PARIS (Reuters) - French film star Gerard Depardieu failed to show up in court to face drink driving charges on Tuesday because he was preparing to play disgraced former IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn in a film, his lawyer said.
The no-show means the case will turn into a full trial - guaranteeing yet another day in the spotlight for the garrulous actor currently caught up in a scandal over his tax status.
It could also lead to the rotund, 64-year-old star of "Cyrano de Bergerac" and "Asterix and Obelix" getting a tougher sentence if convicted - in theory up to two years in prison.
"Despite wanting to be there and meet the judges and in no way to escape justice, Gerard Depardieu absolutely could not be present," his lawyer Eric de Caumont told a throng of reporters outside the Paris courtroom.
He said his client was in Montenegro preparing to play Strauss-Kahn, who was seen as the next Socialist president of France before a U.S. sex scandal bought down his career last year.
Depardieu is accused of crashing his scooter in Paris with more than three times the legal limit of alcohol in his blood. No one else was injured in the accident.
The actor did not have to attend the court hearing. But he could have faced a much lighter sentence, perhaps even a small fine, if he had attended Tuesday's preparatory hearing and admitted his guilt.
As part of a wider crackdown on drink driving, French magistrates have imposed increasingly tough sentences in cases that go to full trial.
Depardieu hit the headlines last month after he bought a house over the border in Belgium, spurring accusations he was trying to dodge a proposed new tax on millionaires.
Last week, he accepted a Russian passport, provoking even fiercer charges that he had abandoned his homeland.
Depardieu on Monday denied he was leaving France for tax reasons, insisting that he remained French.
A few months before the scooter incident, a car driver accused Depardieu of assault and battery during an altercation in Paris. Last year, the actor outraged passengers on an Air France flight by urinating into a bottle in the aisle.
(Additional reporting by Thierry Leveque and Arnd Wiegmann in Zurich. Writing by Alexandria Sage and Leigh Thomas; Editing by Mark John and Andrew Heavens)