`Little rebel' without a pause

Sophie Marceau is used to corsetted historical roles. In real life she holds nothing back.
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The Independent Culture
BY HER own admission, Sophie Marceau's a pain in the neck. She talks too much, wants to do everything herself and complains about everything. She's the kind of actress who wants to play Hamlet and turned down Roxanne in Jean-Paul Rappenau's Cyrano de Bergerac because she wanted Gerard Depardieu's role. Never reserved when she can be outspoken, the woman who thinks she looks like everybody from Isabelle Adjani to Claudia Cardinale has in the past branded President Mitterand's architectural policies as "the gesture of a megalomaniac", despite being invited on a Far Eastern tour with the man.

Steer her to a pet topic and she, talks. About the decline of French cinema. Or the failure of the Mel Gibson-produced Anna Karenina, Marceau's second English-language film after Gibson's Oscar-laden Braveheart, gave her international recognition as Princess Isabelle. The role of Tolstoy's heroine was not the lead she dreamed of: "I can't watch it anymore. It makes me very sad. I think he [director Bernard Rose] could've done something crazier, with more love and more sex. Not sex scenes - I think they're ugly - but passion I love, and sexuality. But that's his [Rose] character. They recut the film, and now it's kinda awful."

No such criticism of her latest, William Nicholson's visually stunning 19th century-set Firelight. Calling Firelight "a good honest film with a lot of human qualities and emotions", Marceau features alongside the aristocratic Stephen Dillane as Swiss governess Elisabeth, who reluctantly agrees to give birth to a child in exchange for money to release her father from debt.

Marceau is married to the 55-year-old Polish director, Andrej Zulawski, who cast her as a teenage prostitute in the 1983 film L'Amour Braque. Born in 1967 and raised in the Parisian suburb of Sceaux, Marceau has spent much of her teenage life coping with stardom. Making her screen debut at 13 in the 1981 teen film La Boum (she reappeared in the sequel. La Boum 2, a year later), Marceau got the part through an audition for a child modelling agency she approached for fun. A hit the world over - bar Britain and the United States - the film, along with the 100,000- selling pop-duet "Dream In Blue', precipitated her love affair with the French public.

She remains nonchalant about her early success: "A star? No. But some kind of phenomenon. It [La Boum] was a film that spoke to everybody. The phenomenon - the relationship between me, the cinema. the photos, the lights - it's been like that for 18 years now." And the price of fame? Marceau's part-time career as a model led to her face plastered by Christian Dior and Guerlain perfume across Paris; she regularly adorns the cover of Paris Match (her brother works there as a lay-out artist); and has she even been voted the woman most French men would like to have sex with.

"We are very much exposed, as it is, with interviews," she says. "People know everything - even if you like cats or dogs. Sometimes you just have to try to preserve what you have. I don't enjoy being recognised because people can disturb your privacy. They even wanted me to be in the wax museum. I said " `No!' It's horrible. You can melt, and you shine, and you're in the dark all the time."

Despite this odd aversion to effigies of herself; Marceau has appeared in almost 20 films, working alongside some of Europe's leading directors, including Michelangelo Antonioni, for his meditative Beyond the Clouds and Bertrand Tavernier for his comic swashbuckler D'Artagnan's Daughter (the pair parted on less than pleasant terms). Now living on the outskirts of Warsaw, Marceau currently favours her British and American colleagues. A lifelong devotee of Elizabeth Taylor and Steve McQueen (her biggest regret was not meeting him), she gushes over Gibson and the veteran Nicholson, best known for his screenplay for Shadowlands.

She's a fan, too, of Kevin Kline - "he's handsome, he's healthy, he's complicated, he's so emotional" - and is set to appear alongside him, Michelle Pfeiffer and Stanley Tucci in A Midsummer Night's Dream. "One of my dreams was to play Shakespeare. I've always loved it with a passion. When I saw Zeffirelli's Romeo and Juliet, I cried so much I was shaking," she says.

Yet to achieve the lead that will cement her once and for all in the public psyche, Marceau has begun to carve her own niche, writing and directing an eight-minute short, L'Aube a L'Envers, set in Venice and Berlin Having also written a novel, a near-autobiographical effort called The Liar, total creative control appears the only way to help curb her insubordinate attitude; "My mistake was to misunderstand the importance of the director. I always want to take care of everything myself - but as an actress, you can't. Being a director means being more free because you can control things. Like every child, I had my own ideas and opinions about things."

A self-described "little rebel", Marceau's confidence, self-belief, even nonchalance, are traits that govern her screen performances, roles that too often show her talent straining against their limitations. Passionate to the extreme, Marceau is driven by her belief in independence, and wisely sees time for a change; "My parents told me to like my work. I wasn't a good student at school. I didn't work. I really have to like my work, or I'll leave because I want to be free. Rebellion is to keep your freedom. When I get the feeling that I belong to a system. I feel endangered. I have to sign a contract, but then I go home at night. I thought for a long time that I had to fight against authority to keep my freedom. I think now that I can be myself without help Now I need to explore my work as an actress. I need to make contemporary films. Midsummer Night's Dream is the seventh costume drama in a row. When I see a corset now, I just want to be free."

`Firelight' is released on Friday