Nationality: French. Born: Paris, 5 May 1944; son of the scriptwriter Pierre Léaud and the actress Jacqueline Pierreux. Career: Child actor: film debut in Les Quatre Cents Coups by Truffaut, 1959; subsequently made several other films with Truffaut, and worked as assistant to Truffaut and Godard; 1967—stage debut at Avignon Festival; 1986—received suspended prison sentence for assaulting 80-year old neighbor with flowerpot. Awards: Best Actor, Berlin Festival, for Masculin-féminin, 1966.
Films as Actor:
Les Quatre Cents Coups (The 400 Blows) (Truffaut) (as Antoine Doinel); Le Testament d'Orphée (The Testament of Orpheus) (Cocteau) (as schoolboy)
"France" ep. of L'Amour à vingt ans (Love at Twenty) (Truffaut) (as Antoine Doinel)
Pierrot le Fou (Peter the Crazy) (Godard) (as young man in cinema); Mata-Hari Agent H.21 (Richard)
Masculin-féminin (Masculine-Feminine) (Godard) (as Paul); Le Départ (Skolimowski) (as Marc); Made in U.S.A. (Godard) (as Donald Siegel)
La Chinoise (Godard) (as Guillaume Meister); "Anticipation" ep. of Les Plus Vieux Métier du monde (The Oldest Profession) (Godard) (as bellboy); "Le Pere Noël a les yeux bleus" ("Santa Claus Has Blue Eyes") ep. of Les Mauvaises Fréquentations (Bad Company) (Eustache) (as Daniel); Le Week-end (Godard) (as Saint-Just/man in phone booth)
Le Gai Savoir (The Joy of Learning) (Godard—for TV) (as Emile Rousseau); Baisers volés (Stolen Kisses) (Truffaut) (as Antoine Doinel); Dialog (Dialogue) (Skolimowski)
Porcile (Pigsty; Pigpen) (Pasolini); Los herederos (The Heirs) (Diegues)
Der leone have sept cabecas (The Lion Has Seven Heads) (Rocha); Domicile conjugal (Bed and Board) (Truffaut) (as Antoine Doinel)
Les Deux Anglaises et le continent (Two English Girls; Anne and Muriel) (Truffaut) (as Claude Roc)
Last Tango in Paris (Ultimo tango a Parigi) (Bertolucci) (as Tom)
Une Aventure de Billy le Kid (Moullet); Le Maman et la putain (The Mother and the Whore) (Eustache) (as Alexandre); La Nuit américaine (Day for Night) (Truffaut) (as Alphonse); Spectre (Out One—Out Two) (Rivette)
Les Lolas de Lola (Dubois); Umarmungen und andere Sachen (Richter)
L'Amour en fuite (Love on the Run) (Truffaut) (as Antoine Doinel)
Pour Bonnie (Muret)
Rue Fontaine (Garrel); Paris vu par . . . 20 ans après (Akerman)
Détective (Godard) (as Inspector Neveu); L'Education sentimentale (Cravenne); Csak egy mozi (Sandor) (as Peter); Herbe rouge (Kast—for TV)
Corps et biens (Jacquot) (as Marcel); Grandeur et Decadence d'un petit commerce du cinéma (Godard—for TV)
Boran—Zeit zum zielen (Zuta); Keufs (Balasko); Osseg Oder die Warheit uber Hansel und Gretel (Klahn) (as Georg Osseg)
Jane B. par Agnès V. (A. V. sur J. B.) (Varda); 36 Fillette (Breillat) (as Boris Golovine)
Bunker Palace Hotel (Bilal) (as Solal); Femme de papier (Schiffman) (as Marc)
I Hired a Contract Killer (Aki Kaurismaki) (as Henri Boulanger)
Treasure Island (as Midas/narrator); Paris s'eveille (Paris Awakens; Paris at Dawn) (as Clement); J'Embrasse Pas (Téchiné); C'est la vie (Cohn-Bendit and Steinbach)
Missä on Musette? (Where Is Musette?) (Nieminen and Vesteri) (as himself)
La Vie de Boheme (Bohemian Life) (Aki Kaurismaki) (as Blancheron); La Naissance de l'amour (The Birth of Love) (Garrel) (as Marcus); De force avec d'autres (Simon Reggiani)
Personne ne m'aime (Nobody Loves Me) (Vernoux) (as Lucien)
Les Cent et une Nuits (A Hundred and One Nights) (Varda) (as Furtive and Friendly Appearance)
Mon homme (Blier) (as Claude); Irma Vep (Assayas); Mon homme (My Man) (Blier) (as M. Claude); Le Journal du séducteur (Diary of a Seducer) (Dubroux) (as Hugo)
Pour rire! (Belvaux) (as Nicolas/Pierre)
Innocent (Natsis); Elizabeth (Kapur)
Films as Assistant Director:
La Peau douce (The Soft Skin) (Truffaut); Une Femme mariée (The Married Woman) (Godard)
Alphaville (Une étrange aventure de Lemmy Caution; Alphaville: A Strange Adventure of Lemmy Caution; Tarzan versus I.B.M.) (Godard)
By LÉAUD: articles—
"Getting beyond the Looking Glass," interview with Jan Dawson, in Sight and Sound (London), Winter 1973–74.
