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It’s been 12 years since Audrey Tautou whirled and fluttered onto the world stage in Amelie, playing the romantic young French woman looking to change the world in tiny increments. She has intermittently returned to the international spotlight — she co-starred in 2006’s Da Vinci Code — but has been content to follow her artistic bliss and maintain stardom in her native France.
“I really don’t dream of becoming a huge Hollywood star, and I don’t have the fantasy of doing some huge commercial blockbuster I, II, III, IV movies,” she tells THR. “It’s not something that excites me, it’s not something I’m impressed with.”
In her new film, an adaptation of the famed 1927 novel Therese Desqueyroux, she couldn’t be any more different from the character that put her on the map. As a woman from a wealthy landowning family who suffers in an arranged marriage, she plots to poison her husband — only to be caught and suffer even further. Directed by the late Claude Miller, the film is the second adaptation of the novel — Emmanuelle Riva starred in the role in 1962 — and closed last year’s Cannes Film Festival. It is slated to be released this spring.
The Hollywood Reporter: A character poisoning her husband usually isn’t all that sympathetic, but given the time period and her situation, it’s easier to understand her motivations.
Audrey Tautou: I found the character sympathetic because she is the victim of the system and those conventions, and the monster in the story, it’s not Therese, it’s all the violence and hypocrisy and influence that don’t let her live the life she wants. You have to be formatted for a certain life. There’s no discussion, and it’s a nightmare, I think, for her.
THR: While watching the movie, I thought, is this really the same person as Amelie? That must have been fun.
Tautou: Well, it’s always fun when you have an interesting character and when it’s complex, and when she has an amazing destiny — even if Therese is, of course, a darker woman and much more mysterious and dry. It’s great for me to have the opportunity, that some director thought about me for something very different from the thing I did and for something I would not come up for immediately.
THR: You’re very well-known and famous in France, but we only get some of the movies that come from France, and even then, they’re only in so many theaters. So the role most people know you for here is Amelie. So do you try purposely to take roles that are much different from that character?
Tautou: Oh, no, no, no. I never consider Amelie as a problem, so I never try to avoid her, so I keep working independently of what the audience could think about me. I’ve always felt very free, as I’ve had different proposals and thankfully, very quickly, I had this confidence that I could trust the imagination of directors. And also, I’m not choosing my part because I want to prove anything or something to somebody.
THR: You did Da Vinci Code here, and French actresses have made it big in America — Marion Cotillard, for one — so have you ever wanted to become a more Hollywood actress? It seems like it’s not a priority to you.
Tautou: No, it’s not a priority and it’s never been a fantasy, either. I really don’t dream of becoming a huge Hollywood star, and I don’t have the fantasy of doing some huge commercial blockbuster I, II, III, IV movies. It’s not something that excites me, it’s not something I’m impressed with. I know it has a huge aura and in 70 percent of cinemas in the world. I think it’s a very tough industry and I don’t want to fight for that, I don’t want to work for that. If I can have an interesting part in a smaller movie, I would be very happy. It just never has been a fantasy for me.
THR: Do you find doing small, interesting movies more pure?
Tautou: I don’t think it’s more pure. But I think it’s a question of creativity, and sometimes when you don’t have the pressure of the commercial results, you can allow yourself to be more creative and less formatted. It’s more because I find them more interesting in an artistic way.
THR: So what if someone said we want you to be in the new Star Wars movie?
Tautou: [Laughs] It would never happen. I did Da Vinci Code simply because there was an audition and the studio was not scared to give the female lead part to a French actress. But apart from that situation, it’s impossible for studios to give a main part to an almost unknown French actress, because the idea of bankability is very powerful here.
THR: So what other kinds of parts would you like to play? Is there any book adaptation you’ve wanted to make, or another type of role you haven’t done?
Tautou: I would like to play a part as completely crazy as Bette Davis was as Baby Doll [in What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?].
THR: You said a few years ago that you were going to retire from acting at some point in the near future.
Tautou: Well, I think I will act forever because it’s my passion, but I have other interests, and I really need to explore that, and it’s important for my balance to take some air outside of this business.
THR: I think that’s a pretty good idea for everyone. I read you always wanted to sail and paint.
Tautou: Yeah, I like to sail, to paint, draw, read, write, take photos and be with my family.
THR: You started taking acting lessons as a child; your parents gave you the opportunity to try it out. Did you ever think you wanted to act before that?
Tautou: I never really thought that I would have the luck to be able to be an actress and earn my living with acting. I was not confident enough to think that it would happen for me, so it’s only because some people trusted me and gave me their confidence that I started to realize that maybe my dream could come true. But before I allowed myself to think it was my dream, I had to get some proof that maybe it could work.
THR: So what were the first little pieces of proof?
Tautou: I think that when I did my first movie for cinema, I thought, Okay, I’m not going to go back to university yet.
THR: Do you ever watch that movie now? What do you think when you go back to it?
Tautou: I haven’t seen that movie in a very long time. Like 10 years.
THR: When I go look at the things I’ve written in the past, I dread it. I guess you’re always hoping to get better.
Tautou: When I see them on TV and watch for 10 minutes, I say, “Oh Jesus, thank god I wasn’t aware of what I was doing. I would have escaped somewhere in a hidden place. In a cave” … I think that for an actor, to grow, it helps your work. I really think time is an ally, it’s a friend when you’re an actor.
THR: So what is your next project?
Tautou: I just finished shooting a movie called Mood Indigo directed by Michel Gondry. I did a movie that was a sequel to two other movies, called Spanish Apartment, Russian Dolls and now Chinese Puzzle, that I shot in New York in September. For the moment, I don’t have any projects — I’m doing the little things.
THR: Tell me about the Gondry project?
Tautou: It’s an adaptation of a very famous French novel written by Boris Vian, and it’s a very surrealistic story. It’ll be released at the end of April.
THR: He’s a visual master.
Tautou: This one is maybe the craziest one … I haven’t seen the movie yet, so for me it’s a mystery. I saw many things while we were working and shooting, and it was just crazy and amazing and surrealistic, but I really look forward to discovering the movie.
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Portia de Rossi
James Gordon Meek