Audrey Tautou was 24 when she became one of the most famous actresses in the world. Cast as the eponymous Parisian waitress in Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s Amélie, she found herself in the daunting position of becoming an instant cultural icon. “In the beginning it wasn’t something that pleased me,” she says. “I thought, ‘This doesn’t look like me.’”
In person, Audrey speaks slowly and carefully—English is not her first language. At times she appears frustrated at her inability to articulate what she wants to convey, but her body is wholly expressive: rolling her eyes, scrunching up her face, raising her slim shoulders towards her ears. A dozen years after Amélie, what’s most remarkable about her is how sane she appears. Such a stratospheric rise at a relatively young age is a recipe for vainglory, but Audrey remains carefully grounded.
As the face of Chanel and an actress who continues to give acclaimed performances, Audrey is still one of France’s most recognisable movie stars. However, aside from co-starring in The Da Vinci Code in 2006, she has purposefully avoided pursuing roles that would bring her to a wider audience. “The thing is that I don’t want to become more popular,” she says. “For me it’s something that’s very scary. I don’t want to live a parallel life, so it’s very important that I make choices that will lead me on this road, and not the superstar road.”
Based on The Da Vinci Code, Audrey can imagine how her career could have progressed, and the sort of relentless commitment it would demand. “If I do three movies in a year, I lose all my friends. My parents don’t recognise me. I just disappear from my life.” Instead, notoriously judicious, it’s rare to see Audrey act in more than one picture per year.
Having glimpsed what she would have to give up, Audrey instead put an emphasis on cherishing the life she’s built in Paris: “All of my family, all of my friends are in France. I wouldn’t be able to share all these moments in my life with them. A career in Hollywood doesn’t deserve that kind of sacrifice, especially when there’s such great work here.”
Despite her discernment in film choices, she is keen to dispel the notion that her reticence is due to indifference. Rather, the opposite is true: “The thing is I’m a very… entire person. When I choose a movie I have to fall in love with it. I always want to feel the same strong desire when I come on a set,” she says. “I need each experience to be unique and that’s why I don’t do too many. I want to keep this flame alive. Cinema can become a business, and it has to be something else. It has to be a human experience.”
Proving Audrey’s point is her latest film, Thérèse, which feels unlike anything she has starred in before. Based on François Mauriac’s 1927 novel Thérèse Desqueyroux, the film is a sharply-drawn character study about an intelligent woman ahead of her time, in Audrey’s word “trembling between her independent spirit and the pull of the bourgeoisie,” whose suffocating marriage leads her to a deleterious course of action.
Once again playing the title character, Audrey portrays her character’s rich, troubled inner life in a performance that is largely internal, and one of her strongest to date. “I wrote everything Thérèse was thinking on my script as if there were some other lines, some silent lines. I really wanted to be very precise, very clear in my head, so there’d be the sentence I was saying and the one I was thinking. I didn’t want to fake the fact that I was thinking something.”
Audrey is unmistakeably still infatuated with acting. “I love the playfulness of it, to extract myself from my life and just dream for three months. You’re in this protective bubble. And I love the fact that it’s a team project, this building of a movie, and you all participate in it.” When I ask if she’d ever consider focussing on other things, she looks shocked, as if the concept is unimaginable. “I just really love to act. I don’t know, it’s like a psychological laboratory and afterwards it’s a question of degrees and colours and it’s great because you are in a constant evolution.”
Admirably unconcerned about ageing, Audrey instead embraces the opportunities that it brings to her life as an actress. “Your work changes with the years, and the parts change with you. I can’t play the naive ingénue any more. I couldn’t play Amélie now. But you evolve: my desires are different from the ones I had when I was 24, not only concerning my acting parts but other areas of my life as well. That’s the reason why you can never get bored of this job.”
Published in Oh Comely Issue Sixteen. To read the original article click here.