TOM LEONARD: Has France’s most famous ladies’ man finally crossed the line?

Whether relieving himself in front of horrified fellow passengers on a plane, boasting of his youth as a grave-robbing rent boy or cosying up to the world’s nastiest autocrats, Gerard Depardieu is a star who appears to revel in his wild excesses.

In France, he is revered as a national hero and ‘une force de nature’, forgiven every scandal as the country’s greatest male actor: a wine-guzzling bon viveur and the antithesis of the clean-cut, gym-sculpted Hollywood star. ‘The man is dark, the actor is huge,’ Catherine Deneuve has said of her compatriot and co-star in numerous films.

That darkness may now finally overshadow his undeniable talents on screen. The hulking 72-year-old star of Cyrano De Bergerac and Jean De Florette has been charged with rape and sexual assault on an actress in her 20s.

The offences allegedly occurred in August 2018. Depardieu’s accuser was an aspiring actress and family friend who had gone alone to his £45 million mansion in Paris’s Saint-Germain neighbourhood. The woman, who has not been named, was reportedly rehearsing at the time for a forthcoming play, although insiders now deny she had met the star for acting help.

Cannes 2015: A lunge at Isabelle Huppert but Depardieu misses his mark as the actress shies away

Cannes 2015: A lunge at Isabelle Huppert but Depardieu misses his mark as the actress shies away

Cannes 2015: A lunge at Isabelle Huppert but Depardieu misses his mark as the actress shies away 

She has claimed that on two separate occasions, a week apart, he raped her. She later told her mother, who went to the police. An initial investigation into the allegations was dropped for lack of evidence but subsequently reopened, and criminal charges were filed in December.

Yesterday, sources close to the investigation reportedly said Depardieu was filmed by a CCTV camera performing a sex act on his accuser. It was also reported that the woman had been ‘in denial’ about the first time he allegedly raped her but was then assaulted a second time.

She had been suffering at the time from a medical condition caused by low blood calcium that left her ‘ill and confused’ about what was happening, said the source.

Additional evidence reportedly includes ‘disturbing text messages’ in which Dépardieu mentioned the late French singer Monique Serf, who was sexually abused by her father.

Depardieu’s high-profile lawyer Herve Temime (who has also represented the fugitive film director Roman Polanski) said yesterday: ‘Mr Depardieu is and remains presumed innocent. He strongly contests the accusations against him.’ He added that the actor is free but under judicial supervision.

In France, he is revered as a national hero and ‘une force de nature’, forgiven every scandal as the country’s greatest male actor: a wine-guzzling bon viveur and the antithesis of the clean-cut, gym-sculpted Hollywood star. Pictured: Depardieu with Fanny Ardant in 2017

In France, he is revered as a national hero and ‘une force de nature’, forgiven every scandal as the country’s greatest male actor: a wine-guzzling bon viveur and the antithesis of the clean-cut, gym-sculpted Hollywood star. Pictured: Depardieu with Fanny Ardant in 2017

In France, he is revered as a national hero and ‘une force de nature’, forgiven every scandal as the country’s greatest male actor: a wine-guzzling bon viveur and the antithesis of the clean-cut, gym-sculpted Hollywood star. Pictured: Depardieu with Fanny Ardant in 2017

Depardieu has previously said he had a ‘consensual relationship’ with the woman, to whom he had given career advice. When the accusations first emerged two years ago, Temime suggested they were ludicrous, saying: ‘No one who knows Gerard believes he would do anything like this.’

France’s arts and showbusiness worlds have echoed that scepticism, rallying round Depardieu as a gentle giant. One of the country’s most prominent showbusiness agents went so far as to publicly brand the young actress a liar who was merely looking for attention.

Illustrating France’s traditionally more laissez-faire attitude to sexual matters, Catherine Deneuve joined 99 other prominent French women in attacking the anti-harassment MeToo Movement in a letter defending men’s ‘freedom to bother women’. Marlene Schiappa, the government’s former gender equality minister, later called France ‘a paradise for sexual predators’.

Since then, however, the country has been rocked by a string of high-profile sex abuse scandals. Film director Luc Besson has been accused by the Dutch actress Sand Van Roy of repeatedly raping her at a Paris hotel in 2018. Patrick Poivre d’Arvor, one of France’s best-known TV presenters, was this month accused of rape. Both men have firmly denied the accusations.

Rape charges against the country’s greatest actor brought by a woman almost 50 years younger than him are bound to reignite the debate in France over sexual misconduct.

The hulking 72-year-old star of Cyrano De Bergerac and Jean De Florette has been charged with rape and sexual assault on an actress in her 20s. Pictured: Depardieu with Ornella Muti in Cologne in 2015

The hulking 72-year-old star of Cyrano De Bergerac and Jean De Florette has been charged with rape and sexual assault on an actress in her 20s. Pictured: Depardieu with Ornella Muti in Cologne in 2015

The hulking 72-year-old star of Cyrano De Bergerac and Jean De Florette has been charged with rape and sexual assault on an actress in her 20s. Pictured: Depardieu with Ornella Muti in Cologne in 2015

Not only that, they are likely to focus the spotlight on Depardieu’s reckless and often ugly private life.

