Veteran French actor Michel Serrault dies

30th July 2007, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, July 30, 2007 (AFP) - French actor Michel Serrault, best known internationally for the 1978 comedy "La Cage aux Folles", has died after a long illness, his family announced late Sunday. He was 79.

PARIS, July 30, 2007 (AFP) - French actor Michel Serrault, best known internationally for the 1978 comedy "La Cage aux Folles", has died after a long illness, his family announced late Sunday. He was 79.

Serrault, one of the great names of French cinema, made 135 films in a career covering more than 50 years, and shone in straight roles as well as the comedy for which he was perhaps better known.

He worked with some of France's biggest stars including Alain Delon and Jeanne Moreau, and many of its best directors, such as Jean-Pierre Mocky and Claude Chabrol.

"La Cage aux Folles", in which he played a flamboyant drag performer, was adapted from a stage play about a gay couple that had proved a massive success in Paris.

President Nicolas Sarkozy described him as a "monument of the theatre, of cinema and of television ... whose immense comic and dramatic talents left a mark on every French man and woman."

Prime Minister Francois Fillon said Serrault would be "sorely missed by both directors and audience, who together placed him high on their list of favourite actors."

Serrault was born in Brunoy, a small town just south of Paris, on January 24, 1928.

He grew up in a practising Roman Catholic family and as a teenager entered a seminary to study for the priesthood. In the end it was his love of the theatre that won out, although he never abandoned his faith.

Serrault started in theatre in 1948 before switching to the cabaret scene in Paris.

It was there that he first worked with Jean Poiret, the pair developing a cabaret act that was a success in some of the city's top theatres.

His cinema career began in 1954 and while he found regular work, including supporting roles in classics such as Henri-Georges Clouzot's "Les Diaboliques", he was not yet a star.

In fact it was a stage hit that brought him one of his biggest screen successes.

"La Cage aux Folles" was a farce written by his old friend and collaborator Poiret. It was a massive hit in Paris and when Serrault repeated his stage role for the film version, it proved an international success.

Serrault's performance as the hysterical drag performer opposite Italian actor Ugo Tognazzi was seen by critics as the key to the film's popularity.

The film was nominated for three Oscars and won Serrault the first of three Cesars, which is the French equivalent. (The Birdcage, a 1996 US remake, starred Robin Williams in Serrault's role.)

Not all Serrault's film and theatre roles were comic.

He played a suspected child killer interrogated by Lino Ventura's inspector in Claude Miller's 1981 claustrophobic "Garde a Vue" (also known as "Under Suspicion"). And on stage, he took the demanding title role in a 1986 production of Moliere's "The Miser".

But while he worked with some of France's top directors, he never believed in leaving all the work to them.

"If you haven't got the inner intention, the words don't mean anything," he said in one interview. "I want to be a communicator, a messenger. I am against actors who see themselves as 'humble servants of the auteur'."

Serrault was married and had two daughters, one of whom died in a car crash in 1977. He died at his home in Normandy, northern France.

He was the fourth popular actor of his generation to die in recent months in France, after Philippe Noiret, Jean-Pierre Cassel and Jean-Claude Brialy.

AFP

Subject: French news

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