Michel Blanc

Michel Blanc

Like many actors of the past 20 years, in France, Hollywood and elsewhere, Michel Blanc might not have been considered "movie star" material in the Golden Age of the 1930s. Not handsome, bald and diminutive, he has nevertheless become one of France's leading screen stars, and occasionally appears in English-language films as well. Starting out with an acting troupe called "Le Splendide," which he helped to found, Blanc was in motion pictures by the time he was 23, including "La Meilleure facon de marcher/The Best Way to Walk," a 1975 film in which a teen at a summer camp is toughened up by his camp counselor. Blanc worked steadily after that, including roles in Polanski's "The Tenant" (1976) and "L'Adolescente" (1978), directed by Jeanne Moreau. By the 80s, he was writing screenplays in which he could star. His first two scripts were directed by Patrice Leconte: "Viens chez moi, j'habite chez une copine/Come to My Place, I'm Living at My Girl-Friend's" (1980), in which Blanc played a self-centered womanizer whose temporary move to a friend's apartment becomes permanent, and "Ma femme s'appelle reviens/Singles" (1982) about neighbors who discover they make better friends than lovers. Two years later, he made his directorial debut with "Marche a l'ombre/Walk in the Shadow," a fluffy buddy picture. While a household face as a light comedian in France by the mid-80s, Blanc had yet to flex his dramatic acting muscle. That came with "Menage" (1986), in which he was a weak-willed husband drawn into a gay liaison by Gerard Depardieu. His performance won the Best Actor honors at the Cannes Film Festival. Three years later, Blanc was again the toast of the French film industry with the release of "Monsieur Hire," a thriller in which he played a lonely tailor obsessively watching a woman through his window. It was also in 1989 that Blanc had some exposure to American audiences--besides those who seek out foreign films--as the Hotel Manager in "Strike It Rich," a Molly Ringwald comedy. In 1991, he was Alonso, under the tutelage of John Gielgud in Peter Greenaway's "Prospero's Books," a loose adaptation of Shakespeare's "The Tempest." He subsequently appeared as an assistant prefect to police, smelling something amiss, in Robert Altman's "Ready-to-Wear/Pret-a-Porter" (1994). Despite appearances in English language films, Blanc had not left France for the lure of international films, as "Grosse Fatigue" (also 1994) attested. In this comedy, written and directed by Blanc, he was a popular French comic actor whose reputation is threatened by a lookalike imposter. Part of the joke of the film is seeing known actors (like Philippe Noiret, Carole Bouquet and Charlotte Gainsbourg) play scripted versions of themselves. He also appeared in Roberto Benigni's "The Monster/Il Mostro" (filmed in 1994; released in the USA in 1996) as a criminal psychiatrist on the trail of a serial killer. On the heels of the success of "Grosse Fatigue," Blanc spent much of 1995 appearing on stage as Shylock in "The Merchant of Venice" in Nantes, followed by "Art," a comedy by Yasmina Reza, in Paris.