Amélie made her an international star and The Da Vinci Code raised her Hollywood profile.
But making movies at home in France is what actress Audrey Tautou enjoys the most.
For her latest film, Beautiful Lies, she reunites with director Pierre Salvadori (Priceless) in a romantic comedy about a hairdresser who tries to ease her jilted mother’s broken heart with a series of anonymous billets-doux.
Here, Tautou talks about bad haircuts, her accidental career, and side-stepping Hollywood.
Q: You’ve worked with Pierre Salvadori, the writer-director of Beautiful Lies, previously on the film Priceless. What was it about your experience on that film that made you say yes to this one?
Tautou: Because we had an amazing complicity in our work on Priceless, because I loved the movie, because I loved the part he wrote me. I have a very special relationship with Pierre because we laugh at the same things and we talk the same language.
Q: What was it like working with Nathalie Baye? Had you worked with her before and did you have time to develop a mother-daughter-type relationship?
Tautou: I had worked with her on Venus Beauty Salon 10 years ago… it was my first movie. But I can say that I really discovered her on this shoot, because our relationship as mother and daughter created a link. We didn’t have any time to create the relationship… we had to be efficient immediately but our understanding was so easy that things went very kindly. She’s a very generous, professional, and wonderful actress.
Q: Has her career inspired you?
Tautou: Well, I admire, of course, her career, but I’m not inspired by any career because I don’t have any expectations.
Q: What is it like working with your co-star Sami Bouajila?
Tautou: Well, in fact, it was my secret dream to work with Sami one day. For me, he is one of the best French actors – he is always right and perfect. If he works in a drama, the film is amazing. He always disappears behind his characters… you never see the work and, for me, that’s when an actor is just great. So I really enjoyed this experience with him.
Q: In some ways Émilie’s an unsympathetic character. So, how did you bring about her loveability to make us know why Sami’s character would fall for her?
Tautou: My character, yes, she can be unbearable, but also she’s very charming and I think that Sami’s character, Jean, fell in love with her because he’s a clever man. He knows that behind this facade, this appearance of confidence, she is deeply good and not that confident. I think she’s attractive because she’s complex and contrasted. That’s why she’s interesting.
Q: Why have you decided to stay in France and do predominantly French movies as opposed to, say, going to Hollywood?
Tautou: Because I think that in France they offer me great characters in great movies and I’m not sure it’s easy to find very interesting female characters in Hollywood movies. And also, I don’t want to become more famous than I am today.
I’m not interested in being in movies that are going to be everywhere in the world and have a massive audience, so I’m interested in doing foreign movies if it stays an exceptional case and is, you know, exotic. But I don’t want to go there.
Q: Whilst this is a comedy that has romantic parts in it, was the fact it explored this darker side of love something that drew you to it?
Tautou: Yes, I like the fact that this romantic comedy doesn’t fit into a format. Usually, in a romantic comedy, when there’s romance, it’s a bit sweet and a bit, you know, everybody is kind and lovely and nice. There’s something a bit – not boring, because we love watching this kind of movie on Sunday night – but I like the tone of Pierre, because there’s something more realistic, because everybody has a dark side and it doesn’t mean that because you’re talking about love you can’t show something that is less pretty. To see the light, you need to have some shadows or everything’s flat. And what I like about Pierre’s universe is that it’s not flat.
Q: Is there a typical type of role that Hollywood offers you that’s perhaps part of the reason you’re not interested in taking those parts?
Tautou: Once you’ve kind of announced that you’re not that interested in working in Hollywood, they don’t come calling. So I don’t get that many requests. They’ve got so many people that are so keen to work in Hollywood that they don’t then go and find the girl who isn’t that bothered.
Q: Has there been a part in a film you’d have loved to have played if offered the role?
Tautou: I would’ve loved to have been in Gorillas in the Mist because I love monkeys. I would have really, really liked that role. But I haven’t seen a recent American film that I’ve had that feeling about. And if I do see a role that someone’s played very well, I don’t go, ‘Oh, I would have done it better.’ That’s not how I react.
Q: You often play comedic roles. Is comedy a particular challenge to pull off?
Tautou: It’s difficult because it doesn’t just require sincerity, it’s also about timing and precise breaks. It’s really about timing and getting into a certain rhythm, otherwise you’re just not funny. And you also have to have the echo of the person you’re playing against.
And as you don’t have the laughter of the audience you’re really playing it blindly and you just don’t know how it’s going to feel to hear it. It’s one of the most difficult chemistries to find and it’s much harder than playing in a normal drama. You don’t get Oscars for playing comedy!
Q: Towards the start of the film, your character lops off a customer’s fringe in spite of her protests. Have you ever had any hair disasters yourself?
Tautou: Oh, la la. Oh yes. Yes, yes, yes. I was very audacious, but not lucky. I had a haircut like an 80s soccer player. And I also had a very, very, very short fringe, more in the Spanish style. It was a terrible experience. I hate going to the hair salon.
Q: You’re known as a very private person. Director Laetitia Colombani, who you worked with on the film He Loves Me … He Loves Me Not, said, ‘It was a rich collaboration, but I know nothing about her life.’ Is it part of you to be very private with everybody?
Tautou: No, not with everybody. It depends on the relationship you have with the director and your degree of intimacy, but it’s true I’m a very shy person and it takes time for me to open my secret box. [Pauses] That’s not a sexual thing… in case maybe in English it meant something different! [Laughs] Except when I’m drunk, of course. [Laughs] No, that’s a joke. I’m joking, I’m really joking.
Q: There’s a growing trend of screen actors turning to the theatre for new roles. Have you ever contemplated going into theatre?
Tautou: Actually I played in A Doll’s House last year in a theatre in Paris for four months and I did a tour in France in January and February. It was an amazing experience and an amazing part. Tiring but wonderful. Very nourishing.
Q: What did you enjoy about theatre?
Tautou: What I like about theatre is the responsibility you have with your character. And with a character like Nora in this play, which is very mysterious and complex, you always discover something.
So what I like about this experience in theatre is that each evening you can progress and you arrive at an understanding or an integration of the character that is just incredible. I love the fact that there’s an evolution in your understanding and the difference between the first time you play the role and last time you play the role… there’s an incredible arc. And that’s wonderful.
Q: You said earlier that you haven’t had any particular expectations from your career. Do you think that your career so far has been governed more by accident than by focused ambition and if so, what do you think you would have done if the accident of acting hadn’t happened?
Tautou: It’s true that I just let things happen. I’m very independent with this work, even if I really enjoy doing it. And if nothing had happened, I have no idea what I would have done. I like many other things… I like photography and writing and travel, I have a lot of cerebral occupations. I am going to become a sailor and do a world tour on my yacht if I don’t get any more work.
Beautiful Lies opens on 12 August.
By Jan Gilbert, Freelance film journalist (www.jangilbert.co.uk)