In the feature-length adaption of Sex and the City (2008), one of the movie’s main characters, Samantha, returns home and unexpectedly meets her new neighbor: a chiseled, gorgeous man in the buff, seductively washing himself in an outdoor shower. Toward the end of the scene, the neighbor, who is played by Gilles Marini, turns to acknowledge Samantha, and as he does, the audience glimpses his baguette. Before his sultry box-office debut, Marini was an internationally known supermodel who acted in daytime television dramas, but his tastefully silhouetted side-knob earned him overnight mass appeal. The following year, he competed in the eighth season of Dancing with the Stars, when he and his partner, dancer Cheryl Burke, finished in second place by the narrowest, most bitter-sweet margin. While 44-year-old Marini has become somewhat of a fetishized sex object for the modern age, his dramatic bone structure and bulging muscles belie the man he is beneath the surface: a compassionate, intelligent, and deeply feeling husband and father who loves dogs, and strives to encourage inclusivity and understanding in his adopted home of America.
GILLES: I’m not kidding you, about 45 minutes ago I was feeding a squirrel inside of my living room, with my dog sleeping right next to the squirrel, and my bird talking human language to the squirrel to get out of the house because my bird is jealous that I gave the squirrel food that the bird can eat.
DROOL: Tell us about your relationship with animals.
DROOL: Are you Snow White?! Your dog must be pretty laid back to share its couch with a squirrel … What’s her name?
GILLES: Mila. She’s an 11-year-old French bulldog. She was supposed to be gone four years ago, but she survived a massive surgery removing all of the discs from her body, because she had a cyst inside her spinal cord. A year ago the vet that we love, Dr. Steve, was telling us, “You need 10 people a day to take care of this dog. It’s not good, you should put her down.” It was very, very hard for me. I said to my wife, “Please let me go to shoot this film. Keep her alive, I want to be here when we put her down.” And then I met this guy who gives me this product, this CBD oil, and tells me to my face, “In 15 minutes she will feel better and she will stand up again.” I wanted to say, “Dude, you have no idea what you’re talking about, my dog is done,” but 15 minutes after I gave her the oil she was up running.
DROOL: That’s incredible!
GILLES: A year ago, we planned how to put her down, and a year later she’s here sleeping next to a squirrel, getting ready to wake up, go do her thing, and have kind of a normal time; the only thing that would kill my dog now is the fact that she’s old. Of course, the damage is so great that she lost four years of incredible muscle mass that she will never be able to recoup, but still … if I put a toy in her mouth, she fights like a two-year-old dog.
DROOL: You’ve had other French bulldogs, haven’t you?
GILLES: When I moved to Miami in 1997 I arrived with $470 and a two-year-old French bulldog, Nino, but unfortunately by age five some-body broke in and stole my dog.
GILLES: Ten years later in Los Angeles, I got another French bulldog named Buddy, and again some asshole stole my dog. I said, “I am the unluckiest man on planet Earth.” I didn’t get another dog until I was on Dancing with the Stars in 2009, when I went to visit my family in France and my son was like, “Dad, I would love to have another French bulldog. After Dancing with the Stars, if you do well can you get me one?” And I did well, so we got Mila.
DROOL: That’s so impossibly sad that two of your dogs were stolen. We’re sorry you had to go through that.
GILLES: When I was 25, two years before I moved to America, I lost my father when he was 44 years old, and that’s when I got Nino. That dog became the center of what I missed with my father. He was my therapy. I didn’t want to cry or show weakness to my family when my father died because I wanted to be the man he was, but the moment I realized my dog was gone — I am not kidding you — I cried like a young boy. I would not be able to even look at his face in my mind, I would cry and never stop. My wife thought, “Okay, this is super excessive,” but then she realized, “Oh my God, he’s mourning his dog, but his father at the same time.”
DROOL: You must’ve been pretty close with your father.
GILLES: My dad was my best friend and made me who I am today, specifically when it comes down to dedication and working hard and giving to others … that was my father in a nutshell. He was literally a saint of the neighborhood. When he died the church was so packed that people were standing outside. It was Black, white, Christian, Muslim, Catholic, atheist … everyone. The priest said, “I wish my Sundays were like that.” I probably spent more time with my father who died at 44 years old than someone who had a father for 80 years, because at age six I started working at his bakery, doing small things, like making the strawberry shortcakes. I liked making pastry more than making bread, and also making bread at six years old is extremely dangerous because you deal with fire and extreme temperature all the time. From six years old until the moment he died I was with my father, even sleeping next to him in the bed during the day in the only room in our house without windows.
