There are plenty of actors who have made the transition from silver screen to political office. Clint Eastwood, Ronald Reagan and Arnold Schwarzenegger are famously among them.
Now, European actor and former premier league footballer, Eric Cantona, is delving into the world of politics and economics. Cantona is famous in Europe and hugely famous in his home country, France. Before he got into French and British cinema, he was a top footballer who captained the French national team and wore the famous Number 7 shirt, in England, for Manchester United. (The No. 7 shirt was previously worn by legendary Irish footballer George Best and later worn by David Beckham.) Massively popular with his adoring European football fans, Eric was long greeted on the pitch by approving chants of “Ooh aah Can-tona.”
Throughout his life, footballing career and film career, colourful Cantona has attracted masses of publicity for his charisma, maverick personality, frequent angry (and sometimes violent) outbursts of temper – and his sheer talent. Whether on the football pitch, in interview with the press, or on screen, Cantona is always entertaining, watchable, controversial and interesting to listen to.
His latest foray into the public sphere has been to call for (peaceful) revolution. Typically provocative, Cantona told a Nantes newspaper, Presse Ocean, that people can easily bring about revolution to change the crisis-ridden political system. During a week when Europeans were protesting in the street about public spending cuts and millions of French demonstrators were on strike against President Nicolas Sarkozy’s government, Cantona said bluntly that he didn’t think marching in the street changed anything.
Instead, he said, everyone should just go their local bank, withdraw their money and watch world banking collapse. The interview quickly went viral on the internet. (Watch it here.)
Cantona said: “I don’t think we can be entirely happy seeing such poverty around us… But there is a chance… there is something to do. Nowadays what does it mean to be on the streets? To demonstrate? …That’s not the way any more. We don’t pick up weapons to kill people to start the revolution. The revolution is really easy. What’s the system? The system is built on the power of the banks. So it must be destroyed through the banks…..the three million people with their placards on the streets, they go to the bank and they withdraw their money and the banks collapse. Three million, 10 million people, and the banks collapse… No weapons, no blood, or anything like that. It’s not complicated and in this case they will listen to us in a different way. Trade unions? Sometimes we should propose ideas to them.”
Canto has long attracted attention with his charisma, his words and his behaviour. Disciplined by French football authorities after a violent incident on the pitch he walked up to each member of the Hearing Committee in turn and called him “an idiot.”
In another incident, in England, he jumped into the stands to kick a football fan who had shouted racist comments at him. It turned out the fan had previous convictions for racist violence and was linked to a British fascist party. Nevertheless, Cantona was punished and at a brief press interview he astonished the UK press and public. When asked a question about the press interest in his career and character he replied, very slowly:
“When the seagulls follow the trawler, it is because they think sardines will be thrown into the sea. Thank you very much.”
He then got up and walked away from the assembled journalists. The British press and people are so used to footballers being unable to string three words together that the larger-than-life Frenchman’s metaphorical and philosophical statement made him instantly famous well beyond the world of football. There are probably still some UK journalists who don’t understand what he was telling them!
Although peppered with fights and disciplinary action, Cantona had an outstanding footballing career which ended in May 1997 when he decided to quit. Although only 30 years old, he felt his single-minded dedication to the sport was changing. There were other things he wanted to do in life.
Within a year he was appearing in TV commercials, notably for Nike sportswear and car manufacturer Renault. He was then offered a role as an enigmatic bar-room philosopher in a British indie film Jack Says. This led to leading roles in French Film and Looking For Eric. The latter, directed by Ken Loach in 2009, was nominated for the prestigious Palme d’Or. Canto had successfully made a career for himself as a film actor in French and British cinema.
His best-known appearance outside France was in Elizabeth. Starring Cate Blanchett (in the title role of Queen Elizabeth I of England), Joseph Fiennes, Sir John Gielgud and Richard Attenborough, the film featured Cantona as a French ambassador.
Cantona has also directed a French film, Apporte-moi ton amour (Give me your love). With a highly successful footballing career behind him, with lucrative business interests and the chance to act and direct if he wants to, it’s hard to guess whether this volatile entertainer’s foray into the political sphere is a blip or a new career in the making.
Two things are certain about Eric Cantona. One is that he is always capable of entertaining. The other is that he’s unpredictable. Who knows what he’ll do next? Since he’s clearly thinking about banks and banking, maybe he’ll set up his own bank on revolutionary new lines…