ByMeg Walters/Updated: Jan. 31, 2023 1:56 pm EST
Ever since 2001, Audrey Tautou has been something of a household name — and if you don't recognize her name, you'll almost certainly recognize her face. Tautou shot to fame as the titular character in the hugely popular quirky French comedy "Amelie," and quickly became one of Hollywood's most promising young actresses. But despite a few English-speaking roles in projects like "The Da Vinci Code" and "Dirty Pretty Things," Tautou has largely retreated from the spotlight in recent years, preferring to take on French roles and live her life decidedly under the radar.
In her ample spare time, the actor leads a quiet life in Paris filled with travel, reading, photography and, apparently, some other highly secretive creative pursuits. She is, according to most interviewers, a shy, reclusive sort who wants none of the trappings that come with fame, but rather, to lead an ordinary life. So, how did the striking Tautou go from being one of France's biggest breakout stars to a barely famous working actress? Here is the stunning transformation of Audrey Tautou.
She grew up in France as a tomboy with a love of nature
Frank Micelotta Archive/Getty Images
Named after Audrey Hepburn, Audrey Tautou, the daughter of a dental surgeon and a teacher, was born in 1976, the eldest of four children. She grew up in Auvergne, a rural area in central France. At first, the young Tautou wasn't too interested in acting — instead, she was more keen on being outside in nature. "When I was a child, I was un garçon manqué– a missed boy," she once told The Times. "In English I would be called a tomboy. I was always climbing trees, playing football."
In fact, Tautou was so passionate about nature, she even wanted to be a primatologist until she was 14 — someone who studies primates (via Harrods Magazine). She developed an obsession with the primatologist Dian Fossey and with the idea of working in the jungle. "I was attracted by adventure, but it was more about jungles," she told iNews.
Audrey Tautou fell in love with nature photography as a child
Dave Hogan/Getty Images
Audrey Tautou's passion for nature soon led her to take up photography as a child — partly, she was inspired by her obsession with Dian Fossey, who was not only a primatologist, but also a nature photographer. But, more than anything, she was inspired by her own yearning for adventure. She explained to The New York Times Style Magazine, "The camera was, for me, more an expression of my desire for adventures. It was not a photographer who made me want to become a photographer."
Tautou got her first "real" camera when she was around 11 or 12 years old, as she told GUP. "Since then I've been taking photos all the time," she explained. While Tautou didn't end up becoming a nature photographer, she never gave up the hobby — eventually, she became an avid portrait photographer and has even shown her work in an exhibition.
Audrey Tautou discovered acting during a summer course
Anthony Harvey/Getty Images
While Audrey Tautou's main interests were adventure, jungles and monkeys, she was also interested in acting. Her inspiration, she told The Times, was Johnny Depp. Apparently, her room was covered with posters of the actor. Her curiosity about the world of acting eventually led her to ask her parents for some training.
As a teenager, Tautou's parents signed her up for a two week summer acting course at the Cours Florent theater school in Paris. As The Guardian reported, the short course was a reward for her good grades in school. At first, Tautou was overwhelmed by life in Paris. "Everywhere I looked, only the most beautiful women — I decided that it was impossible to be an actress in this city!" she told The Times.
However, as the drama school noted, Tautou's natural talent was immediately noticed and she was eventually given a place in the full-time program.
She studied literature at the Sorbonne before deciding to pursue acting
Gareth Davies/Getty Images
Alongside her studies at the Cours Florent, Audrey Tautou also studied at the Sorbonne, a university in Paris. As she told The Guardian, she was initially drawn to the fine arts, but her parents encouraged her to study literature instead.
When she graduated, Tautou was still drawn to acting, but knew it was a risky career. So, she gave herself a year "and not a day more," as she put it, to find acting work. "I thought, 'I don't want to keep doing this job, if this job doesn't want me,'" she said. "I didn't want to spend all my life waiting for the phone to ring and living in a 10 square metres apartment. No, no, no. There are too many other wonderful things to do in life."
Of course, Tautou's worries of being an out-of-work actress proved to be unfounded — before the year was out, she had won a talent competition and landed her first role in the film "Venus Beauty" (via Complete France).