Previously, the star has been open about what he has called his ‘hooligan side’, bragging that it probably explained why Vladimir Putin likes him.

No celebrity is rougher round the edges than Depardieu, who says that, when he was a child, his family were so poor they ate hedgehogs. His father was an illiterate, alcoholic metalworker and his mother had considered aborting him.

Young Gerard soon turned to crime, not only prostituting himself to lorry drivers as a schoolboy but digging up graves to loot the dead of their jewellery and even their shoes.

‘Functionally illiterate’, he left home at 12 and took up with two prostitutes, moving to Paris and breaking into acting, he admitted, for the money. He spent time in prison for car theft but was saved from homelessness by a gay theatrical talent-spotter who paid for him to study drama.

Berlin 2012: An unexpected peck for co-star Catherine Deneuve from Depardieu

Berlin 2012: An unexpected peck for co-star Catherine Deneuve from Depardieu

Berlin 2012: An unexpected peck for co-star Catherine Deneuve from Depardieu 

The French director Bertrand Blier, who propelled Depardieu to overnight domestic stardom playing a violent criminal in the 1974 film Les Valseuses, said he was also a thug off-screen.

‘We literally had to follow him at night to stop him getting into punch-ups,’ Blier recalled. ‘He would deliberately go into the most dangerous areas, looking for trouble. Even now when he arrives at the door, I think, “Where are the valuables?”.’

He is still sometimes pugnacious. In 2012, he was accused of punching a motorist in the face after his scooter collided with a car in Paris.

Although he is a workaholic who has made more than 180 films in both Europe and Hollywood (including Green Card, 1492, Hamlet and The Man In The Iron Mask), it’s a miracle his career wasn’t ended years ago by an apparent off-screen death wish that has resulted in 18 motorcycle accidents.

Not for him Hollywood diets — he weighs more than 20st and has had at least five heart bypass operations. ‘I’m happy with very little on this earth . . . but I do like to have a lot in my glass,’ he has said. His claim to get through up to 14 bottles of wine a day are no idle boast, say those who have seen him in action.

Venice 2017: Model Angela Simon gets a kiss from Gerard Depardieu during the 74th Venice Film Festival

Venice 2017: Model Angela Simon gets a kiss from Gerard Depardieu during the 74th Venice Film Festival

Venice 2017: Model Angela Simon gets a kiss from Gerard Depardieu during the 74th Venice Film Festival

He was once so drunk he also consumed a full bottle of hair lotion, thinking it was an Italian liqueur, and on another occasion turned up drunk and foul-mouthed at a World War I commemoration. But he insists: ‘I’m never totally drunk, just a little p***ed.’

Fellow passengers thought he’d been drinking when, in 2011, he urinated in the aisle of a Paris-to-Dublin Air France flight after being told he had to wait 15 minutes before using the lavatories. In 2013, he was fined after falling off his scooter while driving drunk.

In 2016, however, he claimed he’d given up boozing, shocking France by announcing: ‘I really no longer like drunkenness.’

He has a reputation as an inveterate womaniser — former lovers include Bond Girl and ‘face’ of Chanel No 5 Carole Bouquet — but admits he hasn’t been a great father to the four children he has sired by various partners. They include the late Guillaume, by Depardieu’s marriage to his Jean de Florette co-star Elisabeth Guignot.

Guillaume inherited his father’s wild streak — after becoming a rent boy and being twice jailed for heroin and theft offences, he lost a leg in a motorcycle accident and died of pneumonia aged 37.

Depardieu has admitted his children are ashamed to bear his name and Guillaume’s sister, actress Julie Depardieu, even had plastic surgery five times times because — she said — she couldn’t bear to look like her ‘hoodlum’ father.

Depardieu’s romantic life currently revolves around Clementine Igou, a Harvard graduate 30 years his junior. The pair met in 2004 in Italy, where she works for a vineyard while he owns one, and were reportedly drawn to each other by their mutual love of wine.

The actor has a less comprehensible appetite for unsavoury world leaders. He first developed the taste by befriending Vladimir Putin, rhapsodising about Russia and even the ‘wonderful’ food of its notoriously grim prisons, which he said he had visited.

In 2013, after Depardieu moved to Belgium in fury over French tax rates for high earners, Putin offered him Russian citizenship. Depardieu said he would move there but, after failing to sell his Paris mansion five years ago, he had second thoughts.

Depardieu is also friends with Ramzan Kadyrov, president of the Chechen Republic, a brutal former rebel warlord and Putin ally who has been personally accused of torture and murder. Depardieu attended his birthday party in 2012.

He even trumped that six years later by mysteriously turning up among the goose-stepping soldiers and oppressed citizens of North Korea to celebrations in Pyongyang of the pariah state’s 70th anniversary.

He has also admitted being friends with Fidel Castro, investing in a Cuban oilfield and bonding with the late autocrat over their mutual love of food.

These and other idiosyncracies do not, of course, make Depardieu a sexual predator. The actor, who has proudly claimed that ‘I have stayed friends with every woman I have ever been in love with’, has not faced any previous accusations of this kind.

However, even the sympathetic French may struggle to save their favourite enfant terrible from his latest crisis.

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