10 Actors to Watch
Bow Wow | Cecile De France | Garrett Hedlund | Jennifer Lawrence | Logan Lerman | Rooney Mara | Lucy Punch | Edgar Ramirez | Andrea Riseborough | June Temple


“It’s amazing,” says Belgian actress Cecile de France of her experience working with director Clint Eastwood. “It was like a gift, because he trusts his actors and gives them the freedom to express. He really emanates love and is very clever. When you receive that trust, you feel strong and want to bring the best of yourself to the film.”

The film is “Hereafter,” Eastwood’s 32nd bigscreen feature as director. This one’s a spiritual-cum-supernatural thriller revolving around three central characters — played by Matt Damon, de France and child actor Frankie McLaren — each touched by death in a different, special way.

Says de France of her role, in which she plays a political journalist who suffers a near-death experience during a tsunami: “She is surviving, but this experience has turned her life upside down. She is obsessed with it but takes a traumatic experience and turns it into a journey of self-discovery.”

Born in Namur, Belgium, de France discovered her love of acting at 6 years old. At 17, she took off for Paris — “It’s a very special but very stressful place,” is how she describes the City of Lights — where she studied under actor Jean-Paul Denizon. She was then accepted to the Ecole Nationale Superieure des Arts et Techniques du Theater, considered one of France’s most prestigious theater schools. In her last year, agent Dominique Besnehard signed her.

“That is when my career really began,” says the soft-spoken thesp who prepared for “Hereafter” by reading about death and afterlife experiences.

De France became a darling of French cinema, earning acclaim for her work in such hits as “The Art of the Seduction” and “Russian Dolls,” for which she won a Cesar. But it was her part in the horror flick “Haute Tension” that caught the attention of American producers who cast de France in her first mainstream Hollywood movie, “Around the World in 80 Days.”

Whether “Hereafter” will make de France a full-blown U.S. celebrity is not something the actress thinks about.

“I just live in the present day,” she muses. “If something happens, of course, that’s great, but I am already so lucky. I trust in destiny.”

LUCKY BREAK: “When (agent) Dominique Besnehard saw me at school.”
FAVORITE FILM: “I cannot say! It’s like if I asked you who is your favorite child. Each experience is a human adventure. If I choose something I know it will be wonderful.”