Audrey Tautou

'Amelie' pixie prepares for U.S. unspooling

HOMETOWN: Montlucon, France

FAVORITE ACTORS: Fanny Ardant, Jeanne Balibar, Charlotte Gainsbourg

NEXT PROJECT: “A la folie … pas de tout”

WHERE DO YOU SEE YOURSELF 10 YEARS FROM NOW?: “I can’t begin to say, and I don’t want to know what the future holds in store.”

WHY DID YOU BECOME AN ACTOR?: “The entertainment field didn’t occur to me until I was well into adolescence. Before that, I wanted to take care of animals, help people — the usual little girl aspirations. Once show business started to interest me, it wasn’t just acting, it was everything: the stage, costumes, set design. I didn’t go to many plays as a child but my mom must have taken me to the movies two or three times a week. We kept up with all the new releases and I always loved the movies.”

Some people are named Most Promising This or That and subsequently turn out to have all the bright fresh promise of communism in the 21st century.

But Audrey Tautou (pronounced toe-two), the recipient of France’s Cesar trophy for most promising young actress, has made good on the distinction she won for her 1999 role as a credulous junior beautician in Tonie Marshall’s “Venus Beauty Institute.”

Tautou landed the starring role in “Le Fabuleux Destin d’Amelie Poulain,” which Miramax has shortened to “Amelie” and skedded for a Nov. 2 release. More than 7 million French filmgoers have turned out so far to see Amelie’s adventures and the film recently captured the AGF People’s Choice Awards at the Toronto Film Fest.

Tautou, who turned 23 in August, boasts a distinctively creaky voice and a pixieish ingenue demeanor that seem so ineffably right for Amelie that it’s difficult to believe that director Jean-Pierre Jeunet originally pursued British actress Emily Watson. How did Tautou land the role?

“I auditioned for it,” she says. “Simple as that.”

Initially determined to be a primatologist, she didn’t develop an interest in the performing arts until she was well into adolescence. Growing up in the small city of Montlucon, in central France, young Tautou’s only passion was to see the Eiffel Tower.

“I was obsessed with calculating how big it was,” she confesses. “For a while I drove my parents nuts pointing to buildings and monuments in my town and asking, ‘Is it taller than that? How about that? Well, how much bigger?'”

Much like the Eiffel Tower, Tautou, whose face has been smiling from “Amelie” posters since April, is hard to miss in Paris.

“Amelie’s” roaring success has thrust Tautou into a much brighter spotlight than most French performers ever have to contend with and the promotional demands of an international hit took the young thesp by surprise.

“Interviews and photos certainly aren’t something I dreamed of doing,” she says. “I don’t think I even knew there was such a thing as the promotional trail. That said, if the movie you’re in turns out well and you’re proud of it, then it makes sense to contribute to its visibility however you can.”

Tautou, who says she cares about acting but has no desire to be famous — has what she characterizes as small parts in upcoming features by Claire Devers and Cedric Klapisch.

She spent a chunk of the summer in Bordeaux shooting “A la folie … pas de tout,” Laetitia Colombani’s first film, which Tautou describes as “so tricky to describe that my advice is to just go see the movie.” Rumor has it the film, which co-stars versatile leading man Samuel Le Bihan (“Jet Set,” “Brotherhood of the Wolf”), concerns sexual addiction.

“God is Great and I’m Tiny,” which she shot two years ago, is slated for an autumn release in Gaul.

“It’s a comedy, but,” Tautou qualifies, “it’s intelligent.”

“If I have a crack at a script that interests me way more than one in my native language, of course I’ll consider it,” says Tautou who speaks English and studied Russian at school. “There has to be some compelling reason to branch out beyond French, but I don’t want the world of acting to have borders.”

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