AUDREY TAUTOU became famous for playing a naif in "Amélie" seven years ago, but clearly, she's over it now. In "Priceless" (Hors de Prix), a new comedy directed and co-written by Pierre Salvadori, Tautou stars as a woman dependent on the kindness of strangers -- particularly if those strangers happen to be older, wealthy and interested in her sexually.
"My agent told me there was a director writing a script for me, but I told her I didn't want to know who it was," she says on the telephone from her home in Paris. "I was scared that it would be a great director whose work I didn't like. When I learned it was Pierre, I was so happy. And I was so lucky that he wrote something for me that was so different from what I've done before."
Tautou, 31, stars as Irene, a woman unceremoniously dumped in the South of France by her lover when he discovers her in the embrace of Gad Elmaleh's Jean, whom she has mistaken for a playboy rather than the tuxedoed waiter that he is. As Irene struggles to find another benefactor, she coaches Jean in the art of being "kept," discovering along the way that perhaps money isn't the secret to happiness.
The combination of goofball and glamour girl is reminiscent of Audrey Hepburn in "Breakfast at Tiffany's," although Hepburn's black dresses covered far more than the swatches of exquisite fabric that pass for Tautou's costumes in "Priceless."
"I experienced for the first time what it is like to be a sexual object and the fantasy of men," Tautou says with a laugh. "At the beginning it was scary, but after a few hours I would completely forget how I was dressed. Which isn't to say I didn't enjoy the effect it had on the male audiences. I was happy to realize I could be a feminine woman.
"Pierre and I agreed Irene was not vulgar," the actress continues. "She wasn't stupid or artificial. We wanted to show that Irene was adventurous, clever and a soldier. I never thought she was a prostitute, and I don't think she cheats anybody."
When "Priceless" opened last December in France, it immediately became a box-office hit. But how will it play in a country currently devouring headlines about the dethronement of former New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer, undone by his exploits with a prostitute? "It's difficult to know," says Tautou, sounding unconcerned, "but I don't think this movie can shock anybody unless they're really, really conservative. And maybe a very conservative person doesn't watch subtitled movies."
Tautou will continue to work in her native tongue, starring next in a biopic of legendary fashion designer Coco Chanel. "I'm not looking to do big movies or popular movies," says Tautou, explaining her lack of interest in Hollywood fare. "I'm very pleased with my career. I'm aware of the luck I've had, and I'm not working to become an icon. I just don't have that kind of ambition."
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