From PEOPLE Magazine Click to enlarge
AS HE LOUNGES IN A CAFE NEAR the loft apartment he sublets in Manhattan's SoHo district, Vincent Perez knows how Marcel Marceau must feel. The 32-year-old Swiss actor's face is well-known in Europe from such films as 1992's Indochine and 1994's Queen Margot, in which he costarred with Catherine Deneuve and Isabelle Adjani respectively. But like the famed French mime, Perez would need cosmetics—specifically the Emmett Kelly-meets-A Clockwork Orange makeup he wears throughout the new action sequel The Crow: City of Angels—to draw a glance of recognition in SoHo. "I can walk in the street in New York without having people around me," Perez says with a shrug. "It's like a vacation in a way." Perhaps—but there's something in the slightly petulant way he fires up a cigarette that suggests he's putting the best spin on the situation. "In America things go fast, really fast," he says, brightening. "Maybe in one week things will change for me."

Or even in one weekend. The Crow: COA—as executives at Miramax, the film's distributor, refer to the sequel to 1994's dark, comic book-inspired thriller—got lambasted by critics but won box office honors over Labor Day weekend, pulling in $9.8 million. The principals behind the movie feel Perez has the charisma to shine through the makeup and even through the memory of Brandon Lee, son of actor Bruce Lee and star of the original Crow, who was killed on the set in 1993 when a prop pistol malfunctioned. "There is obviously a resemblance between the two," says Miramax president Bob Weinstein. "But Vincent is his own man and his own actor." Adds COA director Tim Pope: "Few people have Vincent's qualities. He has this kind of darkness, yet he has this light. He's kind of an angel."

Actually, Perez is kind of a lot of things. He was born in Lausanne, in the French-speaking part of Switzerland, the second of three children of a Spanish importer and a German-born mother. Though his father wanted him to study business, Perez, with the encouragement of his mother, left home at 16 and eventually enrolled in a Paris drama school. Drawn to acting because of the laughs he got doing impersonations of teachers and classmates for his family, Perez quickly learned during his first years out of school, working in the French theater, that audiences elsewhere could be tougher. "Nothing is going to be given to you, you have to work and work," Perez says. "Everything is sweat."

On the COA set, "Vincent did damn hard stunts," says Pope, recalling one especially brutal shooting week. "On Monday we dragged him across the Universal back lot. On Tuesday we hanged him. On Wednesday we whipped him. On Thursday he was underwater for 45 minutes. Not once did he complain."

For all this devotion to craft, Perez frequently makes the pages of Paris Match and other European magazines for his offscreen activities. In 1988 he took up, at 24, with the actress Jacqueline Bissett, then 43, whom he met on the set of House of Jade. Between her film-acting tips and words of support, "she helped me a lot," Perez says. "She has real generosity." When the two drifted apart after four years, Perez dated model Carla Bruni, 27, who has been linked with consorts as varied as Mick Jagger and Donald Trump. "There is one thing I hate to see in myself: I have a huge attraction for beauty," Perez says, half apologetically, of that two-year dalliance. "I am attracted to the form, but it doesn't really make me happy."

Unattached these days, Perez has more time for painting, African drumming lessons and screenplay writing. Like many an actor, he hopes to direct feature films, and on this subject he already sounds like a seasoned Hollywood pro, albeit one with a Gallic accent. "I want to be a star because I want creative freedom," he says. "The bigger you are, the more free you are."

GREGORY CERIO
CYNTHIA WANG in New York City and KAREN BRAILSFORD in Los Angeles

  • Contributors:
  • Cynthia Wang,
  • Karen Brailsford.