When we first talked with Gilles Marini about shooting the cover of Polo Lifestyles’ September issue, we didn’t know exactly how it would work. We are in the middle of a global pandemic, and, to be honest, we were nervous.
The last time we commissioned a photo shoot and did not send representation was never, as in never-ever. So, we spoke to the photographer, the stylist and Gilles at length about our vision for the shoot and cover. Then, we bravely left it in their hands to accomplish. Once called a Renaissance Man by his castmates on “Brothers & Sisters”, Gilles turned out to be a jack of all trades. He assembled a small team, secured a location and coordinated the date and time for the socially-distanced photo shoot. “If anyone tells you they’re busy these days,” Gilles joked, “That’s B.S. Everyone is just sitting around watching Netflix in this town.”
And this is how we came to schedule a socially-distanced photo shoot for the cover of Polo Lifestyles in three days’ time. It seems these days, the one thing that everyone has is plenty of time. As editor of Polo Lifestyles, I felt on more than one occasion, that it was my schedule holding the team back. I first spoke to Gilles on a Monday afternoon and scheduled a follow-up call with the photographer, Julian Dahl, for Tuesday afternoon. Before I could connect with Julian, Gilles was texting me, “Please, as soon as you can, give me a green light so I can complete the shooting schedule.” It was exactly at this point when I realized I wasn’t keeping up to Gilles’ preferred pace. Adjusting course, we moved up the call with Julian and green-lit the shoot on Tuesday afternoon, and Gilles promptly scheduled it for Friday of that week.
The stylist, Jen Leeser, leaped into action in Los Angeles while also calling designers in New York. Here in San Francisco, we jumped on the phone with the U.S. Polo Association to organize polo looks, as seen on the cover. A series of next-day, before-10:30 a.m. boxes were delivered to Jen’s door in Los Angeles on Friday morning, and I breathed my first sigh of relief.
Intermittent texts from Jen kept me updated about progression and looks and then all communication was lost. The ranch in Burbank, where Zeke, our cover model-horse, lives has little to no cellular reception. Jen’s texts to me were failing. I thought of countless polo tournaments where my best intentions for an Instagram Live video were undermined by a lack of AT&T coverage or Wi-Fi stability on-site. At 7 p.m., Jen texted that they were back at Gilles’ home. All had gone well, and she started sending me behind-the-scenes videos and photos, and I breathed another sigh of relief.
Fast forward to the following week when I connected with Gilles again on the phone. He was at home with his wife of 22 years, Carole, who popped in and out a few times. They have raised two children, Georges, 21; and Juliana, 14, together, but Gilles gives Carole most, nay, all of the credit. They are a close-knit family, an American Dream success story – Gilles professed to have not spoken much English upon his arrival in the U.S. – and, most importantly, he is really down to Earth. Throughout our initial conversations, Gilles had promised me he was not one of those demanding Hollywood types. Sure, I thought, the proof will be in the pudding. It turns out, he really is not one of those demanding Hollywood types, though he has been typecast and pigeon-holed into roles, albeit on major, successful dramas and soaps, as well as in films. Look for Gilles in a role where his character isn’t named Jean-Luc, Dante, Saintcroix or Henri, and you won’t find him. Most of his roles have involved playing up the sexy Frenchman that he proudly is, but he’d like to see an opportunity to play a part that is not written specifically for a tall, dark and handsome foreigner. “It (typecasting) is frustrating for a lot of actors in Hollywood,” he said. “Right now, Hollywood is under a lot of pressure to reevaluate traditional roles and concepts.”
Gilles surrounds himself with non-traditional creatives who feed his inspiration and processes. Julian, the photographer, is at least a decade younger than I expected him to be – but Gilles was right about him. “He (Julian) is incredible and so talented. He doesn’t say much, he’s a quiet type, walking around with intention and two cameras. But he’s on the verge of becoming a great artist.”
“I’ve been blessed to be associated with the best of the best in the business over the years,” Gilles confided. “I’m proud of what I’ve done, but I wouldn’t be alive if I weren’t creative. My feet, my body, move with creative energy.” He is working consecutively on five TV shows, one of which he promises will revolutionize television. “It’s a psychological, subliminal-message show presented as a comedy. It’s something funny to watch that will change who you are and how you think.” The writing, he says, often gives him goosebumps. “It would be a waste of my life if I weren’t creative.”
