Jacques Villeret, the tubby, frazzle-haired thesp best known for his portrayal of literal-minded Monsieur Pignon in “The Dinner Game” died Jan. 28 after an internal hemorrhage. He was 53.
Villeret was never hampered by his goofy looks in his 30-year career. He worked nearly nonstop on stage and screen, collaborating with such leading directors as Claude Sautet, Jean-Luc Godard, Claude Lelouch (eight films), Francis Veber and Jean Becker.
From 1993-95 Villeret played the well-meaning dolt in 900 legit perfs of “The Dinner Game” before reprising his role in Veber’s screen version. The box office hit sold 9.2 million tix and won him 1998’s actor Cesar. He won the supporting actor Cesar in 1979 for Lelouch’s “Robert and Robert.”
Although he landed stage and screen work as early as 1972 and mounted a series of successful one-man shows in Paris starting in 1978, Villeret’s national profile took off with the wacky 1981 Louis de Funes comedy “Cabbage Soup.”
Possessed of superb comic timing, Villeret’s range also permitted him to play bachelors and family men with or without backbones in bittersweet tales and historical dramas including “Children of the Marshlands” (1998), “Strange Gardens” (2002) and last year’s “Malabar Princess” and “Viper in the Fist,” all of which were hits.
Born near Tours, Villeret attended Paris’ drama conservatory in the same class as Nathalie Baye, Richard Berry and Andre Dussollier. Dussollier introduced Villeret to Lelouch, who, like most of the actor’s admiring colleagues, observed his talent and sensitivity giving way to melancholy whenever he was not working.
In addition to lengthy runs in demanding plays — including a solo turn in Patrick Suskind’s “The Double-bass” (600 perfs) in 1990 and the title alcoholic raconteur in Keith Winterhouse’s “Jeffrey Bernard Is Unwell” in 2000 –Villeret appeared in more than 60 films, including a burlesque turn opposite Godard himself in helmer’s 1987 “Soigne ta droite.”
Slated for release in coming months are four features Villeret shot last year. “Iznogoud,” a comics-based romp lensed in Morocco, comes out Feb. 9, followed March 30 by “The Antidote.”
Villeret also will be seen later this year in police-centered tale “Les Parrains” and in Yves Angelo’s 1914-set “Les ames grises.”