Coming up for air

One dive into `The Big Blue' and Jean Reno was a star. But his rapid rise to success brought on a bad case of the bends. Now he's resurfaced and getting his life back on an even keel.

On the surface, Luc Besson's 1988 French feature film, The Big Blue, is not specifically geared towards children, yet they sit mesmerised for hours as the star, Jean Reno, and his diving rival, Jean- Marc Barr, try to break each other's depth records to the eerie strains of Eric Serra's music. Since parents everywhere appreciate films with a mesmeric effect on young children, there can be few French households without a video copy of The Big Blue, and even fewer where Jean Reno's is not a household name. "That film sent me crazy," says Reno now of his dive to overnight fame. "I got divorced, I had a lot of women, I travelled round the world and I stopped working. Suddenly, after one movie, I was a star. It took me 18 months to get myself back together."

When he did resurface finally, it was to renew his collaboration with the idiosyncratic Besson - a relationship that had begun at the start of the Eighties when Reno auditioned for a part in a little comedy on which Besson was then working as first assistant director.

"Luc asked me for a photo and I told him, `You must give it back because I have only one,' and he started laughing. Then he said, `Where is your CV?' and I said, `On the back of the photo.' Then he asked me, `Why should you have the part?' When you are unknown, that is always a difficult question, so I said, `I'm here, I'm the best, take me or leave me.' Because he did not know me, it was impossible for him to say I'm not the best, so he took me." And when Besson himself went on to make his own debut feature - the bizarre black-and-white Le Dernier Combat - in 1982, who should he cast as the aviator hero but Jean Reno?

Now best known as the New York hit-man hero of Leon, Reno was born 37 years ago in Spain, to Spanish parents, but ended up doing a spell of French military service at the age of 18 in order to fulfil his dream of studying acting in Paris. "It was boring, boring, boring, but I had to do it to get to drama school. Since then, I've been French - though less French, perhaps, than Gerard Depardieu. He comes from the Loire, which is the heart of France, whereas I choose to live in Arles, which is more cosmopolitan. I speak Italian, German and English. I look at life as a European journey."

It's a journey that has taken in the critically acclaimed Besson films Subway and Nikita, while, following their hugely successful collaboration on Leon, Reno won a pair of high-profile Hollywood parts in French Kiss, with Kevin Kline and Meg Ryan, and Mission: Impossible, with Tom Cruise. But the insights these two movies gave him into the mainstream film industry have made him wary of future projects with American directors. "When you work with Luc Besson, he really looks at you and assesses your emotional level. But Brian de Palma doesn't give a shit about actors. He worries about everything else, how much blood there is in his movie and so on, but he watches the performances on video. That's how little actors mean to him."

During the making of Mission Impossible, Reno's second wife had a baby, whom she named Tom. "I told Tom Cruise about the name and he was happy, because he believes in family. That's good, because in this business you need a solid base. I already have a 19-year-old daughter who is studying to be a nurse and a 17-year-old son who wants to be a composer. When my daughter talks about dating, I tell her about Aids until she says, `Enough, Papa.' Then I tell her to choose a smart gentleman but, of course, she does exactly as she likes."

Without the looks, the youth or the accent of a Tom Cruise, Reno knows that he is cut out more for character roles than for superstardom, but claims he would have his doubts about it even if it were on offer. "Tom earns $10 million per movie but he can't get close to anyone because, after five minutes, he's on a plane to Los Angeles to talk about the next movie. Sometimes he would invite me to an intimate supper, but he was so afraid of being kidnapped that he'd hire the whole restaurant. We'd sit there, just the two of us, with his agent, secretary, bodyguard and lawyer at the next table and the rest of the place empty. If I put my hand on his arm to make a point, they'd all jump up and say, `Watch it, he's touching Tom.' They're afraid you want to take something from him - his shoes, his watch, whatever - so they're always on guard. No amount of money is worth being trapped like that."

