Actor-musician Jean Marchand:
On juggling music and acting and landing a plum role on Wynonna Earp
By Patricia Dumais
Mention the name Jean Marchand to just about any French Quebecer and almost instantly they will answer “Mais, c’est M. Musique!” (Why, he’s Mr. Music!) The actor/musician was a regular on Unité 9, the acclaimed TV series about a woman’s penitentiary, for four years from 2012 to 2015, playing the role of the high-strung music teacher Rolland Montmorency, aka M. Musique. The show, with an audience of over two million viewers, put Marchand on the map as far as French TV was concerned.
English TV audiences will now get to know him a lot better as he has joined the cast in the third season of the hit American-Canadian Sci-Fi Western series Wynonna Earp, which premiered on July 20 on SyFy and Space channels. And what an exciting role he has landed!
“I play Bulshar, a satanic reincarnation. He was mentioned in name during the past two seasons but has now made his grand entrance in Season 3,” explains Marchand. “It is a privilege for me to be working on this show. Apart from being shot in the beautiful countryside outside Calgary, the cast and crew are wonderfully talented people with a great sense of camaraderie. You get a real high when everything is right.”
Perfectly bilingual, acting in English is not new to Marchand. He recently starred in the English premiere of You will remember me, François Archambault’s critically acclaimed play Tu te souviendras de moi, about an elderly man afflicted with dementia, presented at the Centaur Theatre in 2017.
“Some roles really hit home – this one was very demanding emotionally”, recounts Marchand. Critics’ responses were very enthusiastic. Wrote Camila Fitzgibbon of Montreal Theatre Hub, “Jean Marchand is wholly enthralling and convincing in the challenging portrayal of a complicated man whose brightness has been dimmed by a devastating disease.”
Marchand will return to the Centaur, from September 28 to 30, to participate in David Fennario’s Balconville, the first of the three staged play readings celebrating the theatre’s 50th year.
Marchand is a versatile actor, having portrayed a wide variety of film roles, from the divine (Cardinal Leger in Trudeau 2: Maverick in the Making), to the political (Marc Lalonde in Trudeau), the entitled (Bruno Mercier in Le Clan Beaulieu) to the diabolical (Valdermaark in The Phantom and Bulshar in Wynnona Earp).
English TV audiences will now get to know him a lot better as he has joined the cast in the third season of the hit American-Canadian Sci-Fi Western series Wynonna Earp…
He is especially proud of his work on the film Répertoire des villes perdues, his second collaboration with Director Denis Côté, of whom he holds great admiration. “He is one of Quebec’s best Directors – it was wonderfully challenging to enter his artistic mind, a true honour.”
Asked which actors he most admires Marchand answers, “I think it is the women that do the best job – actresses like Julie Harris, Joan Allen, Kim Stanley and Jane Alexander on the English side, and Isabelle Huppert and Catherine Frot on the French – they are true artisans, icons of truth.”
Among plays, he cites Shakespeare’s Hamlet as the “absolute best”, with Richard II as runner up.
Marchand is also currently working on writing a new one-woman play based on the life of the acclaimed playwright/screen writer Lillian Helman, under the mentorship of Jonathan Garfield of the Playwright’s Workshop Montréal. “This is a role I would love to play!” he shares.
But on top of being an accomplished actor, Marchand is also a talented musician. As a child, he loved to tinker on the neighbour’s piano. So much so that one day his mother asked him if he would enjoy taking piano lessons. By 1965 he was studying at the Conservatoire de musique de Montréal under Irving Heller. Towards the end of his music studies he took private acting lessons. This led him to consider auditioning for the Conservatoire d’Art Dramatique de Montréal and National Theatre School. He chose the Conservatoire for its classical training.
‘… one day his mother asked him if he would enjoy taking piano lessons. By 1965 he was studying at the Conservatoire de musique de Montréal under Irving Heller.’
Soon he was performing on radio and in theatre. Then there was the Le Clan Beaulieu TV series on Télé-Métropole. Marchand would eventually appear in a number of acclaimed films and TV shows – Jésus de Montréal, Les filles de Caleb, Trudeau and Trudeau 2: The Making of a Maverick, The Phantom, among others.
All the while he practiced the piano, acquiring the skills that would allow him to work with some of the best local and international musicians, singers and orchestras.
Marchand has collaborated extensively with violinists Denise Lupien, Jonathan Crow and Mark Fewer; cellists Matt Haimovitz, Elizabeth Dolin, Philippe Muller and Antonio Lysy; baritones Allan Monk and Nathaniel Watson; sopranos Chantal Lambert and Gail Desmarais; and pianists Brigitte Poulin, Dale Bartlett and Lise Boucher. Touring with Matt Haimovitz, he performed at New York’s Lincoln Center, in San Francisco’s Performances series and for National Public Radio on St-Paul’s Sundays.
In 2000, he performed with l’Orchestre Métropolitain, under the direction of Joseph Rescigno, and in 2007 with l’Orchestre symphonique de Laval, under Jean-François Rivest.
Marchand has given many recitals on both the SRC and CBC radio and television networks and l’ORTF (Paris). In 2000 and 2003, he was invited to perform for the Festival international de Lanaudière, and from 2000 to 2016, the Festival international du Domaine Forget. He has also participated in the Montreal and Ottawa Chamber Music Festivals.
‘In 1996, his musical talent crossed over to the theatre with the hit “Deux pianos quatre mains”… playing along and acting with the equally versatile and talented Grégory Charles.’
He counts as his favourite composers Mozart and Bach, for their “outstanding work”.
In 1996, his musical talent crossed over to the theatre with the hit Deux pianos quatre mains (Two pianos, four hands), playing along and acting with the equally versatile and talented Grégory Charles. The team toured Québec extensively then performed the show in English at the ATC Theatre in San Francisco.
“There is some discussion that we might revive the show but only if the original director Denise Filiatrault is on board”, says Marchand.
Marchand strives to be the best possible servant to the master. “In acting the master is the playwright; in music, the composer. I owe it to them to be as true as possible to what they want to emotionally convey”. He goes on, “Acting and music are two types of artistic expression, poetic evocation in both cases. Words are the language of the actor, tone the language of the musician. Whether studying a script or a score, there is a lot of analysis involved. Actors can take certain risks, whereas musicians need to control their emotions.”
He presently serves on the faculty of the Schulich School of Music of McGill University where he teaches collaborative piano and chamber music.
I asked him how he deals with both careers, as well as teaching and playwriting, that he must be a very busy person. “It’s manageable. You know, acting is a crazy business, not for normal people. It takes so much out of you, as you can get overwhelmed by your role. And then it ends and you can find it rather difficult to break away from that role. That’s when I go back to the piano. It grounds me and balances out my life.”
And at the Centaur Theatre, from September 28 to 30, in the staged play reading of David Fennario’s Balconville
Images: James St Laurent, unless specified otherwise
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Patricia Dumais is co-editor and artistic director of WestmountMag.ca, and occasionally contributes articles. She began her career as a graphic designer and assistant artistic director on several Canadian feature films and documentaries. Patricia then worked in the field of communication and, in 1988, she co-founded Visionnaires branding design. email@example.com