Johnny Depp and me: Vanessa Paradis on acting, gigging and life after a break up

Since breaking up with Johnny Depp, the Gallic chanteuse has never been busier

Vanessa Paradis is juggling. There are the two home lives, one in Paris and one in Los Angeles. There's the shared childcare – she and Johnny Depp, from whom she split in 2012 after 14 years together, divide custody of their children, Lily-Rose, 15 this month, and Jack, 12, and her life is a constant blur of transatlantic shuttling. There are the cigarette papers and pouch of tobacco she's currently balancing in her lap as she attempts to build a cigarette.

And then there are the three careers.

Good thing the 41-year-old Frenchwoman has a hefty quarter-century's experience of taking care of multifaceted business, ever since "Joe le Taxi" shot the then-14-year-old to international fame. Judging by her demeanour – relaxed, scruffy-chic, sweary, smart – Paradis isn't a woman fazed by much. She is, it seems, the epitome of Gallic sangfroid. Twenty-five years in the spotlight can do that for a woman.

First off, the actor Paradis' new film, Fading Gigolo, is out this weekend, and there's promotion to be done. It's set among the Hasidic community in Brooklyn, also stars Sofia Vergara and Sharon Stone, and is a lightly comic story about an unlikely male prostitute (John Turturro). Paradis, in her first English-speaking role, plays a widow employed as a "lice lady" – a woman who makes a living removing nits from kids' hair. Talking about the film, the enthusiastic words tumble out of her, all accented and emphasised and delighted.

"Woody Allen is just like you see in his movies," she says of her other co-star in the film, which is written and directed by Turturro. "He's an improviser. And he's such a funny improviser!" She tried hard not to be distracted by Allen's comic gifts, all the while maintaining "a semi-accent. Not New York – Turturro said he didn't really want to know where I came from, whether it was Israel or a little French. So I mixed them both, and I'm not the best at accents!" she admits with an embarrassed grin. "So I'll be surprised to see my accent performance."

Then there's her music: next month the singer's current album, Love Songs, is receiving another push with a one-off UK show at the Forum in London.

"It just makes sense," Paradis shrugs, perfectly Frenchly, of her enthusiasm for promoting her sixth studio album one year into its shelf-life. "You make a record then you go and play it for the people. Plus, you enjoy it so much! It's hard work, lots of travelling, being in shape whether you come out of a plane or a train or hundreds of miles of bus… But then comes the time for the show, everybody puts on their clothes, lights on, boom: you sing. It's quite amazing, you know?

Paradis with John Turturro in 'Fading Gigolo' Paradis with John Turturro in 'Fading Gigolo' (Organic Publicity)
"And it's risky. Some days you wake up, you don't have your voice, you're tired, you're this, you're that. But at night for two hours, ooh, you just push the adrenalin to the max.

"I'm so admiring of musicians," she continues, "and just the way their instrument is like another part of their body. Then the community life with the crew, the sound, the light, everybody going on the road together. The band are new musicians for me but the crew is the same I've been working with for a few tours, so it's just nice to be together – travelling, singing, making music," she concludes with a flash of that famous gap-toothed smile.

Finally, there's the modelling: Paradis has an ongoing, 23-year relationship with Karl Lagerfeld and Chanel. It must be a particularly meaningful partnership, I suggest, given the fickle nature of fashion. Paradis – the picture of Parisienne elegance, but also a relaxed, rolly-up-smoker – pauses between licky dabs at her cigarette paper.

"Yeah, yeah, there's that," she agrees, tentatively. "But we are very replaceable, you know? Cos fashion needs new people. Cinema, I guess, also," she adds in her occasionally back-to-front French-accented English; she sounds like a lyrical Yoda. "Music is different – music, I guess, is more protective. Obviously you dream of somebody's voice, but also it's a lot about what the music does to you. But fashion…" she muses, "it's less of a free world. It has to do with what people want to see, who they want right now."

Still, Paradis has been consistently in demand since adolescence. Family connections led this daughter of successful interior designers k into a recording studio, initially for a Junior Eurovision contest, then to sing the song that would take her to Top of the Pops in 1987, and then around the world. But she says that even after that first flush of pop success, she wasn't sure she wanted music to be her future.

"It wasn't that clear. I started to love music at the same time that I loved cinema, which was through musicals, the old MGM musicals with Gene Kelly. I was completely mesmerised and obsessed. I would watch those movies and sing along in English before I could speak English cos I had learnt it from those films. Music, cinema, dance, Technicolor – it was such a perfect world for me. It gave me goosebumps," she says with another toothy beam.

Arriving at the Golden Globe Awards with Johnny Depp in 2006 Arriving at the Golden Globe Awards with Johnny Depp in 2006 (Getty Images)
Her own daughter is now at the age she was when she started out, and it seems she might be following her mother's lead: Lily-Rose has a songwriting credit on Love Songs, alongside her father.

"This song, 'New Year', is actually really old – it was composed when Lily-Rose was six! I couldn't find a melody that I liked but at one point she started to sing this thing over the chords! She sang not only the first phrase with the melody but even the words.

"And I was just like, 'Oh my God, what's that?' It was like a melody that can lighten you up in church. It was so beautiful. And I never forgot that melody. Then I finished the song – but the song would never have been that if she hadn't found that first, perfect phrase."

