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Last Updated:  Thursday, 7 November, 2002, 17:29 GMT
Audrey Tautou's dirty challenge
By Rebecca Thomas
BBC News Online entertainment staff

French actress Audrey Tautou won international recognition as the wide-eyed star of Jean-Pierre Jeunet's whimsical romance Amelie.

Her latest role is likely to earn her further praise but also surprise those who find it hard to disassociate Tautou from the naive do-gooder of Jeunet's work.

Tautou, 24, plays illegal Turkish immigrant Senay in the London-based thriller Dirty Pretty Things, directed by Stephen Frears.

Like Frears' previous films My Beautiful Laundrette and Sammy and Rosie Get Laid, this movie shows the seedier side of living in the big city.

Its focus is the bleak, hand-to-mouth existence of the unseen army of illegals scraping a living with the constant threat of discovery hanging over their heads.

Escape

Tautou's character works as a maid in a smart hotel. She is intensely private and defensive and determined not to allow anyone to send her back to the existence she has fought to escape.

Frears had not seen Amelie before casting Tautou as Senay and the actress says this came as a relief.

"Amelie is such a special film and the character so specific, I thought if he saw that film he might not be able to imagine me as Senay. I was also worried that he may have heard too many good things about me."

Audrey Tautou
Tautou has a sketchy knowledge of Hollywood

And though Senay harbours a romantic side, expressed in her deepest desire to go to live in New York, Tautou stresses she found Senay and Amelie poles apart.

"They are completely different characters and Stephen's film is very much set in reality.

"Senay wants to go New York because it's her dream but she's prepared to do anything to get it.

"She wants to have a different life than the one she's got - and this is the life that so many young women genuinely experience."

Brutal

To truly get a feel for her character, Tautou went to Stoke Newington to meet a community of Turkish immigrants.

Besides enjoying some traditional Turkish hospitality and trying her skills at belly dancing, Tautou sought to understand the feelings of the women in the group, many of whom had gone to the UK with nothing.

"I wanted to know what it was like for them to arrive in a country where they were totally isolated, had left everything behind and did not know what tomorrow would bring," Tautou says.

Audrey Tautou
Tautou has had enough of learning English

"I was touched by the enormous courage of these people. I am very interested by the lives of others and was fascinated by what people will do to get themselves a better life."

As Senay, Tautou goes through some brutal experiences. She flees her home and job after the authorities start searching for her.

Her increased vulnerability then makes her prey to sexual exploitation.

Harrowing though these experiences were to imagine, Tautou says playing them out taught her valuable lessons.

"Since realising that this way of life exists - which I had never thought about before - I know that there is another facet to living in a city than the one I live, which is comfortable and without any big worries. It has changed my way of looking at life."

Language barrier

But the hardest part of making Dirty Pretty Things for the actress was the language barrier. She did not speak a word of English and had to work intensely with a coach.

"It was terribly difficult just to speak English at all but then I also had to speak with a Turkish accent. It came as a huge challenge to even get to the point when I could speak a sentence with any sort of fluidity," Tautou says.

All I know is that when I decide to make a film, it is never because I think of the money, success or popularity it could bring me.
Audrey Tautou
Now, after making Dirty Pretty Things, she says she is able to speak English a little better but has no great ambition to carry on trying to improve.

And although being very complimentary about the "beauty" of London, Tautou says she doubts she could live there.

But then she has no great desire to succumb to the allures of Hollywood either. Indeed her knowledge of its huge film-making industry seems refreshingly sketchy.

"I don't really know what Hollywood is or what sort of films it produces. I know that there are films from there that I adore but that goes for films of all nationalities and I don't make distinctions," Tautou says.

She concludes: "All I know is that when I decide to make a film, it is never because I think of the money, success or popularity it could bring me."



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