By Micaela Shafer Porte
Jean Marc Barr, international French/American film actor and director, and part-time Pacific Beach, California local, loves Pacific Beach for its mellowness and great skateboarding. “San Diego is the place where ‘nothing’ is supposed to happen. It is a nice break from my hectic life, living out of suitcase, travelling around the world. “ He is here for the holidays, in preparation for attending the Sundance Independent Film Festival 2013, in his latest role as Jack Kerouac in the film, Big Sur, which is being presented on January 23.
“I started skateboarding late in life, at the age of 42, because I was inspired by my nephew, Oliver, and I needed a physical activity to keep me in shape during my stays with my family in California. Entering my 40’s, I felt “vulnerable,” so wanted to try a new sport, a dangerous one, as a challenge. In Paris, my other home base, I get a lot of exercise walking all the time around town, taking the metro, and all the stairs everywhere, but living on the hill (Mt. Soledad) in San Diego, I could feel the extra pounds on each visit thanks to my French mom’s excellent cooking and the general laziness of vacation and the California car mentality. “I don’t even own a car in France,” he says proudly. “Paris is a great town, but not very skate-able with all the cobblestones, and busy narrow streets and sidewalks.”
Having adopted Pacific Beach as a youth, with his family, back in the ‘70’s, on the savvy retirement choice of his father, Colonel Harold Barr of the US Air Force, retired Air Force 1 security director under Presidents’ Johnson and Nixon, and graduating from Mission Bay High School in 1978, Jean Marc exudes that cool California coast charm even as he simmers with sexy European savoir-vivre.
“I know the helmet is dorky, and I just recently started wearing one, but I can’t afford to hurt my “bank” face, nor crack anything open! And when I get going too fast, I just jump off.” This confession after admitting to some scary wipe outs, “It takes me months sometimes to get over a wipe-out, so I’m more careful these days.”
Heading out on the wide empty north PB streets, a slow slalom downhill from Calle Miramar to any cross street like Law St. or Chalcedony, down to the ocean, cruising the boardwalk… The long version: down to Santa Clara Place, around Mission Bay and Crown Point Shores to walk back up Lamont St., Yost, Vickie Dr. and Castle Hills. The short version: turn back at Crystal Pier, and walk back up the hill on Fanuel Street. “It is the walking back that really does it for me,” says Jean Marc, “and the heightened physical sensations and adrenaline of danger and balance while skateboarding downhill, watching out for any cracks or pebbles that might trip me up, is also a total high.”
Excited, and anticipating the release of his latest film, Big Sur, being presented January 23, at the Sundance Independent Film Festival in 2013, in Park City, Utah, a poignant and beautiful version of the endgame of Jack Kerouac, Jean Marc compares himself to the iconic author of On the Road. “Well, we both have French ancestry… Kerouac is a Brittany name; we both played football in high school, him in Lowell, Massachusetts, me in San Diego, Mission Bay High School… he was in the merchant marine in the war, my family was military until my dad retired in ’73, also, my girlfriend broke up with me right before the beginning of filming, so I think that put me in the right anguished mood for this role.”
“It was really a trip, the filming in Big Sur. The director, Michael Polish, wanted to keep control of the project, so he hired me, relatively unknown in the US, instead of some big American name star that might have interfered with his conception of the piece. I think the film is great, music by Aaron and Bryce Dessner of “The National,” an indie rock group from Brooklyn NY, and gorgeous cinematography by M. David Mullen; I can’t wait for the people to see it.”
One of his destinations while on a skate, is always to stop by his favorite skate shop, Soul Grind, on Mission Blvd. and Felspar St., for some board maintenance, or just to buy some cool California gear, for himself, or as well-appreciated gifts for his friends back in France. “I like some of these soft cotton T-shirts, cool original designs… and I usually get a new beanie; it is cold in Paris!” says Jean Marc, as he and owner, Pablo, banter about the latest designs of skateboards and gear.
Owner, Paul “Pablo” Smith is happy to have the visit during the slower winter season, ”Although a surfer myself, I’m married to skateboarding for better or worse,“ says Pablo, and proudly shows us some posters of his daughter, a skateboard champion and budding sports fashion model, on the window of his storefront.
“Skateboarding is a kind of meditation for me, although you have to be very alert, you can flow, and I love the ocean, the bay, the climate; I grew up here. Walking home gives me time to think. My first board was a long board, foot brakes, doing all the wrong things. Now I have a “high short board” from Soul Grind-sector 9. I started out skating “not to fall”, and now try to work on my style; I do okay.”
“After the Sundance Festival, I’m back in France to film another season of a tv show that I’ve been doing for a couple of years that pays the rent, “Deux Flics sur les Docks” (Two Cops on the Docks), and write my next film with longtime collaborator, Pascal Arnold. “
You can check out some of his directed and produced films on Netflix: “Sexual Chronicles of a French Family” and “American Translation” a “film noir” about a serial killer. “We are trying to break taboos about how people think about sex, and why should it be just the porn films that deal with this subject?”
His other film credits are numerous and he has worked with some of the leading directors of the international cinema, Luc Besson: Le Grand Bleu (The Big Blue), Merchant/Ivory: Le Divorce, Lars Van Trier: Europa, etc… Hoping that Big Sur will open some doors into the American cinema market, he would like to be more in San Diego with his mother and family for the future, but, as with any actor/director, he, and his skateboard, travel where the work is.
All photos by Micaela Shafer Porte.