Just days after being accused of raping a young actress, Gerard Depardieu was back at work. The multi-millionaire star, one of very few French actors to ‘break’ Hollywood, was on the banks of the River Seine in Paris filming a police drama.
He could be seen laughing and joking with attractive co-star Jade Labeste as they shot a scene from an adaptation of Georges Simenon’s Maigret in which the bear-like Depardieu plays the eponymous pipe-smoking detective.
When the film hit cinema screens last year it received glowing reviews, especially for its leading man. This despite the fact that Paris prosecutors had by then indicted Depardieu with attacking Charlotte Arnould, a young woman with health problems more than 40 years his junior, in his mansion in the city in August 2018.
She claimed she had been raped and sexually assaulted twice in the space of seven days by the actor, who was a family friend and whom she had visited for advice on her career.
There is CCTV footage of Depardieu performing a sex act on the woman, a dancer and comedienne, who frustrated by what she sees as her inability to obtain justice, has renounced her right to anonymity.
Accused: Gerard Depardieu with Valley of Love co-star Isabelle Huppert in 2015
‘Just days after being accused of raping a young actress, Gerard Depardieu was back at work’
Incredibly, the shocking claims appear to have done little to dent the popularity of the hulking A-lister whose box office success has for decades made him one of France’s most bankable and recognisable film stars.
A Gallic shrug of the shoulders was the frequent if uncomfortable response by members of a movie industry where #MeToo complaints against powerful men in the Paris arts establishment are acted upon painfully slowly. But now the man who has worn his unsavoury reputation as a womanising, drunken hell-raiser like a badge of honour, is facing potentially catastrophic new claims of sexual assault that may test even his legendary chutzpah and charm. Thirteen woman have come forward to claim they were groped or verbally abused by the veteran actor, who will be 75 in December.
The allegations have come from actresses, make-up artists, extras and production staff on the locations of 11 films released between 2004 and 2022, including the aforementioned Maigret (distributed in France as Maigret And The Dead Girl).
The women have all described a pattern of sexually inappropriate behaviour, which included unwelcome touching or groping, according to an investigation by Mediapart, a highly respected French news website.
Its report makes shocking reading. It claims that the women ‘attest to have been subjected to a hand on the buttocks, between the legs, or on their thighs or stomach as well as obscene sexual propositions and insistent groaning.’
According to Mediapart this sexual harassment was apparently tolerated by others on set. Crew members, it reported, turned a blind eye to the behaviour of the star of Green Card, Man In The Iron Mask and Cyrano de Bergerac, either ignoring it or laughing it off as typical Depardieu, saying : ‘Oh, it’s okay, it’s just Gerard.’
Sarah Brooks, an American actress who, in 2015, at the age of 20, appeared in the Netflix series Marseille alongside Depardieu, told the website that he ‘put his hand down her shorts while making a strange, loud groaning noise.’ He persisted despite her objections, she said.
Ms Brooks added: ‘He replied, ‘Huh, I thought you wanted to succeed in cinema’. Everyone laughed so he carried on. I felt awful. It was so humiliating.’
Gérard Depardieu poses on the set of his latest film in the French capital with co-star Jade Labeste, 25
Gerard Depardieu during a photocall for the second season of the French TV show Marseille
The report said that the actress felt discouraged from alerting the production team after the incident.
Three of the women are said to have reported the incidents to the French police, though none, said Mediapart, had made a formal complaint. ‘The reason was the feeling that their word would carry little weight against this ‘giant of French cinema’. And that doing so could even mean the end of their careers.’
One figure claims he did call out the misconduct. Fabien Onteniente, who directed two of the films listed in the report, 2008’s Disco and Turf in 2013, says he did so after matters were raised by his casting director. ‘I concluded that he [Depardieu] had a wandering hand,’ he told the website, ‘given how he behaved when he was waiting in between shots.’
Onteniente says he confronted Depardieu after two extras complained about inappropriate touching and told him: ‘Don’t start that again, it’s over. Behave!’ He added: ‘It stopped completely. He was all sheepish, like a child who had just misbehaved.’
