It’s easy to pass off Jean Dujardin’s swath through awards season as the stuff manufactured by Weinstein machines. Hardly so. When SAG awarded its best acting prize to the unknown French actor Stateside over Hollywood fave George Clooney, it was clear that the status quo voted with their hearts. The Academy felt the same way, bestowing upon him his first Best Actor Oscar nomination. While Clooney morphs his dramatic essence from Michael Clayton through The Descendants, Dujardin — a Clooney-type in his homeland — trumps with his bygone set of dancing and mime skills. Dujardin admits he was daunted by challenges of portraying Hollywood silent film actor George Valentin — a composite of Douglas Fairbanks and Gene Kelly, topped off by the French actor’s uncanny Clark Gable mug. But he’s just being modest: Check out his previous collaboration with The Artist helmer Michel Hazanavicius, the 0SS 117 franchise, and it’s obvious that the actor’s physical talents were already there, the local comedy a mere warm-up before his graduation to silent black-and-white shtick. He spoke with AwardsLine’s Anthony D’Alessandro via a translator about his awards-season run.
AWARDSLINE: I understand you were hesitant before committing to The Artist because it was a silent movie. What worried you?
DUJARDIN: The unknown. I didn’t know King Vidor’s movies and I was worried that Michel would ask me to uphold the entire film. I didn’t want to do a sub-category of Chaplin. Chaplin is unique, but there’s only one. Michel said “No, I want to make a love story.” And he told that with the camera. But there was a short week of doubt of “What am I getting myself into?” Then I regretted ever thinking like that because I never think of the completed film, rather the adventure of what I’m about to live.
AWARDSLINE: 0SS 117 is another Hollywood homage, but to 1960s spy cinema like the 007 films. Did you feel pressure to uphold that film?
DUJARDIN: No because I was chosen before Michel committed. I had a huge hit with the producers prior, and they offered my part from the script and then they presented me lots of different directions and I met Michel.
AWARDSLINE: You’re one of the highest paid actors in France [Dujardin’s salary per film is estimated at $3 million].
DUJARDIN: I don’t think so [laughter], but I make a good living.
AWARDSLINE: Was there any concern that if The Artist tanked at the box office, it would tarnish your possibilities of securing future roles? Was there a risk career-wise of taking this film on?
DUJARDIN: No, I never think in those terms, otherwise I couldn’t be doing this as a profession. As an actor and director, you have to take risks, even though I don’t like saying that word. You can make a mistake. In many cases for an actor it’s a comfortable position to be in. But it’s harder to fail as a director. Nonetheless, Michel is condemned to only making masterpieces because it would have been very arrogant to make a movie like this if it hadn’t been a success. But you can’t think of these things before you commit. You have to remain fresh and have the desire to make something.
AWARDSLINE: Harvey Weinstein is known for taking actors and directors under his wing. Has he been a godfather to you in your career? Has he made suggestions to you as far as what genres or projects you should tackle as an actor?
DUJARDIN: At the moment Harvey is doing what he does best — we made the movie and now he’s selling it. Without Harvey it would be hard to reach the audiences here.
AWARDSLINE: Is campaigning for the César Awards similar to the Oscars?
DUJARDIN: [Laughing] Not at all in any way, shape or form! Let me tell you how it (the Césars) works: You send out the screeners to the Academy, voters watch the film at their house, they fill out their ballots and there’s one ceremony and that’s it. No Q&As. You just look at the movie, you watch and then vote.
AWARDSLINE: Since getting awards traction, have you received any interesting film offers, now that you’re signed to a major Hollywood agency?
DUJARDIN: Nothing concrete in Hollywood for the moment, but I’m in no rush. I’m living this adventure now because I don’t like having too many projects in the pipeline. I like to focus on what’s at hand. I don’t like to shoot too many movies since I like to do them well. Next up for me is a spy thriller, Mobius, which starts shooting in April.
AWARDSLINE: Given how global you’ve become as a star, are they changing that script around to sell you to wider audience outside France?
DUJARDIN: That’s not my style at all. I give myself over to another director and as an actor I make myself fully available. I don’t represent myself as a star, but an actor who wants to make movies.
(Oscar photo: Getty Images)