In his latest film, Roseanna's Grave - his first English-language comedy (released this week, see review page 6) - Reno plays Marcello, a deranged innkeeper who goes to desperate lengths to keep the inhabitants of his village alive so that his dying wife can take her rightful place in a graveyard that is down to its last few available plots. "The guy is quite stupid but he has a good heart. You laugh at him but, at the end, you learn something about life"n

`Roseanna's Grave' is on general release from tomorrow

Suggested Topics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch star in the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game

film
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Radio 4's Today programme host Evan Davis has been announced as the new face of Newsnight

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams performing on the Main Stage at the Wireless Festival in Finsbury Park, north London

music
Arts and Entertainment
Carrie Mathison returns to the field in the fourth season of Showtime's Homeland

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Crowds soak up the atmosphere at Latitude Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
Meyne Wyatt and Caren Pistorus arrive for the AACTA Aawrds in Sydney, Australia

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Rick Astley's original music video for 'Never Gonna Give You Up' has been removed from YouTube

music
Arts and Entertainment
Quentin Blake's 'Artists on the beach'

Artists unveils new exhibition inspired by Hastings beach

art
Arts and Entertainment
MusicFans were left disappointed after technical issues
Arts and Entertainment
'Girl with a Pearl Earring' by Johannes Vermeer, c. 1665
artWhat is it about the period that so enthrals novelists?
Arts and Entertainment
Into the woods: The Merry Wives of Windsor at Petersfield
theatreOpen-air productions are the cue for better box-office receipts, new audiences, more interesting artistic challenges – and a picnic
Arts and Entertainment
James singer Tim Booth
latitude 2014
Arts and Entertainment
Lee says: 'I never, ever set out to offend, but it can be an accidental by-product'
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
tvThe judges were wowed by the actress' individual cooking style
Arts and Entertainment
Nicholas says that he still feels lucky to be able to do what he loves, but that there is much about being in a band he hates
musicThere is much about being in a band that he hates, but his debut album is suffused with regret
Arts and Entertainment
The singer, who herself is openly bisexual, praised the 19-year-old sportsman before launching into a tirade about the upcoming Winter Olympics

books
Arts and Entertainment
music
Arts and Entertainment
Jon Cryer and Ashton Kutcher in the eleventh season of Two and a Half Men

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Whishaw is replacing Colin Firth as the voice of Paddington Bear

film
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Some are reformed drug addicts. Some are single mums. All are on benefits. But now these so-called 'scroungers’ are fighting back

    The 'scroungers’ fight back

    The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
    Amazing video shows Nasa 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action

    Fireballs in space

    Amazing video shows Nasa's 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action
    A Bible for billionaires

    A Bible for billionaires

    Find out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
    Paranoid parenting is on the rise - and our children are suffering because of it

    Paranoid parenting is on the rise

    And our children are suffering because of it
    For sale: Island where the Magna Carta was sealed

    Magna Carta Island goes on sale

    Yours for a cool £4m
    Phone hacking scandal special report: The slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

    The hacker's tale: the slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

    Glenn Mulcaire was jailed for six months for intercepting phone messages. James Hanning tells his story in a new book. This is an extract
    We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

    We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

    Child abusers are not all the same, yet the idea of treating them differently in relation to the severity of their crimes has somehow become controversial
    The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

    The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

    For instance, did Isis kill the Israeli teenagers to trigger a war, asks Patrick Cockburn
    Alistair Carmichael: 'The UK as a whole is greater than the sum of its parts'

    Alistair Carmichael: 'The UK as a whole is greater than the sum of its parts'

    Meet the man who doesn't want to go down in history as the country's last Scottish Secretary
    Legoland Windsor's master model-makers reveal the tricks of their trade (including how to stop the kids wrecking your Eiffel Tower)

    Meet the people who play with Lego for a living

    They are the master builders: Lego's crack team of model-makers, who have just glued down the last of 650,000 bricks as they recreate Paris in Windsor. Susie Mesure goes behind the scenes
    The 20 best days out for the summer holidays: From Spitfires to summer ferry sailings

    20 best days out for the summer holidays

    From summer ferry sailings in Tyne and Wear and adventure days at Bear Grylls Survival Academy to Spitfires at the Imperial War Museum Duxford and bog-snorkelling at the World Alternative Games...
    Open-air theatres: If all the world is a stage, then everyone gets in on the act

    All the wood’s a stage

    Open-air productions are the cue for better box-office receipts, new audiences, more interesting artistic challenges – and a picnic
    Rand Paul is a Republican with an eye on the world

    Rupert Cornwell: A Republican with an eye on the world

    Rand Paul is laying out his presidential stall by taking on his party's disastrous record on foreign policy
    Self-preservation society: Pickles are moving from the side of your plate to become the star dish

    Self-preservation society

    Pickles are moving from the side of your plate to become the star dish
    Generation gap opens a career sinkhole

    Britons live ever longer, but still society persists in glorifying youth

    We are living longer but considered 'past it' younger, the reshuffle suggests. There may be trouble ahead, says DJ Taylor