Gilmore Girls' Yanic Truesdale on Returning to Stars Hollow and His New YouTube Show
In 2000, Montreal native Yanic Truesdale, who had made his career in numerous Canadian television shows, was cast in his first English-speaking role in a new show on The WB network called Gilmore Girls. He played the snooty French concierge Michel Gerard, who had no problem ticking off customers with dismissive insults and constant eye rolls.
But he was also a confidant of Lorelai Gilmore (Lauren Graham) and Sookie St. James (Melissa McCarthy), and when Lor and Sookie buy the Dragonfly Inn, they bring Michel with them. So it's not a surprise that he'd be a part of the four-movie revival of the show that is currently shooting and will stream later this year on Netflix.
However, it's not like he's been waiting for producer Amy Sherman-Palladino to call him back to Stars Hollow; he's acted in Canadian and American productions, and in 2013 he opened a spin studio in his hometown. Called Spin Energie, he opened it to have an L.A.-style spin studio in Montreal. "I worked, literally 16 hours, 17 hours a day for two years, it’s just brutal," he said. He also stars in a new scripted comedy on YouTubeRed called SingIt!, a note-for-note satire of singing competition shows.
I guess Amy Sherman-Palladino was the person who gave you the call about the show coming back?
No, not at all, I heard, the way I kind of learned that something was in the works was the same way that everyone else learned. There was a leak from Netflix, I don’t know who at Netflix or something, and the press and there was an article in The Hollywood Reporter that was very specific about what was in the works and my agent sent me the link to the article so that was the first time I heard.
I mean, granted, we’ve had rumors for the last seven years that the movie would come, so there was nothing there, but this seemed more tangible and based on some facts. So, I was intrigued by it but I didn’t get a call until like a month later or something. I think they were still in the process of negotiating a deal with Amy so, yeah, so that’s how I learned, really, and then I got the official call. The official call came I think, like at end of November, so yeah, pretty late.
Before the call comes, are you thinking like, "Oh they can’t do this without Michel," or were you not expecting it at all?
Oh, well I didn’t think, I knew that if something was going to happen that I would be included, I don’t think I’ve ever thought like "Oh, they would do Gilmore Girls without me." That kind of didn’t make sense; I’ve been in the show since the pilot, and Michel is very much a beloved character, so no that didn’t cross my mind.
I know them very well, Amy and Dan [Palladino], and when we did the ATX Festival in Austin and it was completely bananas, people flew from all over the world and we couldn’t leave our hotel, all that, I just knew that there was no way that they wouldn’t follow up with the show because the show is still so vibrant, and the fan base is just getting bigger.
And they’re smart people, why wouldn’t you follow up? First of all, they didn’t get a chance to tell the ending their way, because they weren’t writing the show the last season so obviously as a writer, as a creator, she was dying to do it, and then, by being at that festival and having all of us there and seeing the craziness of it, I’m sure it just only solidified her whatever that was in the works, knowing that she was doing the right thing.
How did it feel to come back to the WB lot and see the Stars Hollow downtown on the lot and all the sets recreated?
Well, because Warner Brothers has changed my life and that show has changed my life in many ways, and because it was also my first job in the States, I have a fond, lovely connection with the studio, so every time I have to go back to the studio for a meeting or whatever it is, it always feels like I’m going home.
I didn’t have to go on the back lot where the town was, so I’ve never really gone there until we were shooting now. But there’s something magical and surreal to go back to set and have all the decor and Lorelai’s house and everything back up, I mean they’ve rebuilt, some things didn’t exist anymore. It’s so crazy!
I mean, I don’t know how much you can tell me, are they relatively exactly the way they were nine years ago?
I mean, certain sets are identical. From an actor’s point-of-view it’s like "Oh, this feels a little bigger than it was," or this or that but you wouldn’t see on TV, but it’s like going back to a house that you grew up. You know? There’s a surreal element of, "Oh my God, I remember that room," or "It feels smaller than what I remember." Because we romanticize the past or our memory, so it’s very interesting to go back to it and see it again, and touching because you reconnect immediately by seeing it, you reconnect with it.
When you say that Warner Brothers and I guess the show have changed your life, in what way?
In every way, it introduced me. I’d done a lot of Canadian television, which I’m still doing, but Canadian television doesn’t have a worldwide audience. When you do a hit show in Hollywood, it’s sold in eighty countries. You know, and you go to Israel, and you go to Italy, or you go to a small village in Spain, or Indonesia, and people recognize, so that’s a very, at first, was a very new a strange feeling, and it also introduced me in a big way to the industry.
