French actress Audrey Tautou hit the international spotlight in 2001 as the star of the whimsical Parisian romance "Amélie" (2001), which went on to become the top-grossing French-language film ever released in the United States. With her wide eyes and shy, winsome smile, the brunette gamine instantly earned comparisons to Audrey Hepburn, and like Hepburn, she successfully built a film career alternating between light romantic comedies and teary dramas. Many of Tautou's popular French films did not make it to U.S. theaters, however following the art house success of "Amélie" and the World War I-set romantic drama "A Very Long Engagement" (2004), Tautou answered the call of Hollywood, co-starring opposite Tom Hanks in the blockbuster thriller "The Da Vinci Code" (2006). Tautou's experience in an overblown, critically reviled hit failed to draw her to American filmmaking, so she promptly returned to the French fold where a starring role as design icon Coco Chanel in "Coco Before Chanel" (2009) proved that the actress had a whole career of increasingly mature roles ahead of her once her quirky, youthful charm had run its course.
Born Aug. 9, 1976 (some sources say 1978), Tautou was raised in the mountainous region of Auvergne in central France, but set out for Paris at age 17 to pursue a career as a comic actress. She trained at the famed Cours Florent drama school and earned her early professional credits in French television movies. After winning a talent competition sponsored by the television network Canal+, Tautou made her feature film debut in a supporting role as a sweetly innocent beauty salon worker who engages in a flirtation with an older gentleman in "Venus Beaute Institut" ("Venus Beauty Institute") (1999). Her head-turning performance earned Tautou a Cesar Award for Most Promising Female Newcomer. Following her breakthrough role, Tautou appeared as a teen runaway in "Voyous Voyelles" ("Pretty Devils") (1999) and supported handsome actor Vincent Perez in "Epouse-moi" ("Marry Me") (2000), as well starred in the regrettable sex comedy "Le Libertin" ("The Libertine") (2000). Tautou took the lead in "Le Battement d'Ailes du Papillon" ("Happenstance") (2001), a contemplation of happenstance and intertwined lives in which Tautou proved her ability to carry a film with her coy charm and her flair for romantic comedy.
Tautou caught her big break when British actress Emily Watson turned down a proposed teaming with director Jean-Pierre Jeunet in "Le Fabuleux Destin d'Amélie Poulain" (2001). Merely seconds into her audition, Jeunet was convinced that this petite, doe-eyed ingénue possessed the qualities he was looking for in the title character - a waitress in the artsy Montmartre neighborhood of Paris who delights in injecting anonymous doses of joy into the lives of others, while gun-shy about claiming her own piece of happiness. Propelled by Tautou's sly yet vulnerable performance and a bright, stylized vision of an idealized Parisian life, the film immediately won over both critics and audiences alike. In addition to becoming a runaway hit in France and throughout Europe, in America - where it was known simply as "Amélie" - the film became the top-grossing French import of all time and went on to earn five Academy Award nominations, including Best Foreign Language Film and Best Screenplay. At home, the film swept the 2002 Cesar Awards for Best Film, Best Director, Best Music, and Best Production Design while Tautou earned a nomination for Best Actress.
Tautou followed up her international breakout in a string of popular but less impactful French romantic comedies, beginning with "Dieu est Grand, Je Suis Toute Petite" ("God is Great, I'm Not") (2002), in which she starred as a young woman searching for love and spirituality. She went on to play an art student involved with a married doctor in "À la Folie... pas du Tout" ("He Loves Me.. He Loves Me Not") (2002) and joined the international ensemble of Cedric Klapisch's "L' Auberge Espagnole" ("Pot Luck") (2002), a Cesar nominee for Best Film that followed the adventures of a newly single Frenchman staying at a youth hostel in Barcelona. Tautou tackled her first English language role when she was cast by director Stephen Frears in "Dirty Pretty Things" (2003), a dark and shadowy thriller in which she played an illegal Turkish immigrant who reaches a moral crossroads when she discovers illegal activities at the hotel where she works as a maid.
A string of European-only releases followed, including Jean Resnais' surprising musical "Pas Sur la Bouche" ("Not on the Lips") (2003), before Tautou re-teamed with director Jean-Pierre Jeunet to star in "Un Long Dimanche de Fiancailles" ("A Very Long Engagement") (2004). This ambitious World War I romantic drama found Tautou playing a physically compromised polio survivor who determinedly sets out on a mission to find the fiancé (Gaspard Ulliel) who disappeared in a World War I battle. The lush adaptation of Sebastien Japrisot's 1991 novel was another significant art house hit in the United States, nominated for a Golden Globe award for Best Foreign Film and earned Tautou Cesar and European Film Award nominations for Best Actress. She returned to light comedy to play a single mother and one of the more practical-minded of the ensemble of twenty-something friends in Cédric Klapisch's airy "Les Poupees Russes" ("Russian Dolls") (2006).
While Hollywood had begun wooing Tautou since her 2001 "Amélie" breakout, it was not until 2006 that the actress finally relented to dipping her toe into the big budget studio film world. That was the year she co-starred opposite A-lister Tom Hanks in "The Da Vinci Code" (2006), playing a cryptologist who teams up with a symbologist to uncover a religious group with a secret that could destroy the foundations of society if revealed. Dan Brown's source novel had been a bestseller, and the Ron Howard-directed adaptation opened at No. 1 at the box office, going on to earn more than $200 million. Like the book, however, the film adaptation of "The Da Vinci Code" took a major hit from critics. Tautou's new recognition among mainstream American audiences did not in any way tempt the actress to join the ranks of Hollywood, so she followed up her first American blockbuster by starring in the French comedy "Priceless" (2008), donning a more cynical, hardened air to star as a sophisticated gold-digger who trolls pricey vacation spots looking for elderly men in need of escorting.
From that light offering that owed more than a nod to 1930s screwball comedy, Tautou returned to familiar territory to star as a lonely working class gal with artistic leanings who falls for a similarly offbeat and awkward type (Guillaume Canet) in "Ensemble, C'est Tout" ("Hunting and Gathering") (2008), based on the novel by Anna Gavalda. The following year, Tautou was chosen to portray fashion legend Coco Chanel in the biopic "Coco Before Chanel" (2009), where she ably balanced the elegance and fierce determination integral to her character's rise from a French orphanage to head arguably the most famous fashion house in history.
Cast (Feature Film)
Moved to Paris
Appeared in the TV-movies, "Coeur de cible" and "Le Crime d'a cote"
Featured in the telefilm "Bebes boum"
Feature debut in Tonie Marshall's "Vénus beauté (institut)" playing a naive beauty salon worker (released in France in 1999)
Cast opposite Vincent Perez in "Épouse-moi (Marry Me)" and "Le Libertin (The Libertine)"
Portrayed the heroine in "Le Battement d'ailes du papillon (Happenstance)"
Gained international fame for her performance as the eccentric Amélie in the romantic French comedy "Le Fabuleux destin d'Amélie Poulain (Amélie)"; directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet; earned a César Award nomination
Portrayed a gamine beauty seeking love and spiritual fulfillment in "Dieu est grand, je suis toute petite (God Is Great, I'm Not)"
Starred in Cedric Klapish's "L'Auberge espagnole (The Spanish Apartment)"
English-language film debut, "Dirty Pretty Things"; directed by Stephen Frears
Re-teamed with director Jean-Pierre Jeunet for "Un long dimanche de fiançailles (A Very Long Engagement)"
Portrayed French cryptologist, Sophie Neveu in the film version of Dan Brown's best-selling novel, "The Da Vinci Code"; directed by Ron Howard and starring Tom Hanks
Announced as the new face of Chanel