Berenice Bejo's silent movie role gets Oscar pundits talking

Jan 3, 2012
Annemarie Lopez

Will The Artist make a little-known French actress the next Marion Cotillard – or the new Penelope Cruz?

HOLLYWOOD is talking about Berenice Bejo, which is ironic, given the role that is getting the French-Argentine actress all the attention is a wordless part in a French silent movie, The Artist. Bejo plays Peppy Miller, the love interest of fading silent movie star George Valentin, whose career is threatened by the rise of the talkies in Hollywood.

Her charming performance in this ode to the silent era has just scored her a best supporting actress honour at the Capri Hollywood International Film awards, garnered a Golden Globe nomination, and is tipped as a good chance for an Oscar.

Until now the 35-year old actress was little known outside France, though she did have a role as Heath Ledger’s love interest in the 2001 The Knight’s Tale. In France, she was a child star and daughter of émigré Argentine film maker Miguel Bejo. She is also known for her roles in the offbeat James Bond spoof films, OSS 117, directed by her husband Michel Hazanavicius, who also made The Artist.

The current talk about Bejo really started last summer after The Artist became the unexpected hit of Cannes, prompting the normally stern audience to laughter and applause.

The role of the effervescent ingénue is her husband’s fantasy version of her, Bejo told The Daily Telegraph. To prepare for it, she studied silent movie stars such as Clara Bow, Marlene Dietrich, Gloria Swanson and Joan Crawford.

Bejo believes that in today’s Hollywood it is her French co-star Jean Dujardin who has a better chance of finding continued success. “I think it’s easier for a man,” she told Indiewire. “There’s more roles and less actors; young actresses appear like, uh, mushrooms, like every week there’s a new actress.”

But a Golden Globe or an Oscar might change all that for Bejo, just as it did for another French actress, Marion Cotillard. Her 2008 Oscar for her performance as Edith Piaf in La Vie en Rose put her on the Hollywood A-List.

And if Hollywood isn’t listening, Bejo has other important fans in the movie world, it seems.

“Pedro Almodovar came up to me and took my hand,” Bejo told Black Book magazine in November. “I almost fainted”. And when she began to speak to him Spanish, Almodovar replied: “You speak Spanish, ohhh yes, that’s good.”

So if not the next Marion Cotillard, could Bejo be the next Penelope Cruz?

Sign up for our daily newsletter