PARIS – Julie Gayet, the actress whose love affair with French President Francois Hollande sparked a scandal and set tongues wagging worldwide, is a prolific performer known for her versatility across 70 film roles.
Slender, with light chestnut hair, a ready smile and delicate features, the 