Mainneville, 6 July 1948.
Trained as a dancer; studied acting in Cours (René) Simon;
attended Paris Conservatory of Dramatic Art, graduated 1972.
At 17, studied classical and modern dance in New York, and toured with
dance company; returned to France for vacation, decided to stay and study
acting; 1971—film debut in
Faustine and the Beautiful Summer
; 1974—in Pirandello's
at Théâtre de la Commune; also TV work;
1978–79—stage appearance in
, directed by Lucian Pintillé.
Best Supporting Actress César Award, for
Sauve qui peut
, 1980; Best Supporting Actress César Award, for
Une Étrange Affaire
, 1981; Best Actress César Award, for
, 1983; Venice Film Festival Volpi Cup for Best Actress, for
Une liason pornographique
, 1999; Golden Space Needle Award for Best Actress, Seattle International
Film Festival, for
Artmédia, 10 av Georges V, Paris 75008, France.
Faustine et le belété ( Faustine and the Beautiful Summer )(Companeez) (as Giselle)
Two People (Wise) (bit role)
La Nuit américaine ( Day for Night ) (Truffaut) (as Joëlle)
La Gueule ouverte ( The Mouth Agape ) (Pialat); Un Jour de fête (Sisser); La Gifle ( The Slap ) (Pinoteau) (as Christine)
Le Voyage des noces ( Honeymoons ) (Trintignant); La Jalousie (Trintignant)
Mado (Sautet) (as Catherine); Le Plein de super ( Fill It Up, Premium! ) (Cavalier); L'ultima donna ( The Last Woman )(Ferreri); La Communion solonnelle (Féret)
L'Homme qui aimait les femmes ( The Man Who Loved Women ) (Truffaut) (as Martine Desdoits); Monsieur Papa (Monnier) (as Janine)
La Chambre verte ( The Green Room ) (Truffaut) (as Cecilia Mandel); Mon Premier Amour ( My First Love ) (Chouraqui)(as Fabienne); La Mémoire courte ( Short Memory ) (de Gregorio)
Je vais craquer ( The Rat Race ) (Leterrier)
Sauve qui peut ( La Vie ; Slow Motion ; Every Man for Himself ) (Godard) (as Denise Rimbaud); Une Semaine de vacances ( A Week's Vacation ) (Tavernier) (as Laurence); La Provinciale ( The Girl from Lorraine ) (Goretta) (as Christine)
Beau-Père (Blier) (as Charlotte); Une Étrange Affaire (Granier-Deferre); L'Ombre rouge (Comolli); Le Retour de Martin Guerre ( The Return of Martin Guerre ) (Vigne) (as Bertrande de Roi)
La Balance ( The Nark ) (Swaim) (as Nicole); J'ai épousé une ombre ( I Married a Dead Man ; I Married a Shadow )(Robin Davis) (as Hélène/Patricia)
Rive droit, rive gauche ( Right Bank, Left Bank ) (Labro) (as Sacha Vernakis); Madame Sourdis (Huppert)
Notre histoire ( Our Story ; Separate Rooms ) (Blier) (as Donatienne Pouget/Marie-Therese Chatelard/Genevieve Avranche); Le Neveu de Beethoven ( Beethoven's Nephew )(Morrissey) (as Leonore); Lune di miel ( Honeymoon )(Jamain) (as Cecile Carline); Détective (Godard) (as Françoise Chenal)
En Toute Innocence (Jessua) (as Catherine)
Guerre Lasse (Enrico)
Gioco al massacro (Damiani)
The Man Inside (Roth) (as Christine); Un Weekend sur deux ( Every Other Weekend ) (Garcia) (as Camille Valmont); La Baule-les-pins ( C'est la vie ) (Kurys) (as Lena)
Mensonge ( Lie ) (François Margolin) (as Emma)
And the Band Played On (Spottiswoode—for TV)
La Machine ( The Machine ) (Dupeyron) (as Marie)
François Truffaut: Portraits Voles ( François Truffaut: Stolen Portraits ) (Toubiana and Pascal—doc)
Enfants de salaud ( Bastard Brood ) (Tonie Marshall) (as Sophie)
Food of Love (Poliakoff); Paparazzi (Berberian) (as Nicole)
Si je t'aime, prends garde à toi ( Beware of My Love ) (Labrune)
Vénus beauté (institut) ( Venus Beauty Salon ) (Tonie Marshall) (as Angèle); Une liaison pornographique ( A Pornographic Affair ) (Fonteyne) (as Her)
Selon Mathieu (Beauvois)
"Nathalie Baye: Portrait," in Cinéma Français (Paris), no. 18, 1977.
Interviews in Cinéma Français (Paris), June and July 1980.
Ciné Revue (Paris), 6 May 1982, 17 February 1983, and 8 March 1984.
Interview with Gaston Haustrate, in Cinéma (Paris), June 1982.
Interview with F. Mauro, in Cahiers du Cinéma (Paris), May 1985.
Interview with Jacques Valot, Danièle Parra, and G. Grandmaire, in Mensuel du Cinéma (Nice), no. 3, February 1993.
Films and Filming (London), December 1981.
Truffaut, François, in Ciné Revue (Paris), 3 March 1983.
