French actor dies in ski accident

Gaspard Ulliel was face of Chanel and star of Saint Laurent

by Richard Mowe

Gaspard Ulliel in one of his most hight profile roles as fashion legend Yves St Laurent
Gaspard Ulliel in one of his most hight profile roles as fashion legend Yves St Laurent Photo: Unifrance/Carole Bethuel
French actor Gaspard Ulliel - who has just died in a ski accident in the Alps, at the age of only 37 - was still at secondary school when he took his first steps in front of the camera. He played in a short film Alias by Marina De Van in 1999 which prompted Christophe Gans to offer him a small role in Brotherhood Of The Wolf (Le Pacte des loups).

One film lead to another … actor and director Michel Blanc took him under his wing for a role in his 2002 romantic comedy Summer Things (Embrassez qui vous voudrez) for which he was rewarded with a most promising actor César.

From then on he was rarely off the screen, managing to make one or two films a year with such prestigious directors as André Techiné in 2003’s Strayed (Les Egarés) with Emmanuel Béart's a widowed mother escaping Paris as the Germans descend in June 1940; Jean-Pierre Jeunet for A Very Long Engagement (Un long dimanche de fiançailles) as Audrey Tautou’s long lost fiancé for which he received another César for most promising actor in 2004. Just to demonstrate his versatility he incarnated a young Hannibal Lecter in the 2007 film of Hannibal Rising.

He worked with Gus Van Sant for a segment in the portmanteau film Paris Je t’Aime (2006) and worked with Martin Scorsese on an advert for the men’s fragrance Bleu by Chanel. Bertrand Tavernier chose him for his costume epic The Princess of Montpensier (La Princesse de Montpensier )

He scored much recognition for his touching performance as the fashion icon in Bertrand Bonello’s Saint Laurent in 2014. Two years later he worked with Canadian director Xavier Dolan on It’s Only the End of the World which brought him a best actor César for his work opposite Vincent Cassel and Nathalie Baye.

Gaspard Ulliel as he appeared in André Techiné’s Strayed in 2003
Gaspard Ulliel as he appeared in André Techiné’s Strayed in 2003 Photo: UniFrance
According to news reports, the accident happened on Tuesday (18 January) in the Savoie region of the Alps where an investigation in to the circumstances currently is under way. Mountain police had reported several incidents in the area due to hardened impacted snow. Ulliel was rushed to hospital in Grenoble where he died.

He was in a relationship with model-singer Gaëlle Piétri. The couple have one son who turns six next month. The whole family were enjoying the winter sports holiday together.

Ulliel earlier this year had finished work on the upcoming Disney superhero streaming series Moon Knight, set in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the trailer for which was unveiled on Tuesday. He portrayed Anton Mogart/Midnight Man.

In an interview he reflected on his humble beginnings: "I studied acting when I was really young, but it was something I did after school for fun with other kids. When I was 11 or 12 years old, a friend of a friend my mother was working at an agency and she was looking for young actors. She asked me if I wanted to give it a try and I said ‘yes,’ but just for fun. Quite quickly, I ended up with some small parts in films and I kept doing it, shooting maybe one or two things a year. I started acting on French TV with small parts. I like looking back on that today because I had a slow and regular progression as an actor. I started with small parts before going into feature films and that gave me time to think. It’s not before I reached 17 that I really decided to continue working in this industry. At first, it was just something I wanted to do for fun.”

On working with André Techiné he commented: "I was a really memorable experience for me to work on Strayed. That was an experience where I learned the most because he wouldn’t leave me alone, even for a second, between takes. He was really focused on his actors and that was really wonderful. I was young at the time and that was such an important film for me."

Among the tributes pouring in were contributions from French Prime Minister Jean Castex and Cannes Film Festival director Thierry Frémaux. Castex writing on Twitter said: “Gaspard Ulliel grew up with cinema and cinema grew with him. They loved each other madly. It is with a heavy heart that we will no longer see his most beautiful interpretations. We have lost a French actor.” Frémaux who frequently welcomed the actor on the Cannes red carpet for the premieres of many of his film said: "“Gaspard belonged to this new generation of actors who were making tomorrow’s French cinema. He knew how to select his roles and shaped his career which filled every promise.”

A spokesperson for Disney (producers of Moon Knight) told showbiz publication Variety: “We are deeply saddened to learn of the tragic passing of our friend and colleague Gaspard Ulliel. Our thoughts are with his family and friends during this time.”

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