Funny how it took two French guys to pull off the most romantic homage to 1920s Hollywood. It helps, of course, that The Artist—Michel Hazanavicius's audacious black-and-white film—is silent. The star, you see, can barely speak English. So what Jean Dujardin accomplishes with such blinding charisma has everything to do with his physical presence—half Gene Kelly's joyful athleticism, half Douglas Fairbanks Jr.'s man's-man swooniness. And boy, can he rock full-dress tails.
A big fan of American films, the 39-year-old actor had seen Singin' in the Rain multiple times before landing the part of George Valentin, a silent-screen star undone by the talkies. "I learned to tap-dance for The Artist," he says. "I love dancing in general, and making girls dance. My generation doesn't do it enough." (Dear men: Please take note.) France's best-kept secret became a homeland favorite first with stand-up comedy (Google his character Brice de Nice to observe some serious range) and later with two Bondian spoofs (also by Hazanavicius) in which Dujardin plays Agent OSS 117, for which he used '60s Paul Newman as inspiration: "I adore Newman. His elegance was so relaxed—chewing gum, opening his jacket, the tie hanging." With all the American love coming his way for The Artist, any chance he'd move here? "Oh, no," he says. "I am too Parisian. And I think the French would be angry if I left. I hope they would be angry."
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