The 'Pomme' of France's Eye, Gerard Depardieu Tastes New American Success
When John Travolta was feeling low after the failure of Moment by Moment, he sought out Gallic acting colleague Gerard Depardieu during a trip to Paris and was immediately bucked up. Philosophized the Frenchman: "Actors carry the madness and dreams of others. So people both love us and spit on us." Right now, of course, the whole moviegoing world is showering Depardieu—and only with love. Americans will see three of his works in a rush this winter. In Loulou, the bulky Depardieu plays an irresistible lout, the kind of role that gets him called the new Jean-Paul Belmondo. In Alain Resnais's Mon Oncle d'Amérique, Gerard stars in what some critics called the best movie of 1980. And as the Resistance fighter of François Truffaut's The Last Métro, he has been nominated for a César (the French Oscar) as Best Actor while his favorite co-star, Catherine Deneuve, is up for Best Actress. The film itself is already the French entry in the foreign film category of the U.S. Oscar race.
Though his nation's reigning cinematic tough guy, Depardieu, 32, is skilled—and assured—enough to play against his Nick Nolte-ish typecasting. In the 1976 shocker The Last Woman, for instance, he used an electric carving knife for a self-castration. It was to Depardieu a welcome shucking of his hard-boiled image. "I always felt very gentle," he explains. " 'Man' for me is like a uniform. 'Woman' is a more complete spirit, much deeper. In my work and love I'm incapable of being macho—I'm very feminine."
That wasn't always the case. Born in a small town in central France to a hard-drinking sheet metal worker and a housewife, he first caught the police's attention at age 8 by boosting a car. Four years later he was fully grown to six feet and dropped out of school. Then—with a stake acquired by black-marketing American PX booze, cigarettes and hunting rifles—Gerard began bumming around the Continent. Finally, at 17, he was taken by a pal to Paris' Théâtre National Populaire. Suddenly Depardieu discovered a channel for his rebelliousness and a way to communicate without his fists. "That's where I found a way to have fun—legally," he reports. He also found Elisabeth Guignot, seven years his senior, who was studying acting and completing a doctoral thesis in psychology. After a five-year courtship, they married in 1970.
At that time Depardieu was still a supporting player on stage and TV. But as the menacing thug of 1974's Going Places with Patrick Dewaere, he muscled into the front rank of French actors. Since then he has starred in films like 1900 with buddy Robert De Niro, Barocco with Isabelle Adjani and again with Dewaere in the 1978 hit Get Out Your Handkerchiefs.
Depardieu's relentless workload—some 40 movies in a decade, six last year—has paid off in an elegant, antique-filled Belle Epoque house in the Paris suburb of Bougival. (He has acquired a property next door and plans to install a boxing ring to keep fit.) Gerard has placed all his possessions, except his beloved Mercedes, in the names of Elisabeth and their children, Guillaume, 9, and Julie, 7. "Love is much more beautiful when it is lived one next to the other. Elisabeth is my balance," says Depardieu. His roué screen image aside, he describes his marriage as "impeccable." "Americans call me a sex symbol," Depardieu says, "but that's because they are behind the times. What I like is the woman in me. I like seduction, but not to be a seducer." Then, attempting to clarify his avant-garde view of gender, Gerard smiles and observes of the coolness and sensitivity he admires: "Catherine Deneuve is the man I always wanted to be."
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