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Tautou joins Hanks to crack ‘Da Vinci Code’

French actress surprised by religious controversy surrounding film
/ Source: The Associated Press

Audrey Tautou knew she was getting into the biggest film of her career. She did not know she was getting into one of the biggest — and most debated — of her generation.

The French star, best known previously for the title role in the romantic charmer “Amelie,” was never one to seek Hollywood success, but it has found her with a co-starring role opposite Tom Hanks in “The Da Vinci Code.”

“I knew that it would be big, of course, because of the success of the book,” Tautou told The Associated Press on Thursday, a day after “The Da Vinci Code” premiered at the Cannes Film Festival and a day before its U.S. debut.

What caught Tautou by surprise was the media frenzy after director Ron Howard cast her as French police cryptologist Sophie Neveu.

“I was really not expecting that reaction, but two days after Ron called me, it was on every cover of the newspapers,” said Tautou, 27. “I knew that it would be a huge movie, but when I did the audition, I was not aware of the expectation of it.”

After shooting to international celebrity with “Amelie” in 2001, Tautou has focused her career mostly in her home country, though she also gained worldwide attention with Stephen Frears’ London thriller “Dirty Pretty Things” and “Amelie” director Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s World War I saga “A Very Long Engagement.”

Own religious beliefs are ‘lazy’While she’s one of the hottest young actresses in France, Tautou had not figured she had much chance of landing the role of Sophie.

“They called me almost at the end of casting. They had seen many actresses before me and I thought that they would never call me because I was too young, too little, you know?” the petite Tautou said. “So I’m always surprised when I have some extraordinary experience, and I was surprised when Ron called me to let me know I had the part.”

Like millions of others, Tautou had read Dan Brown’s “The Da Vinci Code” early on, devouring it while on a vacation. Tautou had a Catholic school education but says her religious beliefs now are “lazy. I have faith, but it’s not focused on the Bible.”

So the theories the book spins about the origins of Christianity, and particularly the notion that Jesus Christ and Mary Magdalene may have been married and had a child, did not bother Tautou the way it did many Christians.

The possibility that Christ was a family man is one of many intriguing speculations out of Christian history, such as whether the Immaculate Conception really happened or whether Christ was an only child, Tautou said.

Given the book’s popularity, Tautou figures it’s a small minority that took offense.

“We’ve been talking about this controversy, and I haven’t seen anything. I think it’s just a few little people, very radical, who speak very loudly,” Tautou said. “Each time you make a movie about religion, there’s a controversy, because even if we are in countries where there is supposed to be freedom of expression, for some radical people it’s a condition that you can be free to speak about everything except religion.

“I think this movie can’t offend anybody. Nobody, it’s impossible. It’s a fiction, and when you see the movie, obviously it’s a fiction and it’s obvious that it’s meant to be entertaining.”

Bad reviews unsurprisingReviews have not been terribly kind for “The Da Vinci Code,” which critics only got a chance to see a day before its Cannes premiere. The reaction from Cannes critics ranged from lukewarm to derisive, but Tautou said such responses are natural given the setting.

After all, “The Da Vinci Code” is one of Hollywood’s biggest properties, and it opened the world’s most prestigious film festival.

“I’m not very surprised about the reviews. I mean, I haven’t read anything yet, but I heard about it,” Tautou said. “I think we are in a very special context in Cannes, and there are so many expectations. It’s such a big thing and it’s such an original movie, so it’s difficult to classify it.”

Life after “The Da Vinci Code” will be much the same as it was before, Tautou said. She has completed a comedy and is shooting a drama, both done in her home country, where her career will remain centered.

“I want to keep working in France, of course, but I could be interested by doing another English movie,” Tautou said. “But I won’t do just anything. I don’t forget that I’m a French actress, so there’s not a lot of interesting parts for a French actress in those movies.

“It’s not as if I was an American and had the opportunity to be in ‘Da Vinci Code,’ and now it could bring thousands of things. I really had a great experience, and I’m very happy with that.”