DROOL: It must’ve sucked having to wake up well before dawn to go to work.
GILLES: In the middle of the night, my father would say, “Be careful at night, all the cats are gray.” He was telling me it’s dangerous; we had a huge problem in my neighborhood with crack and heroin, and people were sharing needles and dying of AIDS. I saw things that kids usually do not see because I worked early hours in the bakery. My father gave day-old baguettes to these guys living on the street, and one day this young man who was in bad shape bit on a baguette and all of his teeth came out. When you’re 10 or 12 years old and you see that at four in the morning, you’re never going to use drugs, ever. My father never was shy to put me in the middle of the war zone, and because he did that, I never was naïve and I never was shy about helping another human being. He gave me a lot of compassion. My daughter is a lot like my dad, and she never met him.
DROOL: What makes them similar?
GILLES: Since second or third grade, my daughter has focused on helping and caring for anyone with any type of disability; she calls them “super powers.” My wife and I didn’t really know about it until middle school when a teacher said, “You got something here, this young woman does it not for looking good, she does it blindly.” I mean, I have countless videos of her with other kids, helping and teaching them. I believe my daughter will change the world when it comes down to caring for others. She’s only 14 years old, but by age 20 or 25 I think she will create or find something to make this world a better place, because we desperately need a little bit more compassion and understanding, because humans are pulling apart right now, more than ever.
DROOL: Woof, ain’t that the truth. Do you have any other children?
GILLES: My son. He’s very, very straight-minded, it’s impossible to move him. He wants to get into the FBI. I am the one who tries to make him do silly, stupid stuff all the time, and he always tells me, “Dad, I think you’re going to hurt your-self.” Nineteen surgeries later, at 44 years old, I still haven’t learned, and he’s the one that always calms me down. He understands that his dad is crazier than he’s ever going to be. In March he turned 21, I put a beer in front of him, he sipped it, and he’s like, “How could you drink this?” I drank both beers that night and then I couldn’t drive home, so he drove me back.
DROOL: Sounds like the kid’s head is screwed on tightly
GILLES: I have yet to hear my son talk back to me, he’s never done it. I am an American-French man now more than a French-American man, but for our kids, my wife and I took the best out of what the French education is and we took the best of American education. The French education is harder, that’s the truth; if the kids mess around, bam. My son will not bitch about me telling him to do chores, because he understands what caring for a home is. If tomorrow I get hit by a car and die, this is his home, and he will need to take care of it. I want my children to understand how much work it is.
DROOL: You seem like the archetypical father, and surely your wife is a wonderful matriarch to match
GILLES: She’s definitely the good apple; she’s there for me when I lose control, when I lose faith, or when I lose ambition in this Hollywood machine that loves to bring you up and shut you down just to bring you up and shut you down again. She and I found the right medium to raise kids to be proactive and good in society. I think the secret is to give them a chance to be who they want to be. Kids are smarter than we think. As soon as we give kids orders they have a tendency to tense up because we don’t like orders, I don’t care where it comes from; I was a soldier, and I really didn’t like taking orders. When you give orders to kids, sometimes they take it wrong, so instead give them choices. I am a father — not a buddy, a father — and I show my kids who I am, because if you start lying about who you are with your kids, they’re going to be fake.
DROOL: There’s too much phoniness in Hollywood as is.
GILLES: Some of my peers are making me want to never work in this business again. The social media world needs to be altered because the more we are going toward separation and hatred, the more this tool is going to become dangerous. I don’t envy the parents of those young people who are becoming overnight famous through Tik-Tok and Instagram, because if you have a bit of common sense you know how fragile and dangerous this is. We’re not moving forward, we’re standing still. Or perhaps moving backward.
DROOL: It’s hard to feel good about where America is right now; we’ve got to be better.
GILLES: My father told me once, “When you vote, vote with the mind of not thinking of yourself only, and only then the world will become one.” The things in our lives are the poison in our hearts because the more society tells you to love things, the less you can love that thing. Humans need to look at the demeanor of what animals are content with; look at how they react to your richness or nothingness, and nothing changes. We need to learn from animals because we lost our way with things. I think this unconditional love and being able to take care of something that you may not talk to is super important for a human being to have. I believe it with all of my heart that animals are one of the reasons why I’m happier in life. Maybe the key is dogs, who knows?