Observant American moviegoers may recognize the très beau French actor Melvil Poupaud from his role in James Ivory's 2003 romantic comedy Le Divorce -- in which he played the arrogant two-timer Charles-Henri de Persand, who divorced a gorgeous, pregnant American wife (Naomi Watts) whom any man would be a fool to leave. Actually, Poupaud had already sustained a decades-long career in the French film industry before joining the cast of that movie. Christened after Herman Melville by his screenwriter mother, Poupaud launched off into acting in primary school, with a role in La Ville des Pirates (1983), directed by the esteemed Raul Ruiz -- not a bad start for a ten-year-old. Sporting dual passions -- one for music, another for movies -- Poupaud cut his chops as a musician on the drums, then formed the Euro rock band Mud with his brother Yarol Poupaud, while continuing to land movie roles on the side.
Poupaud worked under the aegis of A-list French directors such as Jacques Doillon and Eric Rohmer -- typically pure romances or romantic comedies, often typecast as a snotty, slightly conceited jerk. Early parts included the younger brother in Jean-Jacques Annaud's The Lover (1991), the lead role of Gaspard in Rohmer's A Summer's Tale (1996), and several more collaborations with Ruiz, such as that director's 1994 Fado, Major and Minor. Le Divorce represented Poupaud's first international role -- an attempt to rise above his largely continental appeal and renown.
Poupaud subsequently received top billing in François Ozon's 2005 Time to Leave, as a high-profile, gay fashion photographer struggling with inoperable brain cancer. Among other things, the film demonstrated that Poupaud could hold his own alongside Jeanne Moreau. The actor followed this up with a respectable contribution as the romantic lead in Zoe Cassavetes' drama Broken English (2007), opposite American indie darling Parker Posey. The next year, he had a small role as Johnny "Goodboy" Jones in the Wachowski Brothers' elaborate, CGI-infused live-action production of Speed Racer.