He was born Laurent Tchemerzine, in the French town of Toulouse on 27 June 1935. His father was a Russian sculptor who emigrated to France during WWI; his mother was a French ceramics worker. From an early age, Terzieff showed a keen interest in poetry and philosophy. When he was 14 he decided he would become an actor, having seen Roger Blin’s stage production of Strindberg’s The Ghost Sonata.
In 1953, after a protracted stint as a stagehand, prompter and extra, the adolescent Terzieff finally had his first substantial stage role - in Jean-Marie Serreau’s production of Arthur Adamov’s absurdist play Tous contre tous, performed at the Théâtre de Babylone in Paris. Several more stage productions followed before Terzieff, then 23, had his film breakthrough, in Marcel Carné’s Les Tricheurs (1958). Carné gave him the part after seeing him in a TV drama entitled En votre âme et conscience (1957).
Les Tricheurs, a Gallic version of Rebel Without a Cause, gave Terzieff his lasting screen persona, that of the cynical Bohemian loner, epitomising the rebellious and disaffected youth culture of the late 50s. This image would be reinforced by his subsequent film roles, notably as the conscientious objector in Claude Autant-Lara’s Tu ne tueras point (1961). It seems fitting that during May 1968, he was working on Le Révélateur, one of four films he made for the avant-garde filmmaker Philippe Garrel, a true maverick of the French New Wave.
In H.G. Clouzot’s La Prisonnière (1968), Terzieff gave arguably his most disturbing screen portrayal, that of a morbid lone-wolf photographer. In a lighter vein, he played Brigitte Bardot’s lover in Serge Bourguignon’s À coeur joie (1967). By this stage, Terzieff had attracted the attention of some of the world’s most acclaimed filmmakers. Luis Buñuel gave him a lead role in La Voie lactée (1968), after which he appeared in Pier Paolo Pasolini’s Medea (1969). Jean-Luc Godard later hired him as the lead in Détective (1985). Terzieff’s last notable film role was that of a Russian anarchist in Claude Berri’s blockbuster adaptation of Émile Zola’s Germinal (1993).
From the 1980s, Terzieff concentrated more on his stage career, working with the theatre company that he found in 1961. He would direct many of the plays he appeared in, which were performed mainly at small privately owned theatres including the Théâtre du Lucernaire in Montparnasse. Terzieff would frequently win enthusiastic acclaim both for his performances and his directing work. His last stage appearance was in Sophocles’ Philoctetes in Paris in 2009.
During his career, Terzieff received many accolades for his stage work. These included: the prix Gérard Philipe (1964), the Grand prix national du théâtre (1984), and a brace of Molière awards for two hit plays: Ce que voit Fox (1988) and Temps contre temps (1993). He was also honoured with two notable distinctions: the Officer of the Order of Merit and the Commander of Arts and Letters.
Laurent Terzieff died from a respiratory infection on 2 July 2010, at Paris’s Salpêtrière hospital, aged 75. His passing was marked in the French press with numerous glowing tributes to his extraordinary career. His legacy of film work will undoubtedly ensure that his name will endure.
Laurent Terzieff is best-known for the following films:
The ActorLaurent Terzieff has appeared in the following films:
L’Adage (1964) (short)
L’Affaire Dreyfus (1965) (short)
Le Horla (1966) (short)