That was a hit show, my character was certainly a hit character, I think after the first season I got chosen by Variety as one of the ten actors to watch with Ryan Gosling and Jennifer Garner, so suddenly the industry knew who Yanic Truesdale was when six months before they didn’t, I hadn’t done anything. So that changed my life, and the money that you make on a show in the U.S. is not the same as a Canadian show I think it’s a very well known fact, and that changed my life as well.
Are you surprised that everyone was able to come back?
Um, no, I wasn’t because had this been another show, maybe I would say "Oh yeah I was surprised." But as I said as an actor you rarely have a chance to be in a show that has impacted so many people and is still relevant. I mean, that’s very rare, a lot of people are on some hit shows for three, four years but then the show ends and you never hear about the show anymore. But to be in a show that almost feels now like a classic, or part of the American culture, I mean who in their right mind wouldn’t want to go back to it and make it work? Whatever is happening in their lives, you know what I mean? So in that sense I’m not surprised at all actually.
Does it feel like Amy and Dan haven't skipped a beat or is there something slightly different?
Exactly, that’s how it feels. It literally feels like we ended in July and we’re picking it up in September.
So, even though it’s been ten years since they left...
Yeah, it doesn’t change anything, I mean literally I actually said that on the set after the first day, I turned around and looked at Amy and Lauren and I said "This feels like we’ve never stopped," and she’s like, "I know." So yeah, you know also, I’m sure, because they didn’t do the last season, they probably knew so much in their head what they wanted to say story-wise that I think once they’d gotten the go, it was probably just like vomiting. It probably came out so quickly because I think it’s been in her for a long time.
It’s going to be about a nine or ten year time gap on the show?
I think it’s a real, don’t quote me on that, I’m not 100% sure, I’m trying to think of the scripts, I’m not 100% if it’s nine years after or, I’m not sure.
Does Amy consider what went on the last season in what she was doing, or does that seventh season not exist?
No, no, no it does exist. They’re using elements for sure of the last season.
What did Edward Herrmann's presence mean to the show when he was there and what is missing there now that he’s not?
Well, he is the father figure, this is a family show, this is about her strained relationship with her parents, so by not having the dad it really takes away that relationship with the parents, now it’s just the relationship with the mom, which Amy is working around that beautifully and Emily is going through a lot of things on her own because of the loss of her husband.
I don’t know if you knew him, but Ed was just a very gracious presence in the sense that he is someone who is very, very smart, and very kind and interested in others so to have him on set, and I’m a very curious person and I’m always fascinated by people that are so well educated. And you just felt like you could talk about literally anything, like cigars or the origin of brandy or whatever, he was just so well traveled and so interested and so curious, and so interested in others that he was always someone that would really ask a lot of questions.
Talking to him was a charm, he was a very, very charismatic and very lovely presence. I was in Mexico on a trip when I found out he passed away, it made me really sad, because not only did I like him a lot but I just felt that he would be missed so much, he was just too young and I was sad that I didn’t know that he was sick and I didn’t have a chance to call him and tell him how much he meant to me, but such is life, we rarely have that chance.
What can you say that we’re going to see from Michel in this new series, in this new season?
Well, what you will see is more of him as a person, in his personal life because Michel has been a character that you’ve mainly seen at work, you knew very little about his personal, where he lived or who he’s dating, anything really, we didn’t see anything. That is different with this revival so we get to know more of him and more of his personal life and I find that, personally, very satisfying and I think the audience will find that very satisfying because they’ll get to know him better.
Is he still at the Dragonfly?
I cannot talk about the story lines, but he’s very much still connected to Lorelai.
While you were working on the original series, did you get any sense of how popular it had become?
I mean at first we were that little show. We were a CW darling, the critics loved us immediately, we got great reviews, but I don’t think at first we had great ratings. We were like this little show that slowly people discovered. It was a different time in television where The CW could just leave it there even though we weren’t having the biggest ratings because it was so, the reviews and the press were so much behind that show that, very much like television nowadays, we had a niche.
But when you’re on a show, you know that it’s a hit because you live with it when you’re on the street and, there were a couple of years where it was very intense as far as being in your day to day life and living your life to manage situations and stuff.
Like how, you mean people coming up to you?
