Catherine Deneuve

Catherine Deneuve, born on 22nd October 1943 in Paris, is the third daughter of veteran stage and screen actor Maurice Dorleac. She made her screen debut at age 13, assuming the maiden name of Deneuve from her mother, who was an actress also; her sister, Francoise Dorleac was already an international beauty and star when Catherine went into films.

Despite the patronage of star-maker Roger Vadim, she did not achieve any prominence until her appearance two years later in Demy's Les parapluies de Cherbourg (1964) - the sentimental story about Genevieve, a young shopgirl hopelessly in love with a local gas-station attendant who woos her, makes her pregnant, goes off to war, writes one noncommittal letter, and sends her flying into a secure yet loveless marriage with another man. This movie won the Grand Prix at the Cannes Film Festival, as well as numerous other foreign prizes. An exquisite, fragile beauty, aloof and detached in manner, she developed into France's leading female screen personality and one of the top stars on the international film scene in the late 60s.

"I was a very shy girl and I didn't really want to be in films," she said. "Because my sister was in films, I was sent to talk to producers. It seems I was thrown into films almost immediately. I had to deal with all the technical things, which were a real challenge. At first, I thought moviemaking was to be a playland - a time for fantasy. I had to learn differently."

She was particularly effective as the frigid, mentally disoriented character in Polanski's macabre Repulsion (1965). Although it was Polanski's first film in English, it brought him great commercial success and earned Catherine rave reviews for her powerful performance. Catherine plays Carol, a Belgian manicurist who works in London and lives in an apartment with her sister Helen. She becomes increasingly unhinged, apparently due to her feelings about sex, which simultaneously repulses and attracts her, and about which she is constantly reminded by the presence of Helen's lover. When her sister goes on holiday, Carol is left to fend for herself and becomes the victim of terrifying, destructive hallucinations.

Two years later, legendary Spanish director Luis Bunuel cast her as the erotic, enigmatic protagonist of his film Belle de jour (1967). When it was released, Belle de jour was initially something of a shocker - Catherine plays a wealthy but bored housewife who takes an afternoon job in one of Paris' most fashionable brothels.

"It is strange to me that the public still, today, associates me with 'Belle de jour,' " she said. "The fact that Luis Bunuel chose me for the part was the thing that shocked some people, I think. I was shy. I had usually played quiet, introspective parts. For him to cast me as this woman who works in a brothel in secret shocked people a great deal more than if someone else had played it. It was a turning point in my career, but I don't think it was a great performance. It was more a presence than a performance."

Bunuel was 67 years old and already a legend when he made Belle de jour. Deneuve was known as the innocent girl who starred in "Parapluies."

"Bunuel was very quiet," she said. "He talked very little about the part or the film. It was his aura of greatness that inspired me. I didn't want to let him down. He believes in letting actors find their own way. The film itself was complex so we didn't need a lot of talk. He doesn't like to analyze roles. He took his work very seriously but he never took himself seriously."

Truffaut's Le dernier metro (1980) was another big success. The drama, set in Nazi occupied Paris, unfolds in the Theater Montmartre as a group of actors rehearse. Catherine is the manager of the theater and actress with the company. She keeps her Jewish husband who is in hiding abreast of the events in the outside world and in the theater, including the antagonism of a pro-nazi theater critic and the sexual tension coming from a young actor in love with her. She won the Cesar Award and was named Best Foreign Actress at the David Donatello Awards for her performance in that movie. Although she plays a stage actress, she has never actually been one. Why?

"It's not that I have no interest," she said. "It's that I'm scared. I have stage fright. It's something I haven't been able to get over."

She was nominated for an Academy Award for her performance in Indochine (1992) - a luscious epic set in the French Indochina of the 1930s to 1954 (when French withdrew from Southeast Asia). Catherine plays Eliane, the icy owner of rich rubber-tree plantations, who has adopted an orphaned Annamese princess. The story focuses on Eliane's life as she has to deal with a changing Vietnam, starting to stir with nationalism and communism, and with a corrupted and cruel colonial establishment.

In Les voleurs (1996), she stars as Marie, a college professor who discovers, after being married and having become a mother, that she is in love with her student, Juliette (Laurence Cote). But their relationship is complicated and Marie has to compete with a police officer (Daniel Auteil) for Juliette's affection. At one moment, Catherine shares a scene in a bathtub with Laurence.

"It's as if it is a love scene between two people who love each other," she said. "You feel the relationship, not from kissing and making love (but) because it's what it says about their characters, what they bring to each other, which is quite soft and tender."

She was not worried about a discreetly photographed nude scene even in her fifties.

"It was a good idea. The bathtub is very intimate and it's better than a love scene in a bed, so I agreed with that."

This is the fourth time Catherine has played a lesbian. The first was an obscure French film in the late '70s - in Zig-Zig (1974), she and Bernadette Lafont played a lesbian cabaret duo. In Ecoute voir (1978), she played a lesbian private eye and kissed Anne Parillaud. The third, erotic vampire thriller The Hunger (1983) with Susan Sarandon and David Bowie, won her an enduring lesbian fan base. Now lesbianism has been on the cover of Newsweek as a hot trend, a situation that dismays the actress.

"I'm worried it's becoming something fashionable, as if being bisexual was a plus more than anything," she said. "To accept the fact that in a woman and a man there's a masculine side and a feminine side is fine. Maybe today it's easier to accept the fact that a woman and a woman are together. And yet it's still more disturbing for a man to be with a man."

However, Catherine is not only an outstanding actress - she also went into business. In 1971 she formed her own production company, Les Films de la Citrouille. In the 80's, as beautiful and elegant as ever, she advertised Chanel perfumes so successfully on American TV that in 1986 she launched a fragrance bearing her own name. By the age of forty, she was better known outside France in cosmetics advertisements than in films.

And what about her privacy? Liberated and independent in her private life, she had a son in 1963 (June 18th), whose father is director Roger Vadim - but she did not marry.

"Not being married was never a problem to me," she said. "I have a deep attachment to people I like. You can call it friendship. I call it love. I am very committed to the people I love, and that commitment does not have to be written on paper."

But two years later she met British photographer David Bailey and married him. Her marriage ended in divorce in 1972, after having a daughter (May 28th) with famous Italian actor Marcello Mastroianni.

"I have been married, but I don't have to live with that. My sister is married and that is well for her. For me, I feel the commitment has been as much, but I doubt I will ever marry again."

Both her children are actors. Her son, Christian Vadim (39), is a stage actor. Her daughter, Chiara Mastroianni (30), appears with her in Andre Techine's film Ma saison preferee (1993), co-starring Daniel Auteuil. Chiara also appeared with her father in Robert Altman's Pret-a-Porter (1994).