Actor Tom Mercier Reflects On How His Past Is Paving the Way for The Future


The 2019 drama Synonyms opens on a young, enigmatic Israeli arriving in Paris. Yoav, we will learn, left his country in hot pursuit of a personal and cultural reinvention. But he’s off to a rough start. The first night, Yoav’s flat is robbed while he’s in the shower, leaving him cold and naked, thrashing for warmth, or a culprit, or what we don’t quite know. Tom Mercier, 27, breathtakingly portrays our conflicted protagonist. Ironically, the actor’s French-Israeli roots form a near-perfect mirror image of Yoav’s trajectory: “My father was French, but we never spoke French at home,” he says. When he finally learned the language in preparation for Synonyms, Mercier realized he “knew nothing about that French side of my family.” “In a way, I discovered half of myself,” he continues.

Growing up, Mercier’s lone-wolf tendencies made for an atypical young adulthood. “I was a very isolated kid,” he says. “I played sports all the time. I never hung out with kids or went to parties. I [would have] liked to, but I never had the chance.” Once a Judo prodigy, Mercier eventually dropped the sport in favor of theater. “I had horrible [grades], but [my high school] said, ‘There are no guys here taking theater. If you want to get into our school, you have to do theater,’” he recalls. “To me, theater was a door into society.”

The art form continues to be an exploratory tool for Mercier: Though a medical discharge once barred him from army service—compulsory for most Israelis—Mercier had another shot at military glory. In Luca Guadagnino’s We Are Who We Are, coming to HBO this fall, he plays an officer on a U.S. base in Italy. In keeping with a theme, his character’s real struggle is internal. “The army saves his life, in a way, but he is still not happy in his own body,” Mercier says. “He never succeeds in becoming a butterfly.” Mercier, on the other hand, is coming into his own without a hitch. Now back in Paris, he’s ready to adapt to an ever-changing reality. “As I’m talking to you,” he says, “I’ve just arrived at my new apartment. I really feel that this is a new country…Life is reinventing itself, and we need to learn how to move on.”

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