He joined the Troupe of the Comédie-Française on September 1, 1947 and became its 423rd sociétaire on January 1, 1953. He resigned from the Comédie-Française on December 31, 1972, and was named sociétaire honoraire on January 1, 1973.
Born in Lannoy, Jean Piat was raised in a modest and catholic family. The high school student used to dress up with his fellows in order to practice acting. His friends’ names were Piem and Alain Decaux. He definitely got into the annals of the history of theatre the day he got fired from the Conservatory. On that fateful day, without an authorization from the proper superiors, he had granted himself the permission to be cast for a role in the movie Rouletabille in 1946.
In January 1944, he has made his debut backstage as an assistant to the stage manager prior to playing the role of a police inspector in a vaudeville entitled Le Monsieur de cinq heures. Subsequent to an audition, he joined the Comédie-française in 1947 and started playing the roles of rude valets Sganarelle and la Flèche just to name a few, then clever ones such as Scapin or Figaro.
Since 1964, he has performed more than four hundred times in Cyrano de Bergerac, with more than fifty curtain calls on the premiere night, as far as those who were there could recall.
Not a soul was able to grasp how, inspite of his amazing beauty, he had this keen ability to embody the role of the most celebrated, unparalleled archetype of ugliness in the history of literature. In 1972, he resigned from the Théâtre Français when a TV channel, with big means devoted to excellent projects, selected him for Robert Dartois’ part in Les Rois Maudits. Other appearances on TV include Les Jeunes filles based on a novel by Montherlant, and Lagardère adapted from a novel by Paul Féval. In the movies, he was supposed to star in Casque d’Or but the Comédie-Française did not grant him a leave. He met Jean-Pierre Melville who wanted to cast him for his next movie, Arsène Lupin, but the director passed away before he could complete his project. Even if Luis Buñuel just gave him a small part in The Milky Way, Jean Piat mostly offered hishigh-pitched and unique voice to the characters of Scar in Lion King or Gandalf in The Lord of the Rings. For more than fifty-five years, he has subsequently embodied on stage the roles of Don César in Ruy Blas, of Alceste in The Misanthrope, as well as that of Don Quichotte singing Jacques Brel’s “L'Hommede la Mancha.”
His career in subsidized theatres was assharp and edgy as his career during the years he spent at Comédie-Française. He has performed in de Furio Bordon’s Les dernières lunes, in Bill C Davis’ Mass Appeal (L'Affrontement), and in Peter Shaffer’s Amadeus. During the 2007/2008 season, he tackled, in the spectacle entitled Prof, the issues originating in a society lacking in authority as well as the lack of social well-being with regard to teachers and educators. He would play this show alternately with a tribute showoffered to his friend and master Sacha Guitry, entitled from Sacha to Guitry. His alter egos were Michel Bouquet and Laurent Terzieff, in front of whom, like he liked to repeat, he would “go down on one knee.”
Jean Piat is the author of a book in which he collected the most memorable theater quotes. Moreover, he has authored an imaginary encounter with Beaumarchais under the title of “Beaumarchais, the Transient Entertainer,” as well as a meeting with Sacha Guitry that he entitled, “Je vous aime bien Monsieur Guitry.” Finally, he wrote three narratives, “La Vieille dame dans la librairie”, “Veille de fête” and “Le Dîner de Londres”.
During the 2007/2008 season, General administrator Muriel Mayette-Holtz organized a tribute evening in his honor, “Grand portrait” hosted by Pierre Notte, then general secretary, at the Théâtre du Vieux-Colombier.
Lundi 21 octobre 2019 la billetterie de la Comédie-Française (téléphone et guichets) ouvrira exceptionnellement ses portes à 12h00.
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