Parillaud has ‘Sex’ change

Thesp arrives on 'next landing'

To audiences around the world, Anne Parillaud is Nikita, the sexy, iconic spy-assassin who blew away audiences blowing people away in Luc Besson’s 1990 blockbuster. But though “Nikita” catapulted both actress and director to stardom, Luc Besson parlayed his luck into a mega-career while Parillaud — well, what exactly has Parillaud been doing between “Nikita” and the latest Catherine Breillat flick, “Sex is Comedy,” which opens the Directors Fortnight tonight?

Parillaud blows into the bar at the Hotel Prince de Galles in Paris looking very much as she did in her signature role — tall, lanky, with long bangs practically hiding her deep blue eyes — and wearing a leather jacket that Nikita might have had in her closet.

But similarities stop there.

Whereas Nikita was all street smarts, Parillaud is vibrant intellect; while Nikita was sullen, Parillaud loves words and weaving them into conversations.

“It’s not normal to have a big success, like I did with ‘Nikita.’ Invariably you’re going to come down,” she says. “Before Nikita,’ I did 10 years of movies. Those films were like the steps in a staircase and ‘Nikita’ was the landing. Then I did another 10 years of films and now ‘Sex is Comedy’ is the next landing.”

Parillaud always admired Breillat from afar; then last year they met via mutual friend Isabelle Huppert. According to Breillat it was love at first sight. But she waited two weeks before sending Parillaud the script.

“I had such a desire to like it,” Parillaud recalls. But the actress was intimidated by Breillat’s reputation for undressing her actors and putting them in unequivocal sexual situations. “I kept asking myself if I would do a part like Caroline Ducey’s in ‘Romance’ ” — a part that required Ducey to do a sex scene with Italian porn star Rocco Siffredi.

Undressing the soul

As it turned out Parillaud’s character never sheds her jeans and sneakers.

“But what’s paradoxical is that Catherine undressed my soul, something I really needed,” Parillaud confesses.

The film is based on Breillat’s experience making her last movie, “A Ma Soeur” and what she went through trying to coax a very tough love scene out of two young actors who despised each other. Parillaud plays Breillat.

“Catherine denied it was her during the whole shoot,” Parillaud explains. “But if she had given me that fact, I might have wanted to copy her. Instead, I went for her essence, rather than what she is on the outside.”

Parillaud says that while making “Nikita,” she learned to abandon herself to a character. With “Sex is Comedy,” she learned to abandon herself to a director. “This role will give me another existence after Nikita,” she affirms.

Continually working

To be fair, after “Nikita” and her subsequent breakup with Besson, Parillaud never stopped working. She worked with directors like Claude Lelouch and Raul Ruiz and did a string of American co-prods, including “The Man in the Iron Mask.”

“The star thing doesn’t interests me,” Parillaud avows. “I’m not one of those French actresses who’s dying to make a career in America.”

She would like to make another “Nikita”: “Not a sequel. More like Nikita 10 years later,” she says.

What would Nikita be like now?

“Nikita could never be normal, she was too damaged,” opines Parillaud. “She was never built to be married and have kids.”

Next Parillaud stars in a movie by young Gallic filmmaker Anne-Marie Etienne. And playing a director in “Sex is Comedy” gave her the yen to direct. “But I know I’m absolutely not ready,” she admits. “It’s tough to be a director. Take Catherine Breillat. She puts all her passion and energy into the quest of the absolute and then she’s judged to be a tyrannical character.”