One of the other shows he is working on centers around policing, and in the current climate in the U.S., it’s picking up traction with studios. “The show includes a lot of roles: international, colorful roles. The writing is respectful and understanding.” But don’t look for traditional roles and characters. “There was no expectation to include certain roles, while really being very inclusive to everyone,” Gilles said slightly cryptically. “It’s fresh, fun, respectful and intelligent TV.”
Though Gilles’ 15-year career in television has been heavily dependent upon major networks and film studios, he looks to newer media like Netflix and Hulu for fresh content and inspiration. “Netflix can green light 200 shows at a time. There’s always new content. I can watch an Israeli TV series with subtitles and identify with the characters, as easily as a show on NBC in English.” His goal in television now, he says, is to bring good, proactive people to the world.
For Gilles, that started at home 21 years ago with the birth of his son, Georges, seven years later, his daughter Juliana joined the family. “My kids are amazing,” Gilles said matter-of-factly. “They’re both very protective of me – you know I’m a bit of a daredevil, always doing stupid shit.” Their home has the reputation of a reality show with a steady (pre-COVID) stream of family and friends coming and going at all hours of the day. One of the near-constant presences in the Marini family is French heavyweight mixed martial artist and former kickboxer Cheick Kongo. “Sometimes, I wake up in the morning, and Cheick is in my bedroom!” Gilles laughed. “Our home is a safe haven for us and anyone here.”
That’s true more than ever since March 13, 2020, when most of the world went into lockdown. “Georges turned 21 on March 12 – the day before lockdown – and I took him out for a beer to celebrate,” said Gilles. Georges confided in his father he is interested in a career in justice, specifically the FBI. Gilles cannot think of a better person than his son to protect, serve and defend the country. “We need, more than ever, good people in law enforcement— People who see color and respect it and treat everyone equally. We have an issue in the United States – 21-year-old kids can see it – and it won’t, can’t last. We can’t lose the American Dream for anyone.” Fourteen-year-old Juliana, on the other hand, is present to update any of Gilles’ outdated, 1990’s references. “Dad, you can’t say that anymore’ is one of her favorite catchphrases,” Gilles laughed. “But she’s right, 100% of the time about it.”
The kids are protective of Gilles for a reason: he’s undergone 19 surgeries, and during the taping of one season of “Dancing with The Stars”, he was constantly getting shots for pain. The day after his elimination from the show, he was under the knife once again. “Doctors – and I won’t name names because I need to continue to work in this town – prescribed me pain medicine after pain medicine.” Compounded with sleeping pills, Gilles became increasingly uncomfortable with the drug regimen. “I did research and found out that people die from opioid overdoses. From there, I quit taking the drugs; I quit taking the sleeping pills. I changed my relationship with food and drink. I started listening to my body,” he said. “It’s easy to be super healthy and not understand nutrition, but it’s impossible to understand nutrition and not be super healthy. I’ve never felt better in my life.”
The way he approaches money has evolved d similarly to his relationship with food, drink and nutrition. “Money is only good if it makes you happy; otherwise, it is just a poison. There has to be substance in what makes you happy. Does a new Chanel bag make you happy? Okay – get it. But for me, sometimes, I’m working outside in nature, listening to the wind in the trees or water in a rippling river, and I’ll just howl with happiness. Carole always comes running, but I tell her I’m just expressing my joy.”
In a town where nothing seems to last, Gilles’ and Carole’s marriage of 22 years stands the test of time. What is the secret to their bliss? Gilles gives Carole all the credit. “She balances me. She’s done everything for this family. I’ve never been so in love with her as I am during this pandemic. I can’t imagine life without her.” There’s one more thing that helps: “Sex. Lots of sex. Every night sex,” Gilles laughed.
For this month’s cover photo shoot, we put Gilles in his happy place: where he could smell, touch and connect with another spiritual animal: Zeke. “The horse is so powerful, he could take me down in an instant, but instead, I talked to him and thanked him for the opportunity to meet and work together. Later, I rode him without [a] problem. His trainer told me later Zeke has a reputation as a feisty, former racehorse, who’s bucked riders off and broken their bones,” Gilles said. “He never even flinched with me.”
By: Josh Jakobitz