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Alternately described as the "French Robert De Niro," an international sex symbol, or simply a "loutish giant," acclaimed actor Gerard Depardieu was nonetheless universally regarded as one of the finest international performers of his generation. Miraculously emerging from a childhood of delinquency and crime, Depardieu found his salvation in the theater, and later began working steadily with small roles on French television and in films like "Going Places" (1974), "Barocco" (1976) and "Get Out Your Handkerchiefs" (1977). He won his first César Award under the guidance of New Wave master François Truffaut in "The Last Metro" (1980), directed himself ably in "Le Tartuffe" (1984) and crossed the Atlantic with great success in "Green Card" (1990). More than 20 years into his heralded career, Depardieu continued to garner accolades with leading roles in sweeping period dramas such as "Colonel Chabert" (1994), as well as crowd pleasing fluff like "Asterix & Obelix vs. Caesar" (1999). Despite an apparently empty threat to retire from film completely in 2005, the seemingly tireless actor went on to appear in dozens of films, including the Academy Award-winning biopic "La Vie en Rose" (2007). As an actor, Depardieu brought his own well-documented lust for life to each and every role he inhabited with the tireless dedication of a master artist completely dedicated to his craft.
Born Gerard Xavier Marcel Depardieu on Dec. 27, 1948 in Chateauroux, France, his father, Rene, was an illiterate sheet metal worker with a fondness for alcohol, and his mother, Eliette, was "always pregnant," as he once recounted in an interview. Reared within this impoverished family, Depardieu spent a Dickensian childhood replete with brushes with the law, punctuated by bouts of violence at home and in the neighborhood. A classic juvenile delinquent, he dropped out of school at age 12 and embarked on a hitchhiking tour of Europe that found him stealing cars and selling goods on the black market. He may have been destined for a life of crime had he not discovered acting, thanks to a friend who was attending drama school in Paris. At the friend’s urging, Depardieu enrolled in classes at the Theatre National Populaire and was later apprenticed at the Café de la Gare alongside future co-stars Patrick Dewaere and Miou-Miou. He made his film acting debut in the short "Le Beatnik et le minet" (1965) for writer-director Roger Leenhardt. In 1970 he married Elisabeth Guignot, a Parisian film actress, six years his senior, with whom he would go on to father two children, Guillaume and Julie Depardieu.
After years of stage work and appearing regularly on French television and in small roles in a variety of films, such as "Nathalie Granger" (1972), co-starring the great Jeanne Moreau, and the Alain Delon crime drama "Two Men in Town" (1973), Depardieu enjoyed breakout success co-starring as a nihilistic but lovable petty thug with his old theatrical colleague Dewaere in "Les Valseuses" ("Going Places") (1974), directed by Bertrand Blier. He went on to handle a dual role opposite Isabelle Adjani in "Barocco" (1976) and portrayed a Communist organizer opposite Robert De Niro in Bernardo Bertolucci’s "1900" (1976). Reteaming with Dewaere and Blier, Depardieu co-starred as a man attempting to cheer up his wife by finding her a lover in the Oscar-winning foreign film "Preparez vos mouchoirs" ("Get Out Your Handkerchiefs") (1977). Other works include the bizarre comedic fantasy "Bye, Bye Monkey" (1978), a film co-starring Marcello Mastroianni, in which Depardieu played a man who finds what he believes to be the son of the deceased King Kong on the beach at Long Island and decides to raise it as his own.
Kicking off the 1980s, Depardieu offered up a riveting, award-winning performance as a Resistance fighter in revered French New Wave director François Truffaut’s dark drama "Le Dernier Metro" ("The Last Metro") (1980), opposite the exquisite Catherine Deneuve. "Le Retour de Martin Guerre" ("The Return of Martin Guerre") (1982) cast him as a 16th century peasant who may or may not be what he claims. He then gave a passionate interpretation of the title role in "Danton" (1982), Andrzej Wajda's drama about the Reign of Terror following the French Revolution. Depardieu stepped behind the camera for the first time as co-director of "Le Tartuffe" (1984), a pet project that closely adhered to his acclaimed stage interpretation of the Moliere character. He dominated the middling crime drama "Police" (1985) as a tough cop cracking down on a drug ring and delivered a terrific turn as a naive, inexperienced farmer in "Jean de Florette" (1986). Reuniting with Isabelle Adjani, Depardieu essayed the turbulently passionate love affair between artist Auguste Rodin and the title character in "Camille Claudel" (1988).
