Audrey Tautou’s character in the new film “Priceless” is cold and calculating, the type of woman you’d hiss at if she sat across from Dr. Phil.
And she has the audience in the palm of her hand the whole way through.
It’s why director Pierre Salvadori (2003’s “Apres Vous”) chose Miss Tautou for the role. She can make the worst behavior seem downright winning.
In “Priceless,” Miss Tautou plays Irene, a woman living in the south of France who careens from one rich beau to the next, all the while drawing the attention of a penniless waiter named Jean (Gad Elmaleh). The two share a series of frenzied encounters — some between the sheets — before he seizes an opportunity to take up with his own wealthy lover.
So why do their paths keep crossing at the most inconvenient times?
Miss Tautou, speaking in English but with an occasional assist from a French translator, is quick to share the secret of making women like Irene worth our attention.
“When you love your character, you can’t play her as totally awful,” Miss Tautou says. “Even if she behaves like a [expletive],” she says, giggling.
The slender, dark-haired actress, 31, has been compared to Audrey Hepburn ever since she first wafted onto the screen. Now that she’s playing a kept woman in full Holly Golightly mode, the comparisons are inescapable.
“She’s a wonderful actress. I really admired her,” she says of the “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” star.
American audiences got their first glimpse of Miss Tautou’s girlish appeal in “Amelie,” the 2001 French film that scored a direct hit domestically. Her quirky performance cemented her international status. It just didn’t lead to a flood of U.S. film offers, she says, beyond a major part in 2006’s “The Da Vinci Code.”
“Hollywood is still, for me, a very foreign place,” she says. “I don’t know the rules.”
Working on “Code” also taught her just how different filmmaking is in the U.S.
“In America, they work much harder. The hours are long,” she says. “In France, we work hard, too, but it’s the French way.”
Miss Tautou doesn’t go on the prowl for new roles. Filmmakers either come to her with script in hand, or she stays home.
So far, luck has been on her side, with steady gigs in such projects as “A Very Long Engagement” (2004) and “Dirty Pretty Things” (2002).
“I really believe in destiny. If something needs to happen, it will happen,” she says. “I trust life.”
Miss Tautou, whose next project is a French biopic of fashion designer Coco Chanel, would love to star in more American features.
“I’m very open to working outside my country,” she says. “It’s always an enriching experience.” That said, she isn’t optimistic she’ll be mentioned in the same breath as Reese Witherspoon or Julia Roberts anytime soon.
“It’s a lot of work to create your little space in America, in Hollywood,” she says. “As little as I am, I don’t know if I could have that little space.”