Playing Amelie propelled Audrey Tautou’s career in France into the stratosphere. The film’s GLOBAL SUCCESS seemed to open up prospects for Tautou in Hollywood, but instead she deliberately distanced herself from the bustle of show business
AUDREY TAUTOU did not spend her childhood dreaming of a career as an actress. On the contrary, her ambition was to become a biologist and study primates. But her parents talked her into doing contemporary literature at university, throwing in, as an incentive, an unexpected gift – a course of acting at the best drama school in Paris. After two weeks at the school, Audrey realized she was hooked.
When she graduated, she pragmatically decided to devote one year – and not a day more – to trying to make it as an actress. “I thought: I won’t strain myself tiying to get work if nobody wants me. I had no intention of spending my whole life sitting by the phone waiting for a call. But during the course of that year I landed a role in Venus Beauty Institute.” Audrey missed her metro stop, making her an hour late for her audition, and was so distraught that she burst into tears right in front of the director, Tonie Marshall. Moved, Marshall agreed to give Audrey several minutes of her time. This was how Tautou got the role of Marie, a naive beautician who is keen to acquire life experience – and finds it in her relationship with a much older man, played by Robert Hossein. The film won the favour of the public and four Cesars, including one for Audrey. The French ‘Oscar’ did not turn the young actress’s head, however: she had never been fond of jewellery and cared just as little for awards. “It was a one-evening celebration which had no impact on my career: Jean-Pierre Jeunet found me long before the Cesar awards ceremony.”
Disappointed when the English actress Emily Watson turned down his offer of a part in his new film, Jeunet chose Tautou as a replacement after seeing her big eyes on the poster for Venice Beauty Institute. The film had even initially been called‘Emily’, but Watson, who had come to fame after playing in Lars von Trier’s Breaking The Waves, did not wish to learn French or spend lots of time apart from her family. So ‘Emily’ became ‘Amelie’, a young waitress from Montmartre who sets out to make the whole world happy by performing small miracles which give people back their hopes of harmony. This sentimental story made its mark as the most successful French film of all time.
Fame descended on Audrey Tautou suddenly and irreversibly: “I became incredibly popular. My face looked out from every magazine cover, and I lost my freedom. Everyone loved a character who I was not; I found it extremely oppressive – and promised myself I would never again play such a saccharine role or act in a romantic comedy.” After Amelie was released, the press was full of rumours of Audrey being in a relationship with Mathieu Kassovitz, her partner in the film, but Audrey said nothing to either confirm or deny this. After Amelie, Audrey was hot property, but it was in fact by accident that she landed a chance to work abroad. The British classic Stephen Frears had not seen Amelie when he invited Tautou to play a Turkish immigrant in Dirty Pretty Things. This was Audrey’s first English-language project and at the time she could hardly speak English.