The following decade began for Depardieu on a similarly high note, with the actor earning some of the best reviews of his career (as well as a Best Actor Oscar nomination) for his bravura interpretation of the classic role of "Cyrano de Bergerac" (1990) for director Jean-Paul Rappeneau. Depardieu pleasantly surprised many with his first foray into English-language films, playing a French musician who agrees to a marriage of convenience in order to obtain his "Green Card" (1990) in Peter Weir’s romantic comedy, co-starring Andie MacDowell. He and his actor son, Guillaume, shared the role of 17th-century composer Marin Marais in the biopic "Tous les matins du monde" (1991), and for the rest of the decade, the actor remained constantly in demand, acting in some 30 film and TV productions. He garnered praise for his turn as the overprotective father of a teenage daughter in "Mon Pere, ce heros" (1991) and reprised the role for the inferior 1994 English-language remake "My Father, the Hero." Depardieu was miscast, however, as the Italian seafarer Christopher Columbus in "1492: Conquest of Paradise" (1992), although he fared better as a struggling miner in the sprawling epic "Germinal" (1993), helmed by Claude Berri. Earning him some of his best reviews in years, was his performance as an officer who makes his way home only to discover he has been declared legally dead in "Colonel Chabert" (1994).
In a series of English language productions, Depardieu first played a hulking lothario romancing Gena Rowlands in "Unhook the Stars" (1996), then portrayed Haley Joel Osment's imaginary pal in "Bogus" (1996) and had a cameo as Polonius' servant in Kenneth Branagh's epically-scaled screen adaptation of "Hamlet" (1996). That same year, the actor divorced his wife of 15 years, Elisabeth, and began a relationship with frequent co-star Carole Bouqeut, to who he would become briefly engaged in 2003. Depardieu and John Malkovich were teamed as aging Musketeers coming to the aide of "The Man in the Iron Mask" (1998), starring Leonardo DiCaprio in the title role of the Dumas classic. At about the same time, he returned to French TV for the first of several miniseries in the title role of the umpteenth remake of "The Count of Monte Cristo" (1998) before portraying the esteemed 19th century novelist-playwright "Balzac" (1999). Depardieu shared the title role of Obelix opposite Christian Clavier in the big-budget, live-action adaptation of a beloved French comic book series in "Asterix et Obelix contre Cesar" (1999), and stepped behind the camera to helm the semi-autobiographical "Un pont entre deux rives" ("The River") (1999).
Depardieu collaborated with Malkovich once again as the persecuted Jean Valjean in a TV adaptation of "Les Miserables" (2000), and he led the international cast of Roland Joffé’s "Vatel" (2000), in which the actor essayed a master steward tragically forced to accommodate the whims of privileged men like the Prince of Condé (Julian Glover) and King Louis XIV (Julian Sands). Less prestigious was his slight miscasting as the Gaultier-like designer in the cartoonish sequel "102 Dalmatians" (2000). Despite a pair of near fatal accidents – a 1996 plane collision and a 1998 motorcycle crash – and various health problems – he underwent coronary bypass surgery in July 2000 – Depardieu appeared unstoppable as he entered the new millennium without any perceptible signs of slowing his pace or output. In addition to reteaming with Daniel Auteuil in the social comedy "Le Placard" ("The Closet") (2000), he took on the title role as the famous detective "Vidocq" (2001) in a visually arresting action-thriller helmed by the director Pitof. Other efforts that year included "Concurrence Deloyale" ("Unfair Competition") (2001), the story of two competing merchant families in 1938 Rome.
By popular demand, Depardieu reprised his role of Obelix in "Asterix and Obelix: Mission Cleopatra" (2002), featuring the alluring Monica Bellucci as the Queen of the Nile, then joined the international cast of the epic TV miniseries "Napoleon" (A&E, 2002). In "I Am Dina" (2002), he played the older husband of a beautiful but eccentric young woman (Maria Bonnevie) with a troubled past in mid-19th century Norway. He then played a mercurial director fired from a sci-fi movie in "CQ" (2002), director Roman Coppola’s ode to Italian pop-movie filmmakers of the 1960s like Roger Vadim and Mario Bava. Next it was on to the drama "Between Strangers" (2002) opposite Sophia Loren and directed by her son Edoardo Ponti, followed by the comedy "Tais-Toi" ("Shut Up") (2003), teaming Depardieu with Jean Reno. In the erotic drama "Nathalie" (2003) he played a husband suspected of infidelity by his deviously resourceful wife (Fanny Ardant), then appeared alongside Harvey Keitel as a member of an inept French burglary crew in trouble with the Chicago mob, the FBI, and a Latino street gang in the action comedy "Crime Spree" (2003).
