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Touring ‘Da Vinci’ haunts with Howard, stars

NBC's Melissa Stark explores the movie's Paris locations along with stars Audrey Tautou, Jean Reno and director Ron Howard.
/ Source: TODAY

“Da Vinci Code” tours have been a tourist favorite in Paris for some time now, and with the movie's release, the numbers are bound to grow. NBC's Melissa Stark took the Grail trail and met up with some of the stars of the movie along the way.

It's known as the City of Lights, but it's the darker side of Paris that many tourists want to explore these days — walking in the footsteps of the heroes and villains of the “Da Vinci Code.”

The Hotel Ritz, one of the city's luxury landmarks, is where we're starting out on a unique behind-the-scenes tour of the movie locations.

Our tour guide is Audrey Tautou, who plays the feisty French cryptologist Sophie.

Audrey Tautou: This is the room where Robert Langdon got his phone call and has to go to the Louvre.Melissa Stark: And he meets you for the first time.

29-year-old Tautou beat 30 other French actresses to get the part.

Stark: What was your reaction when you got the role?Tautou: I was just shocked — very, very surprised.

And delighted to see Paris take a starring role alongside the famous names.

Tautou: Paris is another character in the movie. You have the Louvre a bit more on the south ...

And that's where I'm heading now with a group of diehard “Da Vinci Code” fans.

Connie Kubicek from Classic Tours: We're here outside the Louvre ...

And while it's fun living the fiction ...

Kubicek: He turns to run away ... he pulls a painting off the wall ... the gates come slamming down.

... a reality check can come in handy.

Kubicek: Don't spend all day in there looking for the gates.

Stark: There are no gates? Kubicek: Not in that area.

“Da Vinci Code” director Ron Howard says he's aware the expectations are high.

Ron Howard: I feel a tremendous amount of responsibility to people who already have a sense of what they think the movie might be, and loved the story. I tried to make the motion picture equivalent of a page turner.

At the 18th century Church of St. Sulpice, the character Silas, a murderous monk, is on a mission to find the Holy Grail. And while the movie may be fiction, the message it conveys has raised a lot of controversy in the church.

Stark: How have you dealt with that?Howard: The “Da Vinci Code” does cause people to stop, think and make some choices for themselves about how they feel, what they believe. I think that that kind of engagement is a healthy thing.

It was the powerful mix of spiritual quest and explosive action that had the cast of the movie enthralled during six nights of filming at the Louvre.

I spent some time with director Ron Howard and French actor Jean Reno, who plays the role of detective Fache, to get the inside track.

Stark: So this is where you found the murdered curator's body?Jean Reno: Yes, yes. I remember the atmosphere, very heavy.Howard: Yeah, very heavy.Reno: Every night with a body on the floor ... ah, so real.

There were some challenges ...

Howard: You can't put blood on the floor, we can't take paintings off the wall ... Stark: Right.

Howard: ... or shine lights on the real paintings.

And definitely no writing on the Mona Lisa.

Howard: We wound up making five copies. So if anyone hears of a Mona Lisa on the market, I wouldn't trust it. It may be me trying to make a buck.

But there were some extraordinary moments too.

Howard: Tom Hanks and I wandered in here and there was no one else, and now here we were just standing in front of the Mona Lisa. It was incredible, you know. Reno: You move and she will follow you. Stark: Her eyes will follow you? Reno: And the expression of the shadow will change and then the relationship between you and her will start.

One mystery that has stood the test of time.