A film actress with years of exceptional artistic contribution, Isabelle Adjani is one of the most acclaimed French actresses of all time.
She was raised by an Algerian father and a German mother in Paris, and sees herself as a global citizen. She started acting while she was still at school, and before she was 14, she starred in her first motion picture,
Le Petit Bougnat (1970). She first gained fame as a classical actress at the Comédie-Française, which she joined at age 17, becoming the youngest
pensionnaire ever hired there
She was praised for her interpretation of Agnès, the main female role in Molière’s
L’École des Femmes, and Jean Giraudoux’s Ondine.
Adjani soon left the theater to focus on her film career and acted in the 1974 film La Gifle. François Truffaut then immediately cast her in
The Story of Adèle H. (1975), which became her first major role. Truffaut said of Adjani, “France is too small for her. I think Isabelle is made for American cinema.” American critic Pauline Kael described her acting talents as “prodigious.”
Only 19 when she made the film, Adjani was nominated for the Best Actress Oscar, making her the youngest best actress nominee at the time. She quickly received offers for roles in Hollywood films, such as Walter Hill’s 1978 crime thriller Driver.
She played roles in English, German, and French motion pictures. Roger Ebert called Werner Herzog’s casting of Adjani in his remake of Nosferatu one of his “masterstrokes” in the film. He wrote that she “is used here not only for her facial perfection but for her curious quality of seeming to exist on an ethereal plane.”
In 1981, she received a double Cannes Film Festival Best Actress Award for her roles in the James Ivory film
Quartet, based on the novel by Jean Rhys, and in the film
Possession (1981) by Andrzej Zulawski. The following year, she received her first César Award, again for Possession, in which she portrayed a woman having a nervous breakdown. In 1983, she won her second César for her depiction of a vengeful woman in the French blockbuster L’Été Meurtrier.
That same year, Adjani released a million-selling French pop album with the hit single “Pull Marine,” by Serge Gainsbourg.
In 1988, she co-produced and starred in a biopic of the sculptor Camille Claudel. She received her third César and second Oscar nomination for her role in the film, becoming the first French actress to receive two Oscar nominations. The film was also nominated for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film.
She received her fourth César for the 1994 film La Reine Margot, an ensemble epic directed by Patrice Chéreau. She received her fifth César for La Journée de la Jupe (2009), becoming the only actor or actress to have five wins. It was premiered on the French Arte channel on March 20, 2009, attaining a record 2.2 million viewers, and then in movie theaters on March 25, 2009.
She was made Chevalier of the Legion of Honor for her artistic contributions and a Commander of the Order of Arts and Letters. Consistently topping “most beautiful people in film” lists, she was chosen by People magazine as one of the 50 Most Beautiful People in the World in 1990 and hailed as the second most beautiful woman by the French public in the TV show “La plus belle femme du monde” in 2004.
Adjani exudes inner beauty as she passionately believes that acting “is not just a profession but a profession of faith.” She has been vocal against anti-immigrant and anti-Algerian sentiment and honors all humankind in her authentic and original capturing of human nature in her work. In an interview for the French magazine Marie–Claire, Adjani said: “I’ve suffered too much to hide my feelings. I’ve learned that to expose yourself, to reveal yourself, is a test of your humanness. You must take the risk to disclose yourself in order to become more real, more human. And even if the price is high.”
Adjani has two sons, Barnabé Nuytten and Gabriel-Kane Day-Lewis, who are both artists.