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
Arts and Entertainment
Reawakening: can Jon Hamm’s Don Draper find enlightenment in the final ‘Mad Men’?
tv reviewNot quite, but it's an enlightening finale for Don Draper spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Breakfast Show’s Nick Grimshaw

Radio
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
'Youth' cast members Paul Dano, Jane Fonda, Harvey Keitel, Rachel Weisz, and Michael Caine pose for photographers at Cannes Film Festival
film
Arts and Entertainment
Adam West as Batman and Burt Ward and Robin in the 1960s Batman TV show

Comics
Arts and Entertainment
I am flute: Azeem Ward and his now-famous instrument
music
Arts and Entertainment
A glass act: Dr Chris van Tulleken (left) and twin Xand get set for their drinking challenge
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
MIA perform at Lovebox 2014 in London Fields, Hackney

music
Arts and Entertainment
Finnish punk band PKN hope to enter Eurovision 2015 and raise awareness for Down's Syndrome

eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
William Shakespeare on the cover of John Gerard's The Herball or Generall Historie of Plantes

books
Arts and Entertainment

Game of Thrones review
Arts and Entertainment
Grayson Perry dedicates his Essex home to Julie

Potter's attempt to create an Essex Taj Mahal was a lovely treat

tv
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the original Swedish version of the sci-fi TV drama ‘Real Humans’
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Hugh Keays-Byrne plays Immortan Joe, the terrifying gang leader, in the new film
filmActor who played Toecutter returns - but as a different villain in reboot
Arts and Entertainment
Charlize Theron as Imperator Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road
film
Arts and Entertainment
Jessica Hynes in W1A
tvReview: Perhaps the creators of W1A should lay off the copy and paste function spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Power play: Mitsuko Uchida in concert

classical
Arts and Entertainment
Dangerous liaisons: Dominic West, Jake Richard Siciliano, Maura Tierney and Leya Catlett in ‘The Affair’ – a contradictory drama but one which is sure to reel the viewers in
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Herring, pictured performing at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival two years ago
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
Music freak: Max Runham in the funfair band
theatre
Arts and Entertainment
film 'I felt under-used by Hollywood'
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.

    Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

    Sun, sex and an anthropological study

    One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
    From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

    Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

    'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
    'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

    Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

    This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

    Songs from the bell jar

    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
    How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

    One man's day in high heels

    ...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
    The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

    King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

    The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

    End of the Aussie brain drain

    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
    Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

    Can meditation be bad for you?

    Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
    Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

    Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

    Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
    Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

    Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

    Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
    Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

    Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

    Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
    Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

    Join the tequila gold rush

    The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
    12 best statement wallpapers

    12 best statement wallpapers

    Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
    Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

    Paul Scholes column

    Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?