A beloved talent in his native France, Cesar-winning actor Jean Dujardin’s outsized comic personality, embossed by a toothy smile, made him a top leading man on television and in features, including the hit espionage spoof “OSS 117: Cairo, Nest of Spies” (2006) and “The Artist” (2011) which earned him a Best Actor award at the Cannes Film Festival. He began in sketch comedy before making his name as the star of the sitcom-romance “Un gars, un fille” (France 2, 1999-2003). Its popularity brought him to features, where he developed his brash but clueless screen image through several partnerships with writer-director Michael Hazanavicius, including two “OSS” features. However, their fourth teaming, “The Artist,” which offered a meticulously crafted valentine to American silent film, won them international acclaim and attention. The picture’s unlikely success in America made Dujardin a likely candidate for that rara avis in the film community: the non-British European star who finds fame in Hollywood.
Born June 19, 1972 in the Paris suburb of Rueil-Malmaison, Jean Dujardin began in sketch comedy as part of Nous C Nous, a popular parody troupe that gained national attention on the television variety series “Graines de star” (1996). He then co-starred in “Un gars, une fille,” one of 30 international adaptations of a Quebecois sitcom about the everyday life of a couple. The French version, which was broadcast in seven-minute daily sketches, was a substantial success, and led to opportunities in feature films for Dujardin. “Un gars, un fille” also introduced him to his second wife, co-star Alexandra Larny, with whom he fell in love and married during the series’ final season.
Jean Dujardin in The Artist
After appearances in the comedy “Welcome to the Roses” (2003) and the expensive Western spoof “Lucky Luke and the Daltons” (2004), which introduced him to writer-director Michael Hazanavicius, he found his star-making role in 2005′s “Brice de Nice,” a broad comedy about a hapless would-be surfer who attempts to rob a bank in order to maintain his spendthrift lifestyle. Dujardin, who co-wrote the film, also scored a Top 5 hit on the French singles chart with “Le Casse de Brice,” a song from its soundtrack. In 2006, he reteamed with Hazanavicius for “007 117: Cairo, Nest of Spies,” a spoof of ’60s European spy films with Dujardin as a bumbling secret agent. A considerable hit in its native country, as well as on the international festival circuit, “OSS 117″ earned Dujardin a Cesar nomination, the French equivalent of an Oscar nod, and a rarity for comic actors in that country. More importantly, it forged a collaborative relationship between the actor and Hazanavicius that would yield major acclaim for their subsequent efforts.
After leading turns in a handful of Gallic releases, most notably “A Man and His Dog,” which featured French cinema icon Jean-Paul Belmondo – an actor whose innate, roguish charm was often cited as an antecedent of Dujardin – and a few ventures into drama like Bertrand Blier’s cop drama “Counter Investigation,” he reunited with Hazanavicius for “OSS 117: Lost in Rio” (2009), an equally cheeky follow-up to their previous spy spoof. Dujardin then moved into darker territory with “The Clink of Ice” (2010), a black comedy about an alcoholic writer (Dujardin) who met the personification of his terminal cancer, and 2011′s “Little White Lies” as a critically injured man whose self-absorbed friends refused to let his condition interrupt their summer holiday.
That same year, Dujardin and Hazanvicius embarked on their most ambitious project to date: “The Artist,” a loving tribute to Hollywood’s silent era and the larger-than-life personalities that inhabited its films before the advent of sync-sound features. Dujardin gave an alternately winning and moving performance as a once-charming silent leading man whose precipitous career decline coincided with the rise of “talking pictures,” as represented by a vivacious actress, played by Hazanavicius’ wife, Berenice Bejo. The film’s relentless energy, most notably in a lengthy dance sequence featuring Dujardin and Bejo, made it a critical hit on both sides of the Atlantic, with most of the praise focused on Dujardin’s performance. A win for Best Actor at the Cannes Film Festival and the Golden Globes for Best Actor in a Comedy or Musical, as well as a nomination from the Independent Spirit Awards boosted his international profile considerably, and generated talk of a Hollywood debut amidst earning an Academy Award nomination as well.
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