Strauss, F., and S. Toubiana, "Une femme sous influence," in Cahiers du Cinéma (Paris), no. 434, July-August 1990.
Stars (Mariembourg), March 1992.
* * *
"I could leave a man for a film, but never a film for a man." The comment is that of Joëlle, the continuity girl played by Nathalie Baye in Truffaut's La Nuit américaine , and more than 20 years later it is still one of the actress's best-remembered lines. Though such total devotion to the movies may not be true of Baye herself—"If I only lived for the cinema, I don't think I would be able to act," she once observed—it fairly sums up a strong aspect of her on-screen persona: level-headed, professional, dedicated to the task in hand. It is hard to imagine her staging a tantrum and storming off the set.
Though La Nuit américaine was one of Baye's first films, her inexperience was hardly evident. The conviction with which she inhabited her role led some people—including, apparently, Billy Wilder—to imagine she really was Truffaut's continuity girl. (Irritated at the time, Baye later realized what an involuntary compliment she had been paid.) Truffaut, whom she found sympathetic and supportive ("He's not just in love with the movies, he loves actors"), subsequently used her in two more films—but neither the episodic L'Homme qui aimait les femmes nor the gloom of La Chambre verte offered much scope to her growing talent.
It was Bertrand Tavernier who established her on the international scene. As the Lyonnaise schoolteacher in Une Semaine de vacances , troubled by the urge to step back and take stock of her too well-ordered existence, Baye conveyed a sense of lived emotion in a performance subtly detailed without ever seeming self-conscious. Tavernier paid tribute to her "quivering inwardness . . . she confronts a scene head-on, with neither fear nor tricks." She herself speaks of "le déclic essentiel," the moment when identification with a part clicks into place, no longer studied but felt.
She was now ranked among the "nouvelle actrices" of French cinema, along with Isabelle Huppert, Isabelle Adjani and Miou-Miou—players for whom personal considerations of looks or prestige were subordinated to the demands of the role. Baye in any case has never aspired to glamour, or even to conventional notions of prettiness. She can look plain, at times almost ugly, then at once—as a shaft of thought or passion lights up the eyes—unexpectedly beautiful. She moves with an unobtrusive grace, her dancer's training standing her in good stead. "Her every gesture is musical," Tavernier noted.
Such understated qualities can invite typecasting in dutiful or victimized roles—as in undemanding material such as Goretta's La Provinciale —and Baye in turn has sometimes tended to fall back on certain well-tried mannerisms: the tremulous smile, the hurt look in the eyes. To counter these tendencies she has consistently aimed to widen her range, favoring directors who will cast her against type and "make me do things that weren't immediately obvious for me."
Two films of the early 1980s helped her shatter the nice-girl image. In Daniel Vigne's period drama Le Retour de Martin Guerre , she brought an unleashed sensuality to her scenes with Gérard Depardieu—evidently indifferent, in the joy of her rekindled passion, as to whether he is or is not her long-lost husband. Even more against type was her hooker in La Balance , Bob Swaim's slick policier , crude and aggressive in her street-life, direct and tender in her devotion to her boyfriend as the trap closes around them both. Baye's performance won her first César as Best Actress.
Her talent for comedy has been relatively underused. As the enigmatic focus of Bertrand Blier's surreal farce Notre histoire , she deftly switched personae under the bemused gaze of Alain Delon. She also emerged with credit from the labyrinthine comedy of Godard's Détective , playing the apex of an erotic triangle with Claude Brasseur and her offscreen lover at that period, the pop-singer Johnny Hallyday. Godard remains one of her favorite directors. "There's often stuff in his films that irritates me, but he saw things in me that nobody had seen before. He knew how to look at me. And it's invaluable for an actor to feel that you're being really looked at."
Baye retains a strong commitment to theatre, and for a period during the late 1980s retreated entirely to the stage when her liaison with Hallyday was attracting unwelcome press attention. She returned to the screen with two strong roles in women-directed films. In La Baule-les-Pins , the third in Diane Kurys's autobiographical sequence, she played a woman juggling the demands of daughters, a collapsing marriage, and her own love-life—poised and determined, though still vulnerable. Nicole Garcia's Un week-end sur deux offered a challenging contrast: the role of a failed actress denied custody of her children, who kidnaps them for a wild flight across country. Baye's Camille, with her abrupt, nervy reactions and slightly off-focus gaze, suggested a woman sliding helplessly out of touch with reality.
The mid-1990s were a difficult period for Baye, with her career seemingly losing momentum. But the end of the decade saw her back on form with three distinctive roles—two of them, again, for women directors. In Jeanne Labrune's Si je t'aime, prends garde à toi she portrayed a woman in whom a chance encounter unleashes a hidden element of fierce sexual rapacity, while for Tonie Marshall's Vénus beauté (institut) she suppressed her natural charm to play a downbeat variation: a woman disenchanted with love who tries to lose herself in promiscuous sex. Both roles gave hints of a newly regained vitality, which became fully evident in Une liaison pornoqraphigue , Frédérique Fonteyne's more tender reworking of Last Tango in Paris. Baye's performance, glowing with a relaxed sensuality, suggests she may be following Jeanne Moreau and Catherine Deneuve into iconic status, her grace and intelligence enhanced by maturity.