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

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Israeli-born actress Gal Gadot has been cast to play Wonder Woman
film
News
Top Gear presenter James May appears to be struggling with his new-found free time
people
Arts and Entertainment
Kendrick Lamar at the Made in America Festival in Los Angeles last summer
music
Arts and Entertainment
'Marley & Me' with Jennifer Aniston and Owen Wilson
film
Arts and Entertainment
Jon Hamm (right) and John Slattery in the final series of Mad Men
tv
Arts and Entertainment
theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Place Blanche, Paris, 1961, shot by Christer Strömholm
photographyHow the famous camera transformed photography for ever
Arts and Entertainment
The ‘Westmacott Athlete’
art
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tv Some of the characters appear to have clear real-life counterparts
News
Brooks is among a dozen show-business professionals ever to have achieved Egot status
people
Arts and Entertainment
A cut above: Sean Penn is outclassed by Mark Rylance in The Gunman
film review
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
James Franco and Zachary Quinto in I Am Michael

Film review Michael Glatze biopic isn't about a self-hating gay man gone straight

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the movie 'Get Hard'
tvWill Ferrell’s new film Get Hard receives its first reviews
Arts and Entertainment
Left to right: David Cameron (Mark Dexter), Nick Clegg (Bertie Carvel) and Gordon Brown (Ian Grieve)
tvReview: Ian Grieve gets another chance to play Gordon Brown... this is the kinder version
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman in the first look picture from next year's Sherlock special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Because it wouldn’t be Glastonbury without people kicking off about the headline acts, a petition has already been launched to stop Kanye West performing on the Saturday night

music
Arts and Entertainment
Molly Risker, Helen Monks, Caden-Ellis Wall, Rebekah Staton, Erin Freeman, Philip Jackson and Alexa Davies in ‘Raised by Wolves’

TV review
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
James May, Jeremy Clarkson and Richard Hammond in the Top Gear Patagonia Special

TV
  • Get to the point
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.

    No postcode? No vote

    Floating voters

    How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
    Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

    By Reason of Insanity

    Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
    Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

    Power dressing is back

    But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
    Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

    Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

    Caves were re-opened to the public
    'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

    Vince Cable interview

    'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
    Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

    Promises, promises

    But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
    The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

    The death of a Gaza fisherman

    He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
    Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
    Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

    The only direction Zayn could go

    We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
    Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

    Spells like teen spirit

    A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
    Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
    Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

    Licence to offend in the land of the free

    Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
    From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

    From farm to fork in Cornwall

    One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
    Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

    Robert Parker interview

    The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor