I don't want to lick your shoes

Something special … Audrey Tautou in Hunting and Gathering .Something special … Audrey Tautou in Hunting and Gathering .
When I realised that being famous was not a sickness, that was fine
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Garry Maddox
December 8, 2007
AUDREY TAUTOU'S English has improved dramatically since she was cast as a Turkish immigrant to Britain in Dirty Pretty Things but there is still room for confusion.
I have hardly even sat down to talk to the French star of Amelie and The Da Vinci Code when she makes a startling comment. "I don't want to lick your shoes."
What was that? I look at my shoes to see whether they need polishing. Is this some strange French greeting, the Gallic equivalent of rubbing noses? Or does the elfin actress have a thing for footwear?
"No, no, no," says Tautou, realising her Australian visitor is baffled. The phrase is a polite French way of saying, "I don't want to kiss your rear end", a reference to a mid-year trip Tautou made to Sydney to visit her friend, fashion designer Laurence Pasquier.

"I went there to see one of my oldest friends 'ooz been living in Sydney for seven years now," she says. "I went to visit her and I had a lot of pleasure to discover this place."
Audiences have had a lot of pleasure discovering Tautou since she emerged in the romantic fable Amelie, playing the impish waitress from Montmartre who ignores her loneliness to help others.
Yet while she might be France's biggest current international cinema export, not everyone there is convinced she is the country's latest cinema goddess.
"Catherine Deneuve is a star, Audrey Tautou is a bankable actress doing a lot of movies," says rising young director Celine Sciamma. "In [Amelie] she was impersonating the young French girl in a very folkloric way. She became emblematic because the whole world saw it."
But the legendary filmmaker Claude Berri, director of the 1980s hits Jean de Florette and Manon des Sources, is a fan. "There are people who are popular, like Gerard Depardieu and Emmanuelle Seigner, but Audrey has something very special about her," he says.
Berri, 73, cast Tautou in what might be his final film as a director - the romance Hunting And Gathering. She plays a frail and lonely young office cleaner, Camille, who becomes flatmates with an aristocratic postcard seller, played by Laurent Stocker, and a gruff chef, Guillaume Canet from The Beach.
For Tautou, it's another role that shows her talent for heartwrenching vulnerability, which she can turn around with a warm smile and a sassy line.
Hunting And Gathering is a deliberate step back to a much smaller and more intimate film than The Da Vinci Code, closer to the Amelie experience.
Part of the appeal of the film was working with Berri, who struggled with serious health problems as a result of a stroke before the shoot.
"Usually I choose a part for several reasons - the story and the character and the director and what this experience can teach me," Tautou says. "Also I really wanted to play in a comedy and to try to be funny and to get this rhythm. I really enjoyed that."
"As [Berri] got into a depression a few days before the shoot, a friend of his, François Dupeyron, came on the shoot to help him, to help us and to give him the energy he didn't have because he was too tired," Tautou says.
The daughter of a dental surgeon and a teacher from central France, Tautou became interested in acting at school. She seems surprised to learn that her breakthrough film was second in the ABC's My Favourite Film poll two years ago, behind The Lord of the Rings trilogy.
"When we were shooting it, we had the feeling that we were on something really special," she says. "But the worldwide success was a surprise because it had never been like that ever [for a French film] I think."
Its international appeal, Tautou believes, is because "it's a special universe and it maybe brings you back to your childhood and makes you dream and gives you a lot of hope. And maybe it just expresses the good part of your humanity."
Luck played a big part in her casting with director Jean-Pierre Jeunet looking elsewhere - and seeing Tautou on the poster for her first hit, the comic romance Venus Beauty Institute - after Emily Watson withdrew from the film.
Having bottled lightning once, Jeunet cast Tautou again in A Very Long Engagement, as a childhood sweetheart who searches for her fiancé at the end of World War I, prompting the influential Hollywood Reporter to pointedly remark that "Tautou is not cut out for tragedy".
All her other films - including The Spanish Apartment, Dirty Pretty Things, Russian Dolls and Priceless - were dwarfed by The Da Vinci Code, director Ron Howard's massively hyped adaptation of Dan Brown's bestselling novel.
It might have been Tautou's first big Hollywood movie but it was shot in Paris as well as London, with a French and English crew. "It was like visiting a new country," she says. "That was very, very interesting. People told me that you're lucky because you're going to be working with maybe the kindest director in Hollywood. [Howard] gave me a lot of confidence. And to work with Tom [Hanks], that's just for an actor perfection."
Still, Tautou's Sophie Neveu is not in the Da Vinci Code sequel Angels & Demons and you get the impression the actor is happy about that. She admits the fame that came with Amelie's success was a genuine shock.
"It was very difficult for me to accept not having exactly the same life as before," she says. "I had never wished to be famous, never expected that. That was not something positive for me.
"But finally when I came to terms with certain things that I could do before - like taking the subway easily - and when I [realised] that being famous was not a sickness, that was fine."
Grateful that she is not famous enough "to make people crazy and create a hysterical thing" as with some Hollywood stars, Tautou is in no rush to jump into another big Hollywood movie.
"I'm always tempted by new experiences and foreign experiences because I'm a curious person," she says. "The only thing is I want to keep a bit of freedom by not being too famous."
But how can she avoid that?
"By not doing several big box office movies."
But they don't come much bigger than The Da Vinci Code.
"I've only done one. If I disappear for a few years, it's easy to be forgotten. That's very reassuring."
Tautou is next down to star as the fashion designer Coco Chanel in director Anne Fontaine's Coco Before Chanel.
"She's an extraordinary woman. It's interesting for me to play somebody who existed. And I like the angle that the director is interested in."
As her assistant arrives, Tautou has an unusual request.
"Do you mind if I take a little picture of you?"
Sure. But why?
"I've been doing that for years now. It's just to keep a little memory of all the people I meet. It's my collection. Some people collect - I don't know - little cats."
Taking a small camera from her bag, Tautou lines up a shot.
"One, two, three," she says. "Oh no, you closed your eyes! One, two, three. Ah, superb!"
A delightful touch, very French. I want to lick her shoes.
Hunting and Gathering opens on Thursday.

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