My Big Fat French Actor

I’m sorry I haven’t posted anything in a while… Usual excuses: busy/lazy/poorly organized. I do have a TIME column coming out on Thursday and I swear I have so many fascinating ideas swirling around in my head that you’re just gonna love … My whole brain is totally on-trend at the moment. You’ll see!

And while we wait for that delusion to pass, I thought I’d offer a few late-night musings on the astounding decline of the formerly esteemed French actor, Gerard Depardieu. This is Gerard back when he was a regular dude: admired, appealing, neither gorgeous nor grotesque, just a talented French man who made a lot of respected movies:

We go way back, Gerard and I. I lived in Paris in 1981 and went to the cinema compulsively, often more than once in a day. So I saw him in his prime in French movies like My Uncle From America, The Woman Next Door, The Return of Martin Guerre (not the execrable Jodi Foster/Richard Gere vehicle, mind you):

And then there was his late-80s Coming to America (but still masquerading as a real actor) stage: Jean de Florette. Cyrano. This was before the Green Card debacle. (Does anyone else think Andie Mcdowell just turns things to crap? Remember how she practically ruined Four Weddings and a Funeral?) Anyway, this was Before 102 Dalmatians. Let me repeat that: Before 102 Dalmatians:

It was way before he became a freakish buffoon, in other words. Before he dropped his pants and urinated in an airplane aisle after drunkenly declaring, “Je veux pisser. Je veux pisser.” I’m sure he was always a jackass but he wasn’t a known jackass back then is what I’m saying. Nor was he morbidly obese. He was certainly no traditional sex symbol, but this was France: he was a leading man and, it must be said, an unbelievable actor. Truly, you have to believe me when I say this. He was one of the world’s greatest actors. And he had a sexy voice. It’s not something one really notices foremost in such a burly man but he spoke in unbelievably dulcet tones. If you don’t believe me, watch The Last Metro. There’s a scene when he and Catherine Deneuve make love urgently on a floor. She says, ‘Wait, Wait.’ And he says: ‘J’attends.’  I admit it’s hard to reconcile that Gerard, the 1980s leading man Gerard…

…with THIS one:

But bear with me. Because even when he starred in a Hollywoodized cornball drek like Fort Saganne (which, incidentally, features the most beautiful cello solo in a movie score), he could still basically pull off the Leading Man shtick. He could even be plausibly heartbreaking to two  beautiful women (Catherine Deneuve and Sophie Marceau) in the same movie:

I know, I know. I’m sounding really defensive. But you just have to believe me that he was a serious person – or, at least (and this may be wholly different) a serious actor. I knew a very elegant French lady named Jacky who lived a few miles from Gerard Depardieu in the Parisian suburb of Bougival. In the summer of 1984, when I was a sophomore in college, I told my distinguished older friend that I had a slight fixation with Gerard Depardieu. She acknowledged that he was tres gentil… mais un peu pompeux – though it wasn’t specified how, exactly. She mentioned that his wife was ‘long suffering.’ Something along those lines. Anyway, she piled me into her car and we drove straightaway to his house, which looked like an ordinary, nicely well-off French person’s house, and she just walked up to the door and rang the bell as if this were a totally reasonable thing to do. ‘Tant pis!” Jacky said. “I see him all the time; he won’t care.” She rang the bell twice. Anyway, that was my low brush with Gerard Depardieu. He wasn’t home. I moved on.

But I’ve been thinking about le probleme de Gerard this evening. You can probably guess where I’m headed, right? We’ve been over this territory before. If a famous actress pulled a stunt like this, her career would go up in flames before you could light a match. Is Hollywood trying to gross us out? Cinematic Wasteland of Female Fantasy. Yada Yada.  Guess what? I’m not going there! I’m giving you a  Hectoring Harpy pass today. (And, in exchange, please do not chastise me for not appreciating how “troubled” this man is or how shallow and fat-shaming I am. Deal?)

The truth is, I’m not even remotely interested in linking Gerard’s theatrical devolution to larger societal trends. Sometimes a person doesn’t fit into something as pedestrian as cultural criticism. Gerard isn’t just any old circus freak. He’s a force de la nature!  And sometimes pictures really are worth a thousand words:

About ErikaChristakis

Yale Lecturer in early childhood education/Licensed teacher/Former preschool director and Harvard College house master/some-time journalist. In possession of: unmarketable bachelor’s degree (Harvard, anthropology), semi-marketable graduate degrees (public health, education…). Rewarding career at the intersection of family, society, and schools (including long stint in parenting vortex). Forging a new path to connect all of the above.
This entry was posted in Entertainment/Pop culture, My story and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to My Big Fat French Actor

  1. adauphin04 says:

    It’s been sad watching him trade in his talent for just another sensational tabloid headline.

  2. Richard Hussar says:

    Going to skip my ice cream tonight …. A sad tale and all too common.

  3. I remember him too in Jean De Florette. He was fabulous. I guess he got rich and famous and it all went to his gut and butt. Too bad. I enjoyed him but cannot watch him now. Too painful.

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