sofas, where the stars sat. I had seen them, I think, in movies, in documentaries, in photos. It was a place with glass windows that filtered a lot of light. We sat at a table near a lighted glass. It was a very warm place, very Mediterranean. You could spend hours!
“For me, La Scala was the paradigm of cinema in the 50s or 60s”
You drank a Jean Leon wine, I guess…
At that time, I was very young and did not know the whole story of the myth. I was very impressed to see your name on the bottle label. At that time, I didn’t even know that a wine with the name of Jean Leon existed… From that moment on, it became my go-to wine. I looked very good at dinners when I brought a Jean Leon wine and told them: “I’ve been with Jean Leon eating at La Scala.” I remember a meal we had at Jorge Sanz’s house. David Trueba arrived and brought a bottle of Jean Leon and said: “I bring the wine of the stars.”
What is the key to being a good director?
Be permeable. Let the energy of the moment and the actors flow. Observe and know how to collect and recycle. The job of director is 90% psychologist and 10% urban guard… Psychology is very important. The film or theater director has a lot to do with the orchestra director. He has many instruments, and he has to make the melody sound. Being permeable I think is what helps me the most.
Is there any work that you are especially proud of?
The play I am most proud of is Venus because it was the first play that I directed as an author. I had directed other works before, but never my own works. I was a close friend of Ana Diosdado, the playwright, and she always encouraged me to write. She told me: “You have to write, you have many things to tell”. That moment came, and I said, I’m going to try, and I wrote my first play, which was Venus, and from that saga we managed to shoot a movie that is also my first movie as a filmmaker. The circle has finally come full circle! I started in the cinema, I went to the theater and thanks to the theater I have returned to the cinema.
On Venus, various love stories are intertwined… Is there more chance or causality in love?
I believe that there is a layer of causality that hides many things. There are invisible threads that guide us and attract us. As human beings, we are not trained to understand them, and we disguise them as coincidences. There are some languages that we do not understand and that amuse me a lot, and I am passionate about studying them. It is a constant in what I have written.
What is art and culture for you?
For me, art is one thing and culture is another. Art is close to science, to creation. Culture has to do with politics or business. Depending on where we are, culture has one price or another.
The Jean Leon spirit in Victor Conde
With what value do you identify more with Jean Leon?
I think I’m a dreamer, and I think he was it too. That is what most connects me with the personality of Jean Leon. Being a dreamer.
What is your favorite Jean Leon wine?
My favorite one is the Vinya Le Havre. Love it.
What do you like to do in your free time?
I like to walk aimlessly around the city and take analog photos.
Define yourself with a word
How would you define your professional career in a single word?
Cryptic because when I look back I see many things.
When you were little, what did you want to be?
I wanted to be an international spy
And as an adult?
International spy (laughing). I still know that I can make it.
If you could have dinner with whoever you wanted, who would it be?
With Jean Luc Godard because I am passionate about his cinema, his personality and I think it would be very interesting and very fun to have dinner with him.