Virginie Queen; Still Reigning over French Cinema Ten Years after She Set Sail for the Beach, Virginie Ledoyen Grants Janine Di Giovanni an Audience

Article excerpt

Byline: Janine di Giovanni

Styled by GIANLUCA LONGO

Virginie Ledoyen is on time. She glides into La Rotonde, a cafe in Montparnasse not far from her home, on a rainy morning, looking like a little sunbeam in an electric- blue leather jacket. She sits on a red velvet chair, politely asks for a pot of tea and opens her handbag to take out her BlackBerry. I spot a pack of Marlboro Reds, and I think of the YouTube posting of Ledoyen sitting in a Parisian cafe, smoking, eating something delicious and laughing out loud: ' J'adore ca!' It made me like her before I met her: someone who still drinks and smokes and eats and looks like they enjoy it.

The morning we meet, Ledoyen is not wearing Chanel - which she adores - or anything glamorous for that matter. It is not yet lunchtime, and she is in standard French schoolgirl chic: jeans, a simple blue and white striped cotton shirt, no make- up. Underneath the V- neck of her blouse, her skin is the colour of caramel.

She looks very young, younger than 32. She has a broad smile, expressive hands, and greenish- brown eyes. She laughs a lot. On one hand, she wears a simple silver ring, but she denies that she is married, even though the web is full of reports that she married a small- time film director called Iain Rogers in September 2007. Indeed she does not want to talk about any lovers, boyfriends, past or present, or even about the American father of her seven- yearold daughter Lilas, who goes to a local school.

But she is clearly proud of her daughter: she pulls out the BlackBerry again and shows a black and white photograph of mother and daughter, equally stunning, leaning against an old stone wall in Paris. In the photo, Ledoyen is wearing Chanel, which is the perfect Parisian trick: to look great in jeans and in couture.

When I mention how surprised I was to have seen Ledoyen pregnant, in a white dress at the Cannes Film Festival eight years ago, at the premiere of The Beach , her breakout film starring Leonardo DiCaprio, she laughs. ' Most actresses who just got discovered by Hollywood might have waited a little bit before having a baby,' I venture. She smiles broadly. ' Yes, I became a mother young. I was 24. But maybe because my mother had me young, I always wanted to have a baby. It was just obvious to me. And I wanted that baby so much, it was not even an issue.'

Ledoyen bounced back fast after the birth of Lilas, and returned to work with new energy. She either took Lilas with her on location, or managed to shoot in Paris. ' For the past year and a half, I have been lucky. I've been shooting here, which is great, as Lilas is in school now.' She does not find the strain of the two roles, mother and actress, schizophrenic. ' Life is interactive with your work,' she says wisely. ' They go together.'

Nearly a decade ago, Ledoyen was cast in The Beach as Francoise, the beautiful French girl who washes up in Thailand in a blue bikini. Everyone called her the new Bardot, a not very imaginative comparison. Aside from the dimples, they are very different. After the publicity of The Beach , Ledoyen might easily have been stuck in roles that required her to look great naked or nearly naked, but not to develop her skills as an actress. But Ledoyen is smarter than that. She is, to all who know her, tough, intelligent and thoughtful, and most importantly has made the difficult transition ( like DiCaprio) from child star to sex bomb to serious actor.

French critics sometimes liken her to Isabelle Huppert, and see her as an actress who will be capable, as she gets older, of deep, intense characterisation. Ledoyen is flattered by that reference; she grew up watching Huppert, and ' actors like Marcello Mastroianni. Rather than taking lessons, I learned by watching.' Her models were Anna Karina, Gena Rowlands, Katharine Hepburn.

Ledoyen - born Virginie Fernandez; her paternal grandfather was Spanish - is the child of a ' modest' family who lived in the Paris suburbs. …

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