Busier than ever, Depardieu also took a role in Matt Dillon's directorial effort "City of God" (2003) as an unflappable proprietor of a hotel in Cambodia, then reunited with his "Cyrano" director Jean-Paul Rappeneau for the lavishly shot "Bon Voyage" (2003), a multi-narrative tale of several lives caught in the Nazi occupation of France. He launched into the following year with leading roles in the romantic drama "Les Temps Qui Change" ("Changing Times") (2004) as a man determined to win back the love of his life (Deneuve), and in director Alain Chabat's silly caveman comedy "RRRrrrr!!!" (2004), followed by a turn as a ruthlessly ambitious cop in "36 Quai Des Orfevres" (2004) and as an 18th century Canadian priest in Jean Boudin's historical drama "Nouvelle-France" (2004). Prostitutes figured prominently in two of Depardieu’s films the next year. He played the pimp of a conflicted hooker (Bellucci) in the romantic dramedy "How Much Do You Love Me?" (2005) then starred in "Boudu Saved From Drowning" (2005), as a male prostitute taken home by a kind-hearted bookseller (Gerard Jugnot) after unsuccessfully attempting suicide by jumping into the Seine.
Newly entered into a relationship with the much younger Clémentine Igou, a Harvard-educated novelist, Depardieu petulantly announced in 2005 that, at age 56, he was done making movies. "I have done 170 films. I have nothing left to prove," the actor insisted. The pronouncement proved to be little more than a bluff, a cry for attention, or possibly wishful thinking, as the actor quickly returned to his usual relentless output of work. On screens in America, he played a famous chef in the syrupy and inspirational Queen Latifah comedy-drama "Last Holiday" (2006), then returned to France to appear opposite Cecile De France in the well-received musical romantic-drama "When I Was a Singer" (2006). He also contributed both as a director and performer to one of the many vignettes in "Paris, Je T’aime" (2006), a massive collaboration celebrating the City of Love. Despite his leading man status, Depardieu frequently made contributions as a supporting player, such as his portrayal of the doomed nightclub owner who discovers famed French chanteuse Edith Piaf (Marion Cotillard) in the Academy Award-winning biopic "La Vie en Rose" (2007). The next year, Depardieu worked with Vin Diesel in the disappointing sci-fi action-adventure "Babylon A.D." (2008) and with frequent French co-star Fanny Ardant in the mid-life romantic comedy "Hello, Goodbye" (2008) before personal tragedy befell the celebrated actor.
On Oct. 13, 2008, Depardieu’s son Guillaume – who years earlier had lost a leg due to an infection stemming from injuries suffered in a motorcycle accident – died at the age of 37 from complications linked to a sudden case of pneumonia. The actor chose to bury his grief in work. With no perceptible break in his pace, Depardieu went on to co-star with Olivier Marchal and Asia Argento in the crime thriller "Diamond 13" (2009). He later headlined French New Wave director Claude Chabrol’s final film as the eponymous detective "Inspector Bellamy" (2010), then played the celebrated 19th century French author in the biographical drama "Dumas" (2010). Never one to filter his thoughts or words, Depardieu left the film press scratching their collective heads in August 2010 with his unsolicited opinion that the beloved French actress Juliette Binoche had "absolutely nothing" going for her professionally. For her part, a bemused Binoche could only opine that the comments by Depardieu most likely stemmed from something "to do with himself," rather than any objective criticism of her acclaimed body of work.
Entering the new decade, Depardieu later played a pensioner exercising the ghosts of his past astride a classic motorcycle in the road trip drama "Mammuth" (2011), and gave a quietly moving performance as a nearly-illiterate man who bonds with a 92-year-old woman over books and birds in "My Afternoons with Margueritte" (2011). Barely a year after his infamous Binoche bashing, the 62-year-old actor received some of the most unfavorable reviews of his career for an August 2011 performance. While on a CityJet flight from Paris to Dublin that had been delayed on the tarmac, an antsy and insistent Depardieu demanded to use the bathroom. After being told he would have to wait until after takeoff, the exasperated Depardieu reportedly relieved himself in the aisle of the aircraft. Assertions by several passengers that the actor was visibly intoxicated were later refuted by the Depardieu camp, which apologized for the unfortunate incident.
