Cantona the action hero

Eric Cantona – action hero used to refer to his antics for Manchester United on the football pitch. Now it’s a description of the eccentric Frenchman’s latest acting role.

Cantona plays a tough detective in Switch, a taut thriller that has been well-received in France. Cantona has a brooding screen presence that is very effective, so long as he isn’t asked to tackle too much dialogue.

It’s the highest-profile role for an acting career that has been erratic and substantially less successful than his footballing years. With a ball at his feet he was imperious; with a camera in his face he is a little less sure of himself.

"When you start from zero and you have been famous in another field, it's very difficult," he told the Observer. "Beginning something is the same for everybody, everywhere, whether you start at 20 years old or at 40. But I think I have enough humour and enough humility about life. I don't take life so seriously. I can just play with life."

Cantona used to delight football reporters with his brilliant, if confused metaphors. His classic about seagulls following trawlers is still revered among scribes who usually have to suffer the banalities of post-match interviews.

These days he embraces the self-dramatising language of the cinema luvvie, where every acting role is an ordeal, a trial, a test of courage and nerve. "What's important to me is to have new experiences – to be a neophyte," he said. "Being an actor is not the most important thing, going on stage, it's feeling alive… at risk. I live to feel myself in danger."

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