Interview with Audrey Tautou
PUBLISHED: 11:03 12 September 2011 | UPDATED: 15:02 22 February 2012
Despite being known to millions of people around the world as Amélie, French actress Audrey Tautou has managed to live her life away from the spotlight. Pierre de Villiers meets a very unspoilt star...
Despite being known to millions of people around the world as Amlie, French actress Audrey Tautou has managed to live her life away from the spotlight. Pierre de Villiers meets a very unspoilt star.
Looking a picture of unfussy chic in jeans, shirt and red jacket, Audrey Tautou glides almost unnoticed into the Soho Hotel in London. Were it not for the obligatory PR minders shadowing the actress, you wouldn't know you're in the presence of a major French movie star and the face of Chanel No.5. It is a level of anonymity the deeply private Tautou clearly revels in.
"I am a very shy person," the actress explains having eased her petite frame into a chair in an upstairs suite.
"I don't want to become more famous than I am today. I am not interested being in movies that are going to be everywhere in the world and be seen by a massive audience. I am only interested in doing films outside France if it is an exceptional role."
By shunning Hollywood in favour of Paris, Tautou has not only been able to keep a reasonably low profile since bursting onto the scene in Amlie in 2001, but has also landed herself some good parts over the
last few years.
"In France they offer me great characters in great movies," she points out. "I'm not sure it's easy to find interesting female characters in the Hollywood industry. Also, once you've kind of announced that you are not that interested in working in Hollywood, they don't come calling, so I don't have that many offers. They've got so many people who are keen to work in America they don't go and find the girl who's not that bothered."
Her latest film, Beautiful Lies, underlines why Tautou prefers to work predominantly in the country of her birth. A well-crafted romantic comedy with dark undertones, it sees the actress play the sort of intriguing protagonist you rarely find in Tinseltown rom-coms. Within minutes of the start of Beautiful Lies her character milie who runs a hairdressing salon in Ste stubbornly ignores the requests of a customer and gives her a horrible haircut. Her stock only plummets after that when she gets sweet handyman Jean (played by Sami Bouajila) who has a crush on her to pretend he is in love with her mother as a boost to her confidence.
"Yes, my character can be unbearable but she is also very charming," Tautou says. "I think Sami's character falls in love with her because he is a clever man and he knows behind this faade this appearance of confidence she is deeply good and not that confident. I think that is attractive because she is complex which makes her interesting."
Signing up to Beautiful Lies gave Tautou a second opportunity to work with writer-director Pierre Salvadori (after the 2006 film Priceless), a man whose non-traditionalist views on romantic comedies she absolutely adores.
"I like a romantic comedy that doesn't fit into a certain formula," she says. "Usually when you do a romantic comedy, everybody is lovely and nice. There is something more realistic when it comes to Pierre's film. Everybody has a dark side and just because you are talking about love doesn't mean you can't show something which is less pretty. To see the light you need to see some shadows or everything is flat."
While Tautou is effortlessly funny in Beautiful Lies, as she often is in movies, the actress insists that tackling comedy is harder for her than doing drama."Comedy's difficult because it doesn't just require sincerity, but it is also about timing and getting into a certain rhythm otherwise you are just not funny," she says. "You also have to have the echo of the person you are playing against. You don't have the laughter of the audience and you don't know how it's going to come across. It is one of the most difficult chemistries to find and it is much harder than acting in a normal drama."
Despite her passion for performing in front of the camera, acting has never been the be-all and end-all for Tautou. Growing up in Monluon in Allier, she dreamed of hanging with monkeys and becoming a primatologist. She became interested in acting when her dental surgeon father and teacher mother offered her a two-week summer course at the famous Cours Florent drama school in Paris as a reward for getting good grades in her baccalaurat. Teachers were so impressed they offered her a permanent spot and Tautou went to acting class while doing a literature degree at the Sorbonne. In 1998 she won a young actor talent competition run by Canal+ and was cast shortly afterwards by Tonie Marshall in comedy drama Venus Beauty Institute, for which the actress won a Csar award.
The biggest break of Tautou's career arrived in 2001, not because of her acting talent, but rather because of her extraordinary looks. Director Jean-Pierre Jeunet, looking for someone to replace Emily Watson, the first choice for his new film Amlie, happened upon the poster for Venus Beauty Institute. Transfixed by Tautou's doe-eyed innocence he met with the actress and cast her in what would turn out to be a world-wide phenomenon, nominated for five Oscars. Having found her way to the top almost by accident, the actress is happy to leave things to chance when it comes to her career.
"It's true that I really let things come to me," Tautou says. "I am not inspired by anyone else's career because I don't have any expectations when
it comes to work."
Her rather laissez-faire attitude towards acting has seen Tautou cast in a wide variety of roles, including a Turkish maid in Dirty Pretty Things, fashion icon Coco Chanel in Coco Before Chanel, a gold-digger in Priceless and, in a rare trip to Tinseltown, a code-cracker opposite Tom Hanks in blockbuster The Da Vinci Code.
Evolution on stage
Tautou has also excelled on stage, appearing as Nora in A Doll's House at the Thtre de la Madeleine in central Paris last year. "It was an amazing part, tiring but wonderful," she recalls. "What I like about theatre is that each evening you can progress and arrive at an understanding and have integration with the character that is just incredible. There is really an evolution in your understanding between the first time you play the role and the last time you play the role and that's wonderful."
Despite proving she has range as an actress, Tautou is still seen by most cinema-goers as a quirky romantic lead, partly because of Amlie's success, but also because she is rather eccentric in real life. She has a habit of taking pictures of the journalists who talk to her the actress feels she wants something out of the interview as well while she has sported some interesting hairstyles over the years.
"I was very audacious but not lucky," she says with a chuckle, thinking back to some of her more disastrous haircuts. "I had a hairstyle like a 1980s soccer player and I also had a very, very short fringe. It was terrible."
The fact that Tautou has done so well to stay beneath the radar means she could probably get away with the occasional follicle-related faux pas. It also means the actress has the freedom to indulge in her many other interests without being bothered too much.
"I like many other things such as photography, writing, travel I have a lot of cerebral occupations," Tautou says. "And I also want to become a sailor and do a world tour on my own boat. I feel I am very independent from acting even if I really enjoy it."
Beautiful Lies is on general release.
The Best of Audrey Tautou
Venus Beauty Institute (1999)
Tautou won a Most Promising Actress Csar for her role as a beauty parlour worker in search of love and happiness in Tonie Marshall's comedy drama.
Tautou is cute as a button as a shy waitress in Montmartre who decides to change people's lives for the better in Jean-Pierre Jeunet's hugely influential romantic comedy.
Dirty Pretty Things (2002)
Stephen Frears' shocking film allows Tautou to show her range as a hotel maid in London who gets caught up in the grim world of illegal immigrants and forced organ transplants.
Tautou's first collaboration with director Pierre Salvadori sees her playing a gold-digger who sets her sights on a bartender thinking he's a wealthy suitor in a genuinely funny comedy.
Coco Before Chanel (2009)
The actress does a fine job stepping into the stylish shoes of fashion icon Gabrielle Coco' Chanel in Anne Fontaine's superior biopic.