PARIS (AP) _ Filmmakers seem determined to bring out Audrey Tautou's sweetness and spunk. She dispensed random acts of kindness as "Amelie," set off in search of her fiance in "A Very Long Engagement" and played a street-smart but sensitive police cryptologist in "The Da Vinci Code."
That's what makes "Priceless" a surprise: Tautou plays a manipulative, gold-digging, label-obsessed hanger-on.
"It's not necessarily the vibe that I give off, or what I inspire in people," Tautou told The Associated Press in an interview at a Paris cafe. "So for me it was a fabulous opportunity to be able to construct a character, to do a bit more comedy, to transform myself."
In "Priceless," hitting theaters Friday in several U.S. cities, Tautou plays Irene, a dark-haired knockout with a taste for the high life, like luxury hotels on the Cote d'Azur and Chanel and Azzaro evening gowns. Because of her modest means, she attaches herself to rich older men who let her live out her fantasy of being rich.
Her scheme goes smoothly until she somehow mistakes a timid hotel waiter named Jean (standup comic Gad Elmaleh) for a millionaire and, after a night of cocktails with paper umbrellas, goes to bed with him. He falls for her, and finds himself a sugar mama so he can stay in her high-flying world. Irene does everything she can to get rid of Jean, like emptying out his bank account on shopping sprees.
Director Pierre Salvadori, who conceived the movie for Tautou — hanging her picture on the wall while he worked on the script — said he needed an actress who could make Irene's nastiness somehow palatable.
"I felt like (Tautou) could save the character," he said. "She's so tough, mean and manipulative, and if she's not played by someone with humor, fantasy and poetry, the character will immediately be hated."
While this isn't Tautou's first bad-girl role (she played a stalker in "He Loves Me … He Loves Me Not") Tautou, who made her name playing the gamine do-gooder in "Amelie," says she didn't take on "Priceless" out of a wish to play against type.
"I've never chosen a role in that way — I've never tried to have an image, to create one, to preserve it," the 31-year-old Tautou said. "I take pleasure in getting into different adventures, with different people that — and this may be egotistical — will bring me something new."
Part of the fun of "Priceless" was the fancy gowns. Tautou spends the movie strutting around in skimpy designer dresses and strappy stilettos. Though she'll play fashionista Coco Chanel in her next film, still in development, she's more into comfortable clothes in real life. To the interview, Tautou wore a gray cotton shift, a fluffy back cardigan and not a trace of visible makeup.
"I'm not someone who tries to play up my femininity, that's not really in my nature," she said. "Something I discovered playing this role, wearing outfits I never wore before, was that I could also be a kind of object of desire and of male fantasy, and that's not something that has ever crossed my mind."
Tautou — who comes off as down-to-earth and yes, sweet — sprinkled the interview with hints of her modesty. When she learned she would be co-starring with Elmaleh, a major star in France, Tautou said she worried she "couldn't hold a candle to him" and his comic talent.
She also said that, while she's open to doing more American films after "The Da Vinci Code," she doesn't really see why Hollywood directors would seek her out.
"I'm not at all against the idea of doing a movie in English again," Tautou said. "The only thing I don't feel capable of doing is going off to conquer Hollywood. I don't think I have the strength for it, and I don't feel the desire … And I really don't see why someone would say, hey, I'm going to go hire that little French girl from (the provincial town of) Montlucon, who has almost never set foot in Los Angeles."
Copyright 2008 The Associated Press.