In Amelie, Audrey Tautou helped define indie-charm for a generation. And talking to Tautou in her SoHo suite—the bangs-and-stripes, the spacey smile, the art-school chic—is like visiting the source, the ur-hipster living in a dream. Amelie was such a defining role for Tautou that she’s likely never to escape from it; but why would she want to? As I talk to the French actress I realize how much of the her own personality went into the role. And how much each film in her career has brought new shades of meaning both to and from that initial burst of energy. Even in her latest film, Thérèse Desqueyroux, where she plays a murderous housewife, Tautou can’t help but sneak in her trademark quirk—the smile that’s half-mischief and half-whimsy. Here, she talks about playing a darker role in Thérèse, her upcoming film with Michel Gondry, and how fame changed her life, for better or worse.
This new role as Thérèse is so much colder than what you’ve ever played before. What attracted you to it?
At the beginning it was really a desire of working with the film’s director, Claude Miller. But, as you say, I thought it was a wonderful opportunity for me to do something different. I was very flattered to realize that Claude thought of me for such a dark and complex character. To play a poisoner!
Were you a rebel as a child?
Not at all. But I don’t think Thérèse is a rebel, either. She has a rebellious spirit but she keeps her mouth shut. And that’s who I was. I’m the kind of person who’s going to yell inside but not be brave enough to really say anything to anyone.
Did you always know you wanted to be an actor?
I didn’t want to become an actress. At first I wanted to be a primatologist, to study monkeys. I wanted to dangle from trees in the jungle and escape from tigers.
It must have been a surprise.
It was a surprise. But when I was maybe 17 I did some theatre in my school and really enjoyed it. My parents gave me a gift for two weeks of theatre in a theatre school in Paris. And my teacher didn’t want me to go back to my small town. He encouraged me.
It’s hard to believe, but Amélie came out over a decade ago. With the perspective of years, how have your thoughts about the film changed?
As time goes by I appreciate more and more what this movie made me live. I’m increasingly drawn to the idea that Amélie was a miracle––but I wasn’t aware of that at that time.
People must come up to you and say, ‘Amélie!’
Oh, yeah, but this is not the problem for me.
Fame has not been difficult?
Right at the beginning, yes. It was too much. It was not something I was expecting or wishing for my life. I was so young. It was not something comfortable for me at all.
When did you get comfortable with it?
A few months, maybe. But at some point you just have to accept this new element in your life. I’ve always really tried to own my life: to work at my own rhythm and not just fulfill other people’s dreams or expectations.
You must have received many phone calls from the United States telling you to come to America.
I got some opportunities, sure. But I think I was not ready to be… I was not formatted for Hollywood, let’s say. I thought about that for my role as Thérèse: she’s not formatted to be a housewife and no one understands that. The people she’s around think they know what’s best for her, but they don’t.
So Paris is your home?
Paris is home, but actually I like New York. I worked in New York for a movie and it made me want to move here. But this idea scared my grandmother. She said to me, ‘Are you telling me that you prefer America to France?’ So, I went back home.
What else have you been working on?
The next movie is called Mood Indigo––directed by Michel Gondry. And after that there’s a movie with Cédric Klapisch: a really nice comedy.
What is working with Michel Gondry like?
When we work everything seems to be a huge mess, but I think that he creates this mess intentionally. He wants actors to forget their control. Because I like to control everything. But I haven’t seen the movie yet. I can’t wait to see it. I think it will be completely surreal.
What do you look for in somebody you’d want to be with?
When I meet somebody I just wait for some spontaneity. I think that’s mainly what I like… I know that at the beginning people you meet don’t really act normally around you. They can be a bit uncomfortable.
Uncomfortable with you being who you are?
Yeah, you know. When you have a tiny bit of celebrity it changes your relationship with people. It doesn’t change your look on the outside, but changes how the outside looks at you. So that’s what I’m looking for. Humor and simplicity and spontaneity.
Has it been difficult meeting regular people?
No, it hasn’t been difficult. I know there will always be the little bit of ice you have to break. It’s just a question of time. For some people it takes five minutes and for some others it’s going to take three days.
You’re putting me at ease right now.
Oh yeah? But me, I’m a very simple person, you know. So I’m not playing a part or trying to pretend I’m something I’m not. And also I don’t think I try to seduce everybody. I know I won’t please everybody. There are some people who like me and others who hate me. I assume that I have integrity, that I’m not a bad person. I think that’s the most important thing.