Audrey Tautou: A great French enigma

Actress Audrey Tautou doesn't like fame and has never worked in Hollywood. In fact, she'd rather go sailing, she tells Kaleem Aftab

Audrey Tautou would like to cast herself as the reluctant superstar. After the phenomenal success of Amelie a decade ago, the world was her oyster. Hollywood scripts were landing on her agent's desk, cameras flashed wherever she stepped out onto the street and the girl born in Beaumont, France was suddenly the talk of the international jetset.

Yet while many French actresses would and have used a hit international film to jump on a plane to Los Angeles, the 34-year-old has been happy to stay at home. "I've never really had a relationship with Hollywood," she says as if the home of American movies is a four-letter word. "I've never had a desire to work there."

The closest that Tautou has come to jumping across the Atlantic has been her appearance in The Da Vinci Code. However, that studio film was actually made in Europe and so working in the US remains a novelty.

She complains that her English isn't good enough but this seems a convenient excuse. Although she conducts interviews in French, with a translator present whenever possible, it's rare they have to translate a question asked in English for her to understand.

The fact is that the success of Amelie made the star realise that she didn't like stardom very much. "It might seem paradoxical given my profession, but I'm not someone who likes to be in the limelight." Indeed, she adamantly refuses to talk about her private life at all.

Going to the US to make films means more than just entering a world where she inhabits characters on camera; she would become a brand. "The power and popularity of American cinema lends itself to the star system," she says. "That is not something that corresponds to who I am and what I want to be. I'm not saying that if I had gone to Hollywood that being thrown into the star system would definitely have happened, but I don't feel comfortable about being the person that everyone is looking at."

There is, however, no real need for her to look elsewhere for work when she is sated by the roles on offer at home. "I think I have a lot of luck in French cinema and they give me great female roles. I don't think that I would get such a choice in Hollywood."

Her latest film, Beautiful Lies, has many narrative similarities with the role that made her famous. She plays a hairdresser called Emilie who dishes out advice on romance to all her clients when she herself struggles to find a beau for herself. The only person she doesn't seem to be able to help is her heartbroken mother. Things go awry when Emilie receives an anonymous love letter and hatches a plan to resend the letter to her mother in an attempt to cheer her up.

Interfering in the lives of others is something that the star claims she sees no point in doing in her own life. "No I don't like to interfere with other people's lives because I understand that we cannot make other people happy when they are unhappy."

Yet as with every good rule there are exceptions, "I can be maternal with my friends. Often, I can understand if you want to interfere with someone's life, especially if they are feeling bad." As such she had empathy with why Emilie would want to help her mother.

It's the second occasion that the actress has worked with director Pierre Salvadori. They'd previously worked together on Priceless, which was loosely based on Breakfast at Tiffany's. Coincidently, Tautou was named after Audrey Hepburn and in her early career the French star was often compared to her namesake.

Working with Salvadori for a second time meant she felt comfortable, and the actress praises the production right down to her happiness with the sun and sea that served as backdrop in the picturesque fishing town of Sète in southern France.

With a letter being an important plot device in her new film, the actress admits that she still writes them, even in the internet age when letters seem the preserve of formal business. She doesn't get involved with social networks. "I'm not at all interested in them," she says. "Virtual relationships are not my thing, I have hardly any time for my close friends so would have even less time for a virtual group of acquaintances."

The picture that emerges of the enigmatic star is that she's someone content with her own career but deeply shy and private. She has a desire to do things for herself. She states that in a tight spot she'd rather try and work something out than ask for help, adding, "I do everything on my own, I'm very independent."

Part of the reason for this is that her job involves working with a huge cast and crew, but there's a contradiction between what she says she prefers and how she seems to work. On one hand she claims to hate the limelight, yet replaced Nicole Kidman as the face of Chanel after appearing in Coco Before Chanel in 2009. She likes to be alone, but works in huge groups.

Yet in her mind she can marry this contradiction, "Yes, I am a contradiction," she says. "I love my job but somewhere deep down I was not made for it. It's for that reason that I need to find the stories that I do, and also have my own interior life and stories."

Recently, she has taken up an activity that means she can be on her own on a whim. Earlier this year, she bought a sailing boat and is training to be proficient enough to sail the boat on her own. She laughs at the fact that she would rather dream about becoming a sailor than any ambition in her career. To have dreams in her career would "only run the risk of being disillusioned. I'm lucky to have done the projects that I've done."

Tautou says she looks for variety when choosing roles – it's an oddity of cinema release strategies and the fact that her romcoms have crossed to our shores more readily that we often tend to associate her with quirky romances than hard-hitting dramas such as Dirty Pretty Things, in which she appeared.

Her next roles promise to show off her range: "I'm going to appear in a film directed by two brothers, David and Stéphane Foenkinos, which is an adaptation of a book written by David Foenkinos, called La Délicatesse and I'm going to do a film with Claude Miller, Thérèse B."

As well as Miller's adaption of the novel Thérèse Desqueyroux by Francois Mauriac, she's in Jalil Lespert's mystery drama Des Vents Contraires and reuniting with director Cédric Klapisch in Chinese Puzzle alongside Cécile De France and Romain Duris. Klapisch and Tautou had previously worked together on Pot Luck and its sequel Russian Dolls.

Staying out of the public eye may prove to be the toughest job of all.

'Beautiful Lies' is released on 12 August

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