Her first role helped her land her career-defining performance
Scott Gries/Getty Images
While "Amelie" may be the film that brought Audrey Tautou into the public eye, it was her first film "Venus Beauty" that helped her land the role. Tautou won a César award for her debut performance. At the time, director, Jean-Pierre Jeunet, was looking for a replacement for the lead role in his upcoming film, "Amelie" — his first choice, Emily Watson, had dropped out at the last minute. He saw her in a poster for "Venus Beauty" and brought her in for an audition (via The Guardian).
"Within five seconds [of the audition] I knew," Jeunet told IndieWire. "I told her, 'Where do you come from?' and you can hear in my voice, I was very emotional." While Watson might have given the role more of a "Bridget Jones" vibe, Jeunet explained that Tautou "gave it something more fresh." As far as he was concerned, coming across the relatively unknown Tautou was fate.
Amelie brought Audrey Tautou international fame
Koichi Kamoshida/Getty Images
Even though it was only her second big role, "Amelie" was a huge hit, and the role shot Audrey Tautou to fame all over the world. For the young actress who only a few years ago had planned on "being in a jungle and living in a treehouse," as she told The Daily Beast, the newfound fame was a huge shock.
"It was very difficult to go from relative anonymity to such huge success in such a short space of time," she told The Guardian. All of a sudden, Tautou found that she couldn't leave the house without being recognized. "I couldn't go where I wanted when I wanted any more; I couldn't take the metro," she said. "That was a bit of a drama."
In another interview for The Guardian, Tautou explained that after "Amelie," she felt that people stopped seeing her and instead began seeing the face they'd become familiar with in the film. "It's like a glass screen you can see through but in fact there's always a reflection of their imagination, their fantasme," she said.
She starred in a series of highly acclaimed dramatic films after Amelie
Carlos Alvarez/Getty Images
After the huge success of "Amelie," it was no real surprise that Hollywood came knocking. Soon after the film, Audrey Tautou began to appear in her first English-speaking films. In "Dirty Pretty Things," her first English-speaking film, she played a Turkish immigrant. A few years later, and several other dramatic roles that saw her leaving her quirky, romantic persona behind, Tautou starred opposite Tom Hanks in "The Da Vinci Code" (via Independent).
Tautou's experience with American films gave her a taste of what life as a Hollywood actor might be like. "We did work very hard, generally 12-16 hours a day ... We didn't have time to do anything else. To that extent, the approach was very different from what I'm used to in France," she told Le Figaro. When asked about whether she had plans to make more American movies, Tautou was hesitant. "I'm not sure of anything, but I am aware that in the United States cinema is an industry," she said. "To be successful in America you have to promote yourself, make sure people know who you are, know how to use the media."
Audrey Tautou took a step back from Hollywood
Chris Jackson/Getty Images
It soon became clear that Audrey Tautou had no intentions of staying in America to build a Hollywood career. Instead, she actively retreated back out of the spotlight and returned her focus to French films.
"I loved working on 'The Da Vinci Code,' but just because I was in one blockbuster doesn't mean I want to do it all the time," she told the Independent. "I love my job, but I don't like to be in the spotlight to that extent. I prefer to be in the shadows." Instead, Tautou took on a series of impressive French roles in films like "Priceless," "Coco Before Chanel," "Beautiful Lies," and "Therese." As Tautou explained to IndieWire, staying in France gave her the chance to play "really interesting and deep parts," while those parts are fewer and farther between in Hollywood blockbusters. It sounds like Tautou certainly chose the right path for her!
Audrey Tautou became the face of Chanel No. 5
Dave Hogan/Getty Images
In 2009, shortly after playing designer Coco Chanel in "Coco Before Chanel," Audrey Tautou was announced as the new face of Chanel No. 5, the brand's iconic perfume. For Tautou, it felt like a natural fit. As she explained to Elle at the time, she had always had a wonderful relationship with the brand.
But even though she had worked with the company for years, it was still a huge honor. "Even now, I find it hard to believe," she said. When asked how she felt about following in the footsteps of Catherine Deneuve, Carole Bouquet and Nicole Kidman, who had all been previous faces of the perfume, she said, "I see it as something new; I don't compare myself with these great actresses, I don't see myself as part of their lineage. I feel closer to the fragrance itself, its history and even Coco Chanel."
