"I love your country," said Jean Dujardin after winning the Oscar for Best Actor at the 84th Academy Awards.
And America returns the sentiment, Jean! The previously unknown Frenchman came out of nowhere and swept awards season, also nabbing the Golden Globe and Independent Spirit Award. Just like the timeless movie he starred in, the unassuming Dujardin charmed his way into theaters and took America by storm.
Dujardin has been described as France's answer to George Clooney. Which is somewhat ironic since he now has something his American doppelganger is missing-that golden statuette.
Dujardin was the underdog of the evening, not only for his lack of stardom but also for his lack of dialogue-a mere two words uttered throughout the entire movie. And yet, The Artist turned out to be the little, silent movie that could-winning five Oscars, including Best Director, Best Motion Picture of the Year, and, of course, Best Actor.
“But I will never be an American actor ... I am too Parisian..”
The idea of a colorless and voiceless motion picture seems stagnant and unappealing-after all, there is a reason sound was incorporated into movies in the late 1920s. And yet the black-and-white world director Michel Hazanavicius created in The Artist is anything but flat. It tells the story of George Valentin (Dujardin), a silent film star whose stardom takes a plunge with the introduction of talkies. Mirroring his descent is Peppy Miller (Bérénice Bejo)- Valentin's newly befriended actress who has now become the latest talking-film star. What follows is both a charming and melodramatic love story reminiscent of the great silent classics.
Sans verbal dialogue, the musical score in The Artist had the immense challenge of becoming the voice of the voiceless characters. Ludovic Bource's music, which won the Oscar for best original score, captures the romantic and sweeping sound of the Golden Age, creating a melodic and dynamic soundtrack that carries the audience through the film effortlessly.
With a strong, passionate score behind him, Dujardin shines on screen with his brilliant charisma and physical presence. With his wide smile, playful eyebrows, and attentive eyes, he has no need for spoken dialogue?his ever-changing facial movements convey emotions in a way words cannot.
In his review of The Artist, Roger Ebert wrote that Dujardin "looks like a cross between [Gene] Kelly and Sean Connery, and has such a command of comic timing and body language that he might have been?well, a silent star."
With all of this high praise, Tinseltown is in a tizzy about Dujardin?who is this handsome French actor? And is he here to stay?
Dujardin, 39, was raised in the Paris suburb of Rueil-Malmaison. Once out of high school, he took a job at his parents' construction company. Soon after, he entered the military, but the idea of acting was never far from his mind.
He started his acting career in 1999 with the Canadian comedy series Un gars, une fille (A Guy, a Girl), acting alongside his future wife, Alexandra Lamy. Dujardin shot to French stardom in 2006 when he starred in the spy spoof OSS 117: Cairo, Nest of Spies, which earned him an Etoile D?Or Award and a César Award nomination for best actor.
Dujardin remained unknown in the States. That all changed upon the release of The Artist. When approached by director Hazanavicius with the idea of a silent film, the actor was both intrigued and concerned, imagining the movie to be an unachievable project. After reading the script, Dujardin became a believer.
"Michel said, 'You're the one who has to do it; no one else can do this. I wrote it for you. I can't force you, but...' I called back and said, 'Excuse me. I'm thinking like someone else. Of course I'm going to do it.' For me, I loved it. I only want to make silent movies now," Dujardin joked.
The film was unlike any other Dujardin had made (and unlike any movie out there, period), and thus presented a unique challenge for the actor. How do you communicate with an audience without a voice
Dujardin found the silent acting style to be surprisingly second nature: One becomes "more instinctive, more intellectual," he told USA Today. "Your body speaks first, body language, almost like a reflex, so you form yourself elsewhere differently. But it's very comfortable, strangely enough, very playful, delightful."
To capture the charisma of the macho 1920s actor, he studied the films of Douglas Fairbanks and Gene Kelly.
"In terms of research, I knew Chaplin and Keaton, but the discovery was seeing silent cinema, dramas like Sunrise and The Crowd, which were more minimal and had a real purity of performance," he told Time Out. "Valentin is based on Douglas Fairbanks, who was very happy in his own skin and content to make the same pantomime movie again and again. It was good to know there was another silent acting style to help build a bridge to modern audiences."
With its homage to past silent films, The Artist is an unabashed celebration of old Hollywood, making the film truly a movie buff's dream.
"The people who have film references, they find something in it, of course. But the idea was to make a crowd-pleaser for all walks of life, to tell a love story, to amuse people, to distract them and to have fun with them because the audience participates even more than in a talkie," Dujardin has said.
And a crowd-pleaser it is. With an impressive 97 percent approval rating on RottenTomatoes.com and over $35 million already made at the box office, The Artist is poised to become a classic.
Dujardin is excited about the film's success: "We make movies so people like them. It means Michel got it right. It's a tour de force for a director to make this a success, this kind of movie. And we're all very proud".
So with an Oscar in hand and the American public eager for more Dujardin, what's up next for the actor? While he has been mum about his next project, it has been confirmed he will start shooting his next French film in Tunisia this summer.
“I love your country.”
The actor has confessed to enjoying his time in America, stating, "Living and shooting in L.A. was very motivating, inspiring. The lights, the extras, their American faces, the energy, the Orpheum Theatre..."
However, American fans of the actor shouldn't be holding their breath for his next Hollywood block- buster. He has yet to get swept up in the Hollywood glamour, telling the French press he is uncertain about his future in American movies.
"We're going to see if there are projects to develop, why not? But I will never be an American actor ... I am too Parisian. And I think the French would be angry if I left. I hope they would be angry."
Top Dog Uggie
The real scene stealer of The Artist was the crafty and adorable Jack Russell terrier Uggie, who played Valentin?s trusty sidekick. The 10-year-old pooch has become a star of his own, walking down the red carpet, doing photo shoots, and even wearing custom-made jewelry.
Here are some facts about Hollywood?s most loveable dog:
» As a pup, Uggie was rejected by his first two owners for being too wild. Before being sent to the pound, he was adopted by animal trainer Omar von Muller. Von Muller soon found the energetic puppy was smart and fearless?a perfect combination for showbiz.
» He had his breakout role in 2011 as Queenie in Water for Elephants alongside Robert Pattinson and Reese Witherspoon.
» The "Consider Uggie" campaign was set up to seek recognition for Uggie's performance in the movie. The move- ment has 10,000 likes on Facebook.
» He attended Harvey Weinstein?s pre-Oscar party wearing a leather collar with an 18-carat yellow gold bone, custom made by Chopard.
» Winner of the first ever Golden Collar Award for Best Dog.
» Won the Palm Dog Award for best performance by a canine at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival.
» Uggie has his own Twitter account?with over 6,000 followers!
» Named Nintendo's first-ever spokesdog.
» Uggie has confirmed that he will attend the White House Correspondents Dinner on April 28 as a guest of the Washington Times. He hopes to meet President Obama while he's there.[HS]