By Bryce Coleman
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Cast (TV Mini-Series)
Producer (TV Mini-Series)
Short film acting debut, "Le Beatnik et le minet"; directed by Roger Leenhardt
Made TV debut on the series "Rendez-vous à Badenberg"
Made stage debut in the play "Les Garcons de la bande/The Boys in the Band"
Feature acting debut, "Le Tueur/The Killer"
Appeared in a supporting role opposite Jeanne Moreau in "Nathalie Granger"; directed by Marguerite Duras
First major film and first collaboration with director Bertrand Blier, "Les Valseuses/Going Places"
Featured in "Vincent, François, Paul...et les autres," starring Yves Montand
Re-teamed with director Bertrand Blier to star in "Les Valseuses"
Featured in Barbet Schroeder's "Maitresse/Mistress"
Cast in a supporting role in Bernardo Bertolucci's "1900"
Re-teamed with Blier for the Oscar-nominated foreign film "Get Out Your Handkerchiefs/Preparez vos mouchoirs"
Re-teamed with Marguerite Duras for "Le Camion"
Won acclaim for his performance in Francois Truffaut's "Le Derniere Metro/The Last Metro"
Again collaborated with director Truffaut for "La Femme d'a cote/The Woman Next Door"
Garnered international attention for playing the title role in Andrzej Wajda's "Danton"
Played a man who may or may not be who he claims in "Le Retour de Martin Guerre/The Return of Martin Guerre"
Appeared on stage in "Tartuffe"
First film as co-director (with Helene Viard), "Le Tartuffe"
Starred in the musical "Lily Passion" at Au Zenith
Offered strong turn in the title role of "Jean de Floret"; directed by Claude Berri
First film as producer (with co-star Catherine Deneuve and two others), "Drole d'endroit pour une rencontre"
Co-starred with Isabelle Adjani in "Camille Claudel"
Made English-language acting debut in the romantic comedy "Green Card"
Received Academy Award nomination and a Cesar Award for Best Actor for portrayal of "Cyrano de Bergerac"
Seen as an unscrupulous doctor in Blier's "Merci la vie/Thanks for Life"
Portrayed a divorced father trying to reconnect with his willful teenage daughter in "Mon père, ce héros"
Played famed explorer Christopher Columbus in "1492: Conquest of Paradise"
Shared the screen with real-life son Guillame in "Tous les matins du monde/All the Mornings of the World"; son portrayed the same character as his father in flashbacks
Played a miner in 1880s Northern France in Claude Berri's "Germinal"
Reprised role of a bewildered father in "My Father, the Hero," the American version of "Mon père, ce héros"
Played title character in the war drama "Le Colonel Chabert/Colonel Chabert"
Featured as Polonius' servant Reynaldo in Kenneth Branagh's full-length film version of Shakespeare's "Hamlet"
Played a duplicitous anarchist in the adaptation of Joseph Conrad's "The Secret Agent"
Cast opposite Gena Rowlands in "Unhook the Stars," directed by Rowlands' son Nick Cassavetes
Executive produced the Nick Cassavetes directed "She's So Lovely," starring Robin Wright Penn and Sean Penn
Co-starred with John Malkovich and Jeremy Irons in the swashbuckling adventure "The Man in the Iron Mask"
Had a small role as a compassionate lawyer in the romantic drama "La parola amore esiste/The Word Love Exists"
Returned to the Paris stage for the first time in 15 years to star in "The Gates of Heaven"
Seventh collaboration with Blier, "Les Acteurs"
Co-directed (with Fred Auburtin) the feature "Un Pont entre deux rives/The Bridge"
Starred as Obelix in the live-action version of the popular comic book "Asterix and Obelix contre Caesar"
Played a capable steward coveted by King Louis XIV in "Vatel"; screened at Cannes to a less than stellar reception
Starred as the title character in the miniseries "Balzac: A Life of Passion" (Bravo)
Appeared in title role of the thriller "Vidocq"
Reprised role of Obelix in "Asterix and Obelix: Mission Cleopatra," the sequel to the international hit "Asterix and Obelix"
Portrayed a French expatriate in "Beneath the Banyan Trees"
Co-starred in A&E miniseries "Napoléon"; also featured John Malkovich
Co-starred with Monica Bellucci in Blier's "Combien tu m'aimes?/How Much Do You Love Me?"
Played a dance hall singer in writer-director Xavier Giannoli's "The Singer"
Cast as a renowned chef in "Last Holiday," starring Queen Latifah
Co-starred in award-winning biopic " La vie en rose " opposite Marion Cotillard as French singer Edith Piaf
Starred in "Bellamy," the last film directed by Claude Chabrol
Starred in French drama "Mammuth," directed by Benoît Delépine and Gustave de Kervern
Cast as the French cook in Ang Lee's feature adaptation of "The Life of Pi"