Leboeuf: There’s nothing similar between football and acting!

FourFourTwo’s Kenneth Tan sat down with the former Chelsea defender to chat about his transition from footballer to actor, playing for the Blues in the pre-Roman Abramovich era, and what it meant to win the 1998 World Cup with France...

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Professional footballers choosing acting as their next career path is not uncommon – just look at Stan Collymore, Ian Rush, Vinnie Jones and, more recently, Eric Cantona. But as both a World Cup winner, and one to have made an appearance in an Oscar-winning film - playing a doctor in Stephen Hawking’s Oscar-winning biopic ‘The Theory of Everything’ - Frank Leboeuf occupies a unique category of his own.

On the football pitch, Leboeuf was a winner – lifting the 1998 FIFA World Cup and 2000 European Championships with France, as well as the 1997 and 2000 English FA Cups in his five-year spell with Chelsea. While his primary role was to stifle opposition attackers, he commonly excelled at the other end, scoring a total of over 20 penalties throughout his 17-year career.

Off it now, he isn’t doing not too shabbily either. Upon retiring from professional football in 2005, Leboeuf decided to pursue a career in acting, which he described as his ‘first passion’ as a child. After graduating from the Lee Strasberg Institute in West Hollywood, the Frenchman went on to feature in a number of films, including the now-famous ‘The Theory of Everything’.

Having previously been in Singapore in 2012 to participate in the 5-a-side EPL Masters tournament along with other Chelsea legends, Leboeuf was invited back by local electronic and furniture retailer Courts as part of their celebrations for Singapore’s 50th birthday.

Naturally, FourFourTwo could not turn down the opportunity to speak to the affable Frenchman, who still looks fab for his age, in his second visit to Singapore…

Welcome back to Singapore, Frank! We all know about your career as an actor now, so how has it been going along so far?

Well, it’s a passion. It’s something I’ve always wanted to do and it’s always lovely to follow your dreams; I’m just happy to be doing so. I’m acting in a stage play right now, but I don’t know how long it’s going to last. After that, I’m thinking about going back to movies.

So I just have to ask you this. How different is acting from playing football?

Oh, it’s nothing you can compare. In a movie or a play, you know the end of the story, but when you start a football game, you don’t know anything. So it’s hard to start a competition without knowing when or how it’s going to end. A movie or a play is very precise, so you know the exact lines you have to say and when it will end, but you have to reproduce them [on stage] in a way to makes people think that you don’t!

Are there any similarities in those things then?

There isn’t, there’s nothing comparable! The only thing I can say is if you’re given a good sentence [in the script] and you launch it properly, it is supposed to make people laugh. If you don’t launch it properly, the sentence is not going to make someone laugh, so it’s like giving a good assist to somebody who’s going to score. And that’s it!

So which one is the more difficult of the two?

You’re trying to make me say that something is more difficult or comparable, but they’re two different jobs. I think being in the sport business is more demanding in terms of discipline where you have to think about everything you do - like what you eat, what you drink or how you sleep to make sure your body is in the right shape and to be ready for a good performance.

But when you’re in a movie, you can drink a glass of red wine and that won’t change anything! So I guess being an athlete is more demanding than any other business.

Your countryman Eric Cantona is also in the film industry. Do you hope to act with him in a film one day?

Why not? Actually, I don’t know him because he belongs to the generation older than mine, we only played against each other a couple of times. But I like his job and what he became, so of course I’ll love to act with him – not just him but also other guys previously involved in sports, like Vinnie Jones, or even Arnold Schwarzenegger!

Going back to your football career, we all know that you’re a World Cup winner and a lot of people had said that marking out Ronaldo in that 1998 final was the finest moment in your career. Can you just share that experience with us?

Well, I’ll always say it was both the worst and best evening of my life. In terms of pressure and concentration, it was something unbearable but you have to go through that in order to be happy at the end of the day.

It’s a great experience because you know it’s going to be the day of your life as a sportsman to reach the top. At that time, France were quite invincible, so even against Brazil, I’m sure with the fans, with the way that we were thinking about and playing football, it would have been very hard for any team to beat us. That’s what happened against Brazil, and it was the perfect evening.  Never were we in any danger, and we handled the game very well. At half time, we were already champions of the world, so I’m happy!