Before Zooey Deschanel, there was Audrey Tautou.
In Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s whimsical 2001 romantic comedy Amélie, Tautou’s titular Manic Pixie Dream Girl stole the hearts of critics and audiences alike, to the tune of five Oscar nominations and $173 million worldwide—an incredible box office number for a French-language film.
The delightful French actress is back with her latest, the romantic drama Delicacy, about a young French executive at a consulting firm who’s mourning the death of her husband three years prior. Suddenly, she finds herself being courted by her Swedish coworker, who’s more than a little out of her league in the looks department.
While in New York, Tautou sat down for an interview with the The Daily Beast and dished on her new film, Amélie’s legacy, the enormous success of The Artist, why it’s so difficult for French actors to cross over into Hollywood roles, whether she’ll be retiring from acting soon, and more.
Have you always wanted to be an actress?
No! As a child, I dreamed of becoming a primatologist, and I had this idea of being in a jungle and living in a treehouse.
Oh, that’s interesting, because I heard that after you filmed Amélie, you took a trip to the jungle?
Yes. After filming Amélie I went on a holiday to Sumatra, and I was interested in studying orangutans. There was an orangutan sanctuary there, and I heard that they were taking volunteers. However, as soon as I got there, they weren’t taking volunteers anymore, so I missed the opportunity!
I know you played a Turkish woman in Dirty Pretty Things, which was fantastic by the way, but I’ve always wondered what your ethnic background is, because you have a somewhat exotic look.
No, actually I don’t have any foreign lineage in my background. That’s funny, because when I was 17 or 18, people used to ask me that question all the time.
With Amélie, what was it like to become such a global superstar at 23?
Because it happened to me when I was relatively young, it took a little time for me to realize what was happening. The fact that it did happen, I just went with the flow and let it take me where it took me. It was a fantastic experience though, because it let me pursue more roles and opportunities.
I’ve always been curious how actors deal with being so closely associated with an iconic role. Is it a blessing and a curse, in a way?
I really think this film was a tremendous gift. Looking back at it 10 years later, I see that people who saw it then will now want to show it to their children, and they’ll want to show it to their children, so for some people, it will guarantee that I’ll never be forgotten.
This was a huge year for French cinema with The Artist. What are your thoughts on that film’s success and how it will affect the French film industry, as well as the way French films are received in the U.S.?
I’m very happy and very proud of The Artist’s success, and I think the work of Jean Dujardin was absolutely wonderful. It shows that we can go beyond just our own culture and, whether it be a French film or a film from another country, can use film as a way to open us up to other cultures.
People are now speculating as to whether or not Jean Dujardin will be able to cross over into Hollywood roles. As history shows, it hasn’t been easy for French actors to cross over into Hollywood—with the recent exception of Marion Cotillard.
For a French actor to come to America and make a career there demands a great deal of work. They have to work very hard to integrate themselves into that environment. I think the desire to work here would be impelled by trying to find something here that you don’t find in your own film culture or country. For me, working on The Da Vinci Code was a fabulous experience, and working with Tom Hanks and Ron Howard was special. But to have that kind of career in Hollywood would require constant struggle and effort on my part, as well as a great deal of sacrifice. In France I’m offered many parts, whereas if I were to make a career in Hollywood, where I’d make a film here like a tourist once every few years, that’s not how they want it to be. I really think you have to move there and express the desire to work there. But it’s hard to obtain parts that are more interesting than the ones I have in France. There are really great and wonderful directors, and of course, if one of them were proposing to work with me, it would be a very enriching experience. But I’m not sure that the female parts are as interesting as male parts [in Hollywood].
It’s very different in France, where female actors are generally viewed as equals to their male counterparts as far as movie stardom goes.
There are very few American films where the woman has the lead role; that’s true. So, if I were to make the equation between the very low number of roles available and the great number of fabulous actresses you have here, it’s not a good equation for me!
So what attracted you to your role in Delicacy?
This is a role that really explores the full range of emotions. You have her light and unconcerned life, where she’s lively and vivacious and everything’s ahead of her, and then you have the contrast of the drama and various stages of mourning she goes through, and then you have the possibility of rebirth. For me, it was interesting to explore this journey that she makes from beginning to end.
Was her office environment paying homage to Mad Men? The interior’s all wood and retrofitted, and you have this busty, redheaded secretary there as well.
Yes, there was a little inspiration there! They wanted to have a little touch of Mad Men.
Your character in the film is also obsessed with Pez. Do you have any items you obsess over?
When I was younger, I loved this little candy as much as my character! [giggles] It brings me back to my childhood. The director’s even offered me a collector’s copy of [a Pez dispenser].
In the film, your character also initially yearns for the dream of marriage and children. Is this something you’re looking for?
Yes, I hope to have a family one day. Of course!
I read an interview in The Telegraph where you said you were thinking about retiring from acting soon?
I don’t know where that came from! Maybe I was making a joke, and the interviewer didn’t have a sense of humor or something! But that’s not true. It really spread all over throughout the world. It was incredible!