Depp, meanwhile, had come up with those chords, making it a proper, three-way, familial collaboration. "Yes," she beams. "But it took a long time. Johnny's chords were really so pretty. And I knew I wanted to make a song of it, but it took all those years. I even tried it on my last album," she says of 2007's Divinidylle, "but I couldn't find it. I needed Lily-Rose's melody."

Her daughter, she says as an aside, is a "non-stop" singer. But despite her mother's teenage example, Lily-Rose is seemingly yet to request her own moment in the spotlight. As the daughter of internationally famous parents, the adolescent Ms Depp-Paradis must be as aware as anyone of the likely pressures. Mum, too, is ever-alert to the spotlight that will fall on anything her children do.

"I started so young. I don't regret that at all and I really thank my parents for letting me do it. But at the same time, back then it was different – not that I'm 150 years old!" Paradis laughs. "And not that it was all safe back in the late 1980s. And now, being a mom, I don't know that I would have said yes," she admits.

Paradis singing 'Joe le Taxi' on the ITV pop show 'The Roxy' in 1986 Paradis singing 'Joe le Taxi' on the ITV pop show 'The Roxy' in 1986 (Rex Features)
With regards to Depp, Paradis remains as tight-lipped as she was when they were together. The 50-year-old's recent engagement to Amber Heard, 28, his co-star in The Rum Diary (2011), will have only stiffened that resolve. But when I met her in Paris last year, I asked her about Love Songs, and the lyrics of the title track ("I don't know nothing about love, you know"). Observers might reasonably guess that the album was a product of her split from Depp.

"No," she smiled in reply. "And I didn't even write that lyric, so I am all safe. I would never do an album as a journal. A journal is yours, but music is something to share with people. Everything that has been said or written in the record are universal ideas that people can relate to and will hopefully make them feel good. And I am completely protected there," she added with another smile, "[because] I didn't write the songs."

Beyond that, no, Vanessa Paradis will not be saying any more about her ex, nor indeed much about her private life. Yes, her children are at school in America, "but I don't really wanna discuss that". And no, she's not planning to relocate to Los Angeles. "I know my Paris friends get upset with the weather and the traffic and the strikes and this and that. But because I don't have to live it every day, you know, it's raining and I applaud! I'm so happy! I don't care about the bad moods of the taxi drivers. It's just part of the city."

Paradis, in her first English-speaking role, plays a widow employed as a Paradis, in her first English-speaking role, plays a widow employed as a "lice lady" in 'Fading Gigolo' (Organic Publicity)
Anyway, she can make her music and her films anywhere in the world: she's just back from shooting another project with Turturro, a short for the portmanteau film Rio, I Love You, and the American can't speak highly enough of her. "Vanessa just disappeared into the Fading Gigolo role with the wig, the research, the dress," Turturro tells me. "She far exceeded what I thought we were going to capture. Her presence changed the whole movie – she gives it a depth and gracefulness and a delicacy.

"You can act certain things," he adds, "but some of who she is is just very specific and very rare. You just don't see people like her – she's strong but delicate. And for someone who's been famous since she was a kid, Vanessa is so unspoilt and aware of everybody else around her. I adored working with her. Woody didn't know her, and he thought she was Hasidic Jewish! I had to tell him, no, Woody, I don't think she's even Jewish!"

Clearly this just-turned-41 and not-long- single woman is a pro. But more than that: as Turturro attests, she's a natural. You can tell as much from her preferred look. For all the high-glamour of her photoshoots – she was on the cover of the April edition of French Elle – her natural style is very much boho rock'n'roll.

"Yes!" she nods with smiley emphasis. "And you know what: even when it's chic, I want to be comfortable. You're walking or sitting and you're in something itchy and tight all night? You're not gonna have a good evening!" she shouts. "I wear something uncomfortable for a picture, because I know it won't last. But what's the point in going to one of those dinners or ceremonies or whatever and being just like, eurgh," Vanessa Paradis grimaces, "tortured?"

'Fading Gigolo' (15) is out now. Paradis plays the Forum, London NW5, on 21 June

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Geography Teacher

£85 - £140 per day: Randstad Education Cheshire: We require a teacher of Geogr...

HR Assistant / Human Resources Assistant

£Neg + Excellent Benefits: Guru Careers: An HR Assistant / Human Resources Ass...

Talent Community Coordinator

£Neg + Excellent Benefits: Guru Careers: A Talent Community Coordinator is nee...

Business Support - Banking - Halifax - £250 pd

£150 - £250 per day: Orgtel: HR Analyst - Banking - HR - Halifax - £150 - £250...

Day In a Page

A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

A new Russian revolution

Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

Standing my ground

If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
The man who dared to go on holiday

The man who dared to go on holiday

New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

The Guest List 2014

Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

Jokes on Hollywood

With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

Voted for by the British public, the artworks on Art Everywhere posters may be the only place where they can be seen
Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

Blanche Marvin reveals how Tennessee Williams used her name and an off-the-cuff remark to create an iconic character
Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

Websites offering your ebooks for nothing is only the latest disrespect the modern writer is subjected to, says DJ Taylor
Edinburgh Fringe 2014: The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee

Edinburgh Fringe 2014

The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee
Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

The woman stepping down as chair of the Heritage Lottery Fund is worried