Close-up: Mathieu Amalric

James Bond's new foe is the hardest-working man in French showbiz
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Watch any recent low-budget French art film and you stand a good chance of seeing Mathieu Amalric. The actor admits he can't resist working with directors he likes – hence his score of 58 titles since 1991.

The 42-year-old has built a hefty portfolio of likeable, confused intellectuals, with the roles getting more complex of late – culminating in his tour de force as Jean-Dominique Bauby, the paralysed hero of The Diving Bell and the Butterfly. This week brings his latest appearance, as a human-resources psychologist in corporate thriller Heartbeat Detector. "I focused on the experience of millions of people who disguise themselves every day. Putting on a suit, a tie – hanging themselves, almost."

Amalric dons another disguise for the role he is currently shooting in Zurich, as James Bond's latest adversary in Quantum of Solace; he describes his character as a businessman with skin-deep eco-credentials: "He's a nice guy. He wants to save the planet," he jokes.

Despite his prodigious output, Amalric insists that "being an actor is the laziest thing there is. I hate actors who complain about the amount of work [involved]. Even if you play the lead, it only takes 25 days."

Amalric broke into the mainstream with Steven Spielberg's Munich (2005), but continues to favour non-commercial work, such as last year's grittily explicit The Story of Richard O, about a sexual adventurer in the Paris demi-monde.

It seems incongruous to think of this slight, cerebral figure spending months preparing for his climactic fight with Daniel Craig's Bond. But that's the sort of experience that makes the job worthwhile, he says. "It's what I like. Like learning mountaineering [for 2003's A Real Man], or in Richard O, being naked and having a hard-on. I love a challenge."

'Heartbeat Detector' is out on Friday. 'Quantum of Solace' is released in October