Like, you know, airports are very freaky for an actor because you’re trapped there and you have to go through security like everyone else, and all that stuff. I really didn’t know how it worked in America then I found out when I flew back home, I always fly back with Air Canada, there was a person that, every time they would see me—I guess they do that with other people that were on TV or famous people—she would take me, and then go through security much faster, and just take me through ways that I didn’t know because people get excited.
Which is fine, but you know I’m kind of like a very, I’m not a shy guy but I’m an only child, I was raised by myself so I don’t deal well with thirty people being excited around me. I find it intimidating, I don’t really know how to react, it’s too much attention on me, I just don’t deal so well with it. So, there was a learning curve with that kind of success, but then like any other show, after a few years people find another show, people get excited but it kind of calms down and it’s easier to deal with that type of thing.
Why do you think the show, in the nine years since it left, is still connecting with people?
My take on it is the writing holds up, it’s very smart writing and it doesn’t dumb down any of the references or the pop culture, I mean there’s not a time where we would have a table read and someone didn’t ask, "What does that mean?" And then Amy would go like, "Oh this person created this in 1955," and then we got the joke. So for writers to just trust that the audience is smart enough to get those references, and for sure some of the references go over people’s heads and certainly mine, so I think the writing is very much key to the show.
I also think it’s not a cynical show, it’s a show with a lot of heart and it’s a show about your real family, but also the family that you create on your own, meaning your friends, the town you live in, the community you have. It’s very much a show about family in every sort of way.
I can’t tell you the hundreds or thousands of times people have said "I watch this show with my daughter, this is our quality time." I think it allows a lot of families and parents to connect with their child and have some quality time with them, so I think that’s another key element to it.
How does that translate when you’re playing Michel because you’re the guy that’s always rolling his eyes and always having that funny, snide remark? How would you make sure that it’s not just a snotty French guy caricature and have him connect to the rest of what’s going on?
I’ve seen it a lot in Montreal, actually in New York a lot; a lot of French people leave France. France is really a tough place economically to live, the tax bracket is insane, the work, it’s very much a society that lives in the past to me. So, the young generation, a lot of the young generation have left and live in America or Canada or abroad for many reasons. So, for me, the fact that he was French and living in a small town made sense in some ways in my head, it was like "Oh here it is again, another French person who can’t deal with his country and needs to create a new life for himself." That I kind of justify in that way, so that’s how he ended up there.
Do you remember the best line Amy and Daniel wrote for Michel during the original run?
There’s so many lines, for me the crueler the line the better. There’s a line of an elderly woman, a character and they cast an actress that I think was like 85 and very frail and she comes up to Michel and she says "Excuse me, do you know where I could find the best antiques?" And Michel’s response was "At your house, I’d guess." And things like that where you’re like, "Oh my God did he just? Oh poor woman."
I also remember now that I’m talking to you, there was a group of Frenchmen coming to the hotel and I didn’t want to talk to them in French, I didn’t want to associate, and they heard the accent so they were like "Oh, we are French," and they were talking to me in French and I was like "No, I’m just a simple boy from Texas." But it was so absurd because of my huge thick French accent.
The series you're doing for YouTube Red, Sing It!, is a satire of singing competitions. Have we heard you sing before? Are you one of the singers? Or are you one of the judges?
So, here’s the thing, I actually auditioned to play one of the judges and they ended up casting me as the head of the network where the singing contest is. So Sing It! the name of the show, it’s actually the name of the singing contest show in the series, you understand? I’m the head of the network it's on. But I originally auditioned to play one of the judges. To answer your question, I do sing, I sang "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" on television in Canada last year I think for an homage to a friend who was linked to a story that was connected to our friendship, anyway, so I do sing, and I sang on stage because I’ve done a lot of theater, but I’m not a Broadway singer but I certainly can sing.
Are you a fan of American Idol and The Voice?
Not really, I’m not someone who follows those shows, I don’t get involved or root for some specific singers, but what I appreciate of those shows as opposed to reality shows which is just about bickering and backstabbing, this is real, based on a talent show. Anything that is behind the scene in my industry I find satisfying because there’s so much going on into making this show a success or whatever it is, and it’s a very complex industry with a lot of egos. I enjoy that.
Anything else coming up, or is that more than enough?
I have a project in Canada, I’m shooting this until June and I have a project in Canada that is in the writing process, I’m not writing it but writers are writing it, and I’ll be one of the leads in that show so I’m looking forward to that but we’re not in production yet.
Well, get ready to be accosted at the airport again when the Netflix Gilmore Girls comes back.
I know, I’m ready, I know how it goes.