Actor turned writer/director Vincent Perez began his career as French cinema's "jeune premier romantique," its young, pretty-faced romantic. Journalists dubbed him "monsieur heartthrob" and a "nice bit of Europe-crumpet"; the readers of Paris Match magazine elected him the World's Sexiest French Speaker. He starred in a series of European costume dramas, in which he romanced France's top leading ladies -- Emmanuelle Béart, Catherine Deneuve, Isabelle Adjani -- and showed a penchant for full-frontal nude scenes. But he also matured into one of Europe's most gifted players, winning the prestigious Jean Gabin Prize and garnering several César nominations. He worked all over the world with many of cinema's greatest filmmakers before beginning his own promising directing career. While still admired for his charming good looks, Perez is ultimately known for his accomplishments and widely praised for his talents.
Born in Lausanne, Switzerland, Perez is the middle child of a German mother and a Spanish father. An imaginative youngster, he spent the majority of his time drawing pictures and composing stories. Perez idolized Charlie Chaplin and soon became interested in writing and producing films. He began putting on shows at school, which he would star in and direct. Yet, he dreamed of being a painter, sculptor, or photographer, and eventually dropped out to enter photography school. While there, he worked as a photographer's apprentice and took art classes. But the solitary lifestyle of an artist frightened him and, fearing that he would become too lonely, Perez quickly returned to acting. He enrolled at the Conservatory of Dramatic Arts in Geneva, where he studied before moving to Paris in 1984. He spent two years at the celebrated Conservatory of Dramatic Arts in Paris and then transferred to the experimental Ecole des Amandiers de Nanterre, where he trained under famed theater and opera director Patrice Chéreau. Perez impressed Chéreau, who cast the actor in many of his plays and is often credited with discovering him.
While still in school, the actor made his big-screen debut in Jean-Pierre Limosin's Gardien de la Nuit (Night Guardian) (1986). Chéreau then tapped Perez for his screen adaptation of Anton Chekov's Hôtel de France (1987), in which he stood out among ten fellow actors from Nanterre. He went on to star opposite Jacqueline Bisset in La Maison de Jade (The House of Jade) (1988) and as Laerte in a French television production of Hamlet (1988). A year later, at the insistence of star Gérard Depardieu, director Jean-Paul Rappeneau cast Perez in the role of the tongue-tied Christian de Neuvillette in his version of Cyrano de Bergerac (1990). Perez's standout performance in the internationally acclaimed film earned him a César nomination for Most Promising Young Actor.
After winning the Jean Gabin Prize for his work in the World War II drama La Neige et le Feu (Snow and Fire) (1991), Perez landed the romantic lead in Régis Wargnier's Indochine (Indochina) (1992). The Academy Award-winning period film starred Perez as a French officer stationed in Indochina who seduces a plantation owner (Catherine Deneuve) before falling in love with her adopted Indochinese daughter. With his reputation as a sex symbol now firmly established, Perez mocked himself in the romantic comedy Fanfan (1993) by playing a former lothario abstaining from sex (with French vixen Sophie Marceau) in order to make a relationship work. He then returned to costume dramas to star in Chéreau's magnificent La Reine Margot (Queen Margot) (1994). Based on Alexandre Dumas' novel, the bloody historical epic featured Perez as La Môle, a protestant noble who sacrifices himself for Margot (Isabelle Adjani). La Reine Margot took home the Jury Prize at the Cannes Film Festival and several César Awards.
Perez went on to join John Malkovich, Fanny Ardant, and Marcello Mastroianni in the international cast of Michelangelo Antonioni and Wim Wenders' four-part, multi-language collaboration, Par-Delà les Nuages (Beyond the Clouds) (1995). Starring in the film's final segment, he portrayed a young man who falls deeply in love with a beautiful girl (Irène Jacob) just as she is about to enter a convent.
Already a star in Europe, Perez began the second half of the '90s by signing on to three English-language films. Director Tim Pope, whom Perez had met briefly after finishing Le Reine Margot, tapped him to replace the late Brandon Lee in the sequel to 1994's The Crow, The Crow: City of Angels (1996). Beeban Kidron cast him as a shipwrecked Russian opposite Rachel Weisz in Swept From the Sea (1997), her adaptation of Joseph Conrad's novella Amy Foster. Miramax, Le Reine Margot's U.S. distributor, offered him the lead role in Nick Hamm's adaptation of Kate O'Brien's novel Mary Lavelle. Titled Talk of Angels (1998), the film featured Perez as an aristocrat's son who falls in love with an Irish nanny (Polly Walker) at the start of the Spanish Civil War.
Before Talk of Angels' release, the actor returned to French cinema to play a Duke in the swashbuckler Le Bossu (On Guard!) (1997) and earned his second César nomination. He then appeared as a Serbian Army sniper in HBO's Shot Through the Heart (1998), and as a transsexual in Chéreau's Ceux Qui M'Aiment Prendront le Train (Those Who Love Me Can Take the Train) (1999), for which he received another César nod.
The new millennium saw Perez continuing to work successfully in both Europe and Hollywood, portraying such memorable real-life figures as the 18th century French philosopher Denis Diderot in Le Libertin (The Libertine) (2000), Kuki Gallmann's (played by Kim Basinger) husband Paolo in I Dreamed of Africa (2000), and Viennese painter Oskar Kokoschka in Bruce Beresford's Bride of the Wind (2001). He also gave a scene-stealing performance as the Roman vampire Marius in Michael Rymer's adaptation of Anne Rice's The Vampire Chronicles, The Queen of the Damned (2002), before earning the title role in a remake of Fanfan la Tulipe (2003).
Over the course of his acting career, Perez began directing short films and made it his goal to helm a feature before turning 40. On the set of Indochine, he collaborated with the picture's director, Régis Wargnier, on L'Éxchange (1992), a short starring his Indochine co-stars Dominique Blanc and Andrzej Seweryn. The piece, which earned a Golden Palm nomination for Best Short at the Cannes Film Festival, so impressed Roman Polanski that the celebrated filmmaker called Perez four times in an effort to convince him to direct a feature film. In 1999, Perez received his second Golden Palm nomination for Rien Dire, a short written by his wife, actress Karine Sylla. The two then co-wrote Perez's feature-film directorial debut, Peau D'Ange (2002). Financed by Luc Besson's production company, Europa Corp., the film began shooting one month shy of Perez's 37th birthday.