SEBASTIEN Foucan is the founder of freerunning- the spectacular physical discipline he showcased in the opening scenes of Casino Royale and in Madonna’s Jump video and Confessions tour. Foucan grew up in Lisses, Ile-de-France, where he started to explore movement skills with his friends.
He was partly inspired by the theories of Georges Hébert (1875 - 1957) - a PE expert who was impressed by the fitness of tribal people in Africa he encountered as a naval officer.
He promoted the development of a healthy body through natural movements like running, climbing and jumping. Foucan became well-known in Britain after filming Jump London and Jump Britain (2003), where he was shown freerunning in urban and natural environments.
In his new English-language book, Freerunning: Find Your Way, he explains the philosophy behind his sport - expressing your individual talents without a sense of competing with others or of conforming, overcoming obstacles and grasping life’s opportunities.
You founded freerunning and are a a co-founder of parkour. What is the difference?
Freerunning is my own personal expression. It's a way of expressing yourself in your environment with no limitation. Parkour, a variant of the French word parcours meaning a (obstacle) course, was my first interest. I used to do it with my friends for a long period of time but I personally felt limited in practising parkour.
With time I matured and tried to find a new direction. I started to include everything that influenced me, like martial arts, yoga and dancing. I still see freerunning as an unfinished discipline.
What is the aim of practising it?
Your own personal free expression and to develop yourself physically and mentally.
What are the best environments for it?
Everywhere in the world is possible if you have some obstacles - urban and natural.
Are there sometimes legal problems - for example if you want to go onto roofs?
There are no problems because you can practise almost everywhere; there is plenty of room to do it.
How would you advise someone to get started and learn basic techniques safely?
Start slowly and get interested in anything regarding the art of freerunning. Learn by practising it.
Some techniques (like long drops or jumps between buildings) look dangerous. Do you worry about young people trying to copy difficult moves?
I say people should stop trying to do the most difficult moves just to impress people. As in any discipline if you try to copy the highest move without any preparation you risk serious injury. People need to know jumping is just a part of freerunning; it’s much more than that.
You say in the book actually you don't really like heights.
Why do you keep pushing yourself to face these fears?
Pushing myself is not my goal. I do what my body is able to do. Heights and jumps are part of my art and I accept that.
What are some of the key moves for a beginner to learn?
Landing, catching, running, jumping... but you can't explain all the moves by interview.
What are some of the hardest to master?
There is nothing to master in freerunning; just things to do. The hardest thing is to understand that.
What advice would you give for general fitness and good health for someone who does not necessarily want to become a freerunner?
My advice will be eat what you like but in moderation - fruits, vegetable, pasta, rice etc. It’s OK to eat even pizza but find a way to go out and move - get active.
You are known for thinking about the philosophy behind freerunning as well as the physical side. Can you sum this up?
Like life the art of freerunning is about choice and obstacles.
Basically if you understand that freerunning and life have similarities you can start to take lessons from your journey practising.
People are always afraid about risk while there is risk everywhere in life and we don’t even notice it. Freerunning is not about taking risk but to live with it, like in life.
What was it like working with Madonna in the Jump video and her Confessions tour?
It was an amazing privilege and really challenging in many ways, Madonna is a strong person who has been through a lot of incredible experiences in her life and it is always interesting to work with such a person.
You filmed a spectacular freerunning sequence in Casino Royale. Did you really do some of the most dangerous-looking bits, like the jump between two cranes?
There were no special effects in that opening sequence and I did almost all my moves and jumps myself, except the crane jump - they didn’t let me do it because of risk . It was really fun anyway.
You have done a lot of filming in the UK. Do you have any opinions about the differences in mentalities between France and Britain?
I love the open-minded attitude in the UK. They embrace the culture and philosophy of freerunning more.
Was it exciting going around famous London monuments in Jump London, or around the UK in Jump Britain? Did you have a favourite location?
It was very exciting and I think it’s in my heart forever - I really love London.
You are in a new British film The Tournament. Tell us about that…
It is a story about a competition between killers, and an innocent priest who finds himself mixed up in middle of it all. I play a killer called Anton Bogart. He’s a hunter-killer who likes chasing, I loved doing it and I was honoured to have a sequence with Robert Carlyle.
Tell me about your book - have you been working on it for a long time? It contains a lot of great photos - were these done specially for the book? What do you hope its effect on readers will be?
I’ve been working on it for a long period of time first by thinking and slowly starting to write it over time.
The pictures are not all done especially for the book, they also include photographs from along my journey.
I hope it will help and give inspiration to daily life and give a better understanding about how I see the art of freerunning.
In the book you refer to spiritual growth. What does that mean to you?
I've seen people practise with “materialistic” goals but they have to find themselves in their practising, that means learning to be humble, and understanding that nothing is permanent. I believe that there is power of nature and really simple rules to understand and follow.
Where do you see your career going now?
I’m like water trying to be ready to react. I hope I will continue working more with artists. The practice is for ever even it has to stop physically it’s an attitude first and foremost.
Where do you see the sport going from here? Do you think it will become more organised or do you feel it must stay focussed on individual exploration?
There was recently a self-proclaimed “world championship” in London.
Does that worry you?
I don’t know where it will go as a sport and it doesn’t matter to me. I see it as an evolving art. I'm not worried, I let people follow their way because freerunning is about finding yourself.
Freerunning: Find Your Way is published by Michael O'Mara Books, London and is available on amazon.fr at €12.73
Foucan in Casino Royale
Photos: © 2006 Danjaq, LLC. United Artists Corporation and Columbia Pictures Industries, Inc. All rights reserved