Interview with Nan Robertson, in New York Times, 22 March 1985.
Interview with F. Revault d'Allonnes, in Cinéma (Paris), 23 May 1986.
On LÉAUD: articles—
The Velvet Light Trap (Madison, Wisconsin), Winter 1972/73.
Cahiers du Cinéma (Paris), September 1983.
Romney, Jonathan, in Guardian (London), 14 February 1991.
Grob, Norbert, "Der wilde, zärtliche Rebell: Jean-Pierre Léaud wird 50," in EPD Film(Franfurt/Main), May 1994.
Laurans, J. & Jean-Pierre, Paul, "Antoine et Mademoiselle Age tendre," in Vertigo (Paris), no. 14: 51–53 1996.
Lalanne, Jean-Marc, "Léaud the First/La revanche des maris," in Cahiers du Cinéma (Paris), January 1997.
* * *
Jean-Pierre Léaud is best known for his work with the director François Truffaut, who chose him, at the age of 14, to portray the young Antoine Doinel in Les Quatre Cents Coups. Léaud went on to play Doinel in four more films over the next 20 years, creating an unprecedented cinematic portrait of a character's development from adolescence to adulthood. Léaud has also worked extensively with Jean-Luc Godard, appearing in several of the director's most acclaimed films. His association with both filmmakers made Léaud one of the key actors of the influential French New Wave, as well as a familiar figure in international cinema.
Léaud's long collaboration with Truffaut has had an immeasurable impact on his career, and it is as Antoine Doinel that the actor has given his most memorable performances. The character of Antoine represents Truffaut's public—and highly personal—examination of his own life, and Léaud has become, in effect, the director's alter ego. In Les Quatre Cents Coups Truffaut presents a scathing record of his own unhappy childhood, and Léaud captures perfectly the humor and pain of misunderstood adolescence. This is childhood's dark side, and Truffaut's famous freeze-frame of the runaway Léaud's haunting young face at the film's conclusion is one of the classic images of modern cinema. The later films adopt a much lighter tone as Antoine encounters love, marriage, fatherhood, and, finally, divorce, and Léaud's performances provide an engaging combination of humor, intensity, and hopeless romanticism. In Baisers volés and Domicile conjugal Antoine pursues and weds the bemused Claude Jade, yet there is an underlying strain of self-absorption in the character that will eventually end the relationship in L'Amour en fuite. Léaud manages to retain Antoine's boyish appeal even as he reveals himself to be ill-equipped to deal with the responsibilities of adult life.
The qualities Léaud displays in the Doinel films are also present in much of his other work. In Truffaut's Academy Award-winning La Nuit américaine, the young love-struck actor who asks "Are women magic?" might easily be Antoine, while the hero of Les Deux Anglaises et le continent shares Doinel's single-minded romantic obsessions. Léaud is an actor of decidedly limited range, and he is most effective within the framework of a particular character type. It is impossible to think of him in the wide spectrum of roles open to a De Niro or a Depardieu; he is, rather, a performer capable of bringing to life specific qualities in the characters he plays. The casting of Léaud as Doinel was a fortuitous one, both for Truffaut, who found in the actor the ideal personification of his autobiographical creation, and for Léaud, who was presented with a part tailor-made for his talents.
Léaud's work for other directors, among them Godard, Bertolucci, and Pasolini, also relies on his familiar mannerisms and style. There is something inherently (and intentionally) amusing in Léaud's intensity, and he brings a wry edge of humor to such socio-political commentaries as Godard's Masculin-Féminin, La Chinoise, and Le Week-end. In Bertolucci's Last Tango in Paris he appears as Maria Schneider's boyfriend, performing a clever send-up of a self-important young filmmaker as he follows her endlessly with his camera. All of these roles bear the characteristic stamp of Léaud's passionate, ingenuous personality.
—Janet E. Lorenz