I remember the hype surrounding La Haine at the time of its release in the mid-1990s, and I also remember thinking that much of the adulation offered for Mathieu Kassovitz' feature directorial debut was a little excessive. But what I remember most is its star, an oddly handsome young actor who, perhaps not unlike his character in the film, was in the process of defining himself, and for better or worse left an indelible impression. Fifteen years later, Vincent Cassel has become one of the most acclaimed and successful actors in the world; not only did he go one to become one of France's best-known leading men, he has worked the world over in everything from genre films to harrowing dramas to breezy Hollywood thrill rides. And in his latest, the epic, two part true-crime French film Mesrine, he seems to combine all of those experiences into one epic performance that shows him at his most charming and terrifying, intelligent and animalistic, grandiose and understated, but as always, unforgettable.

Cinematical recently sat down with Cassel at the Los Angeles press day for Mesrine, where the actor waxed poetic about playing the on screen version of one of France's most notorious criminals. In addition to discussing the challenges of tackling a role based on a real-life person, Cassel examined his ongoing process as a performer, and reflected on an eclectic career that continues to grow and expand with each new effort.