Brasseur was born Pierre-Albert Espinasse. The son of an actress, he began his drama studies with film actor Harry Baur. Onstage from age 15, he made his film debut five years later in La Fille de l'Eau (1924). With his role in Marcel Carne's Port of Shadows (1938) Brasseur moved into the front ranks of the French cinema. A distinguished, imposing actor, he was very skillful in giving voice to irony and wit. Brasseur appeared in a wide variety of roles in over 80 films, most notably those written by Jacques Prevert. He was also a poet who wrote several plays and an autobiography, Ma Vie Envrac. He and his former wife, actress Odette Joyeux, are the parents of film actor Claude Brasseur.