Audrey Tautou also found time in her career for the stage
Dave M. Benett/Getty Images
Not only did Audrey Tautou appear in numerous complex French films after leaving Hollywood behind, she also took on a stage role, too. In 2010, she made her theatrical debut in a French production of Henrik Ibsen's "A Doll's House" as Nora. Her performance earned her rave reviews.
For Tautou, making the leap from screen to stage was a little daunting. "Everyone is waiting for me to fall on my face, but I don't care," she told Le Figaro (via Independent). She went on to explain that she'd always wanted to try a stage role, but "life led me in another direction."
As Tautou later explained to Complete France, the experience of working in the theater gave her a new perspective on acting. "What I like about theatre is that each evening you can progress and arrive at an understanding and have integration with the character that is just incredible," she said. By the end of the run, she explained, she'd developed a much deeper understanding of her character — "and that's wonderful," she gushed.
Audrey Tautou faced her fears to present at Cannes in 2013
Carlos Alvarez/Getty Images
In 2013, Audrey Tautou was asked to be the host of the Cannes Film Festival — a huge honor that always goes to a big French film star. In the past, hosts have included Jeanne Moreau and Catherine Deneuve. As The Guardian reported, Tautou was hesitant to agree because of her fear of the spotlight. "I'm not very confident, especially when it comes to standing in front of a crowd," she told SBS at the time.
In a French interview with AFPTV at the festival, she explained that despite her fears, she was excited for the unique experience as it was unlike anything she'd ever done. At the ceremony itself, she used her nerves to her advantage. Tautou's speech began, "This is the greatest honor I have ever had to welcome you here this evening ... I tremble, not only because of the overwhelming prestige of this event ... [but] because of the great promise held out by all the films that we shall be seeing in this unique setting."
She has found balance between acting, other projects, and real life
Junko Kimura/Getty Images
Over the years, Audrey Tautou has carved out a healthy work-life balance. After deciding to live and work in France rather than America, she began to take on fewer roles year by year. "I travel, I write, I take photos, I read, I draw," she told The Talks. "I have my own little personal projects, which for now are for my eyes only!"
As she explained, by only doing one or two films a year, she had plenty of time to pursue these other passions. In another interview, she toldGlass, that when she's at home in Paris, her lack of fame means she can do pretty much whatever she likes. "I like to go to museums, to exhibitions, to the cinema. I think that I take my free time to eat more culture and more travels."
By the sounds of things, Tautou wants to do even more outside of acting as she gets older. "I would like to fulfill some artistic projects that I have been developing for a few years," she said to Holmes Place when she turned 40.
Audrey Tautou had her first photography exhibition in 2017
Fotos International/Getty Images
Audrey Tautou has been a photographer since she was a child. As an adult, she famously takes photos of everyone who interviews her. In 2017, she finally got the chance to showcase her work in her first exhibit. For Tautou, the experience was very different creatively to her acting work. "It's a project about self-portraits, but it's very difficult," she told Interviewmagazine. "I do everything by myself and it takes me ages to manage just one picture, so it drives me nuts."
Her exhibition consisted of a series of self-portraits. As she told GUPmagazine, her goal was to unpick her own image and, as she put it, "destroy the cliché of the star." Over time, Tautou's photography has helped her to grow. "When you are an autodidact, you learn only from your mistakes," she said. "So, I learn a lot."
She has dreams of living in the countryside and seeing the world in the future
Edward Berthelot/Getty Images
So, what does the future hold for Audrey Tautou? Well, for one thing, she has no intention to leave behind the world of acting anytime soon — but she's also eager to give herself more time to enjoy her life. For one thing, Tautou is eager to get back to her rural roots. "Paris is a beautiful city, but it's not where I want to be," Tautou said to The Times. "I have lived here for 22 years, even though I don't love it." She added, "All I want is to live in a place where I can see the horizon."
And Tautou's craving for wide open spaces doesn't end there. "I want to become a sailor," she told Marie Claire (via The Sydney Morning Herald). "I would love to do that. I would love to cross the Atlantic." It sounds like Tautou still has plenty of the world that she wants to explore — and even though her early dreams of becoming a primatologist didn't come true, she's never really let go of her adventurous side.