Depardieu’s lawyers said the actor ‘denies all the accusations that could be subject to criminal law’ adding that some of the women’s accounts appeared to be based on ‘very subjective assessment and or moral judgments.’
There is, however, a striking symmetry to the allegations, according to Mediapart. ‘On the one hand, often young, precarious women, starting their career, and on the other, a world-famous actor whose mere presence sometimes makes it possible to finance the film.’
How then is this likely to affect Depardieu and, crucially, his drooling media admirers such as the commentator and critic Agnes Poirier, who likes to describe the actor as being woven into the fabric of French cultural identity?
Pictured: Gerard Depardieu waving as he arrives at the Town Hall in Brussels for a ceremony as part of the ‘Brussels International Film Festival’ in 2018
‘He is the best of us and he’s the worst of us,’ she cooed in a Guardian newspaper profile before these latest allegations came to light but after the rape claim had been made. ‘He is France incarnate. As Cyrano and in other roles, he is the French persona, in all its glory and awfulness.’
Of course, Gerard Depardieu is hardly the first significant movie figure to face accusations of sexual misbehaviour. But unlike Hollywood, France has always had a more laissez-faire attitude to such conduct.
Catherine Deneuve was one of several prominent French women to attack the MeToo movement when it first made its presence felt in 2018, defending men’s ‘freedom to bother women.’ In an open letter published by the French daily Le Monde in 2018, 100 writers, performers, academics and businesswomen, including Deneuve, wrote: ‘Rape is a crime. But insistent or clumsy flirting is not a crime, nor is gallantry a chauvinist aggression.’
It quoted the philosopher Ruwen Ogien, who argued that the freedom to offend was ‘essential to artistic creation’, adding: ‘In the same way we defend a freedom to bother, indispensable to sexual freedom.’
Buoyed by such supportive attitudes, Depardieu who boasts of his youth as a grave-robbing rent boy and, more recently, of cosying up to some of the world’s nastiest autocrats, has seemed impervious to all accusations.
He has not been cancelled, as so many other public figures have, and his support for Vladimir Putin, who gave him Russian citizenship, and North Korea’s Kim Jong-un (he attended one of the thuggish dictator’s military parades) are seen as part of his lovable rogue persona.
As one of the (female) production staff on Maigret told us this week, on set Depardieu felt free ‘to be himself.’ This, she said, meant ‘he would flirt with everyone — that’s what big movie stars do. He is an enormous personality and of course we know he will sell the film.’
Gerard Depardieu seduces Cecile De France in the 2007 film ‘The Singer’
One person not prepared to tolerate his behaviour however was Charlotte Arnould. Her case was initially dropped for lack of evidence but was then reopened and remains pending, though no trial date has been set.
As delays mounted up, Ms Arnould took to Twitter. ‘I am the victim of Depardieu,’ she wrote in 2021. ‘He’s been indicted for over a year. I can no longer be silent.’
The actress, who appeared in the well-received Art Of The Crime TV series, is angry that Depardieu has been allowed to continue with his career unaffected.
‘He works while I spend my time surviving,’ she said. ‘I earn absolutely nothing, except the hope of recovering my integrity. Maybe I should have waited . . . do it in the right order, do it well. But keep being silent is to bury me alive.’
Ms Arnould told police she was raped and assaulted on two occasions at Depardieu’s £45million home in August 2018. She knew him as a friend of her father and wanted some advice about her career.
‘There are lots of text messages between the two — they were in regular contact — discussing all kinds of matters,’ a source close to the investigation said.
‘Video footage in the accused’s house shows them sitting and talking, and then a sex act was filmed.
‘The pair made their way upstairs to a bedroom, one after the other, but there was no camera inside the bedroom.’ At the time the actress was said to be suffering from Tetany, a medical condition caused by low blood calcium that causes spasms and cramps, the source said.
She told police that she was ‘ill and confused’ about what was happening and, ‘in a state of denial’, returned to Depardieu’s mansion a week later, when a second rape allegedly took place. She told her mother about what happened two weeks later before going to the police.
Apart from the CCTV footage, evidence is said to include ‘disturbing text messages’ in which Depardieu is alleged to have referenced the late French singer Monique Serf, who performed under the name Barbara, and who was sexually abused by her father.
Depardieu’s lawyer Herve Temime, who represented the fugitive film director Roman Polanski, says his client ‘is and remains innocent’, insisting: ‘Gerard Depardieu will be exonerated of all guilt. If there is a case where the presumption of innocence has more meaning than ever, it is this one.’
The new allegations against the actor have reopened France’s debate about its love affair with a star who is celebrated as a national hero and ‘une force de la nature’.
The television programme Marseille which featured Gerard Depardieu as Robert Taro
Although he has continued to make successful films he has increasingly been seen as a polarising figure. ‘He isn’t celebrated completely,’ one French film executive observed cautiously. ‘He is very rarely invited to TV shows or to festivals. He is a little bit persona non grata in that respect.’
In the past Depardieu has bragged about what he calls his ‘hooligan side’, suggesting that is why Putin liked him. ‘We could have both become hoodlums,’ he said. Revelling in his image as the son of an illiterate factory-floor sweeper and mother who considered aborting him with her knitting needles. The family was so poor they had to eat hedgehogs to survive. The young Gerard, who could not read or write, left school at 13 and ran away from home in the provincial town of Chateauroux, 200 miles south of Paris to live among prostitutes and thieves.
He turned quickly to crime, selling his body to passing lorry drivers and helping to dig up bodies in search of jewellery and shoes. According to his version of his early struggles, he spent time in prison for car theft but was saved from homelessness by a gay theatrical talent-spotter who paid for him to take drama lessons.
However, over the years this carefully curated rags-to-riches tale of hardship and delinquency has become a little, well, ragged. In fact, he was brought up in a pretty street lined with cherry trees where his only remotely delinquent behaviour involved kicking a football around. ‘Noisy but never a hooligan,’ recalled a neighbour.
As for his claim that he was a semi-literate urchin, his old school recalls him as a pupil who ‘managed to do well in class without really trying.’
Nevertheless, by the time he landed his breakthrough role playing a violent criminal in the 1974 film Les Valseuses, he had a reputation as a thug off screen.
‘We literally had to follow him at night to stop him getting into punch-ups,’ director Bertrand Blier later recalled.
‘He would deliberately go into the most dangerous areas, looking for trouble.’ And trouble certainly found him.
In 2012 he was accused of punching a motorist in the face after his scooter collided with a car in Paris. It is also something of a miracle that his career wasn’t ended by the 18 or so motorcycle accidents he has been involved in — or by his prodigious drinking. Unhealthy and obese, he has boasted of drinking up to 14 bottles of wine in a single day.
He was once so drunk he consumed a bottle of hair lotion, thinking it was an Italian liqueur.
In recent years his partner has been winemaker Clementine Igou, a Harvard graduate 30 years his junior
Fellow passengers on a Paris-to-Dublin flight suspected he had been drinking when he urinated into a water bottle, having been denied access to the lavatories, which he spilled over the aisle.
In the early days, women swooned over his ‘animal magnetism’ on screen. They do so no longer.
He divorced his first wife, the actress Elizabeth Guignot, with whom he starred in Jean de Florette, in 1986. They had two children, Guillaume, who followed his father into acting but died from pneumonia and the effects of drug addiction aged 37, and Julie, who had plastic surgery to her nose because she could not bear to look like her ‘hoodlum father.’
There are two other children from other relationships and his former lovers include the face of Chanel No. 5 Carole Bouquet.
In recent years his partner has been winemaker Clementine Igou, a Harvard graduate 30 years his junior. She has not yet made a comment on the rape allegations, or the latest assault claims.
The real question is: Will France, which for so long has been in love with the swaggering, provocative excesses of Gerard Depardieu, finally tire of its force of nature?
Additional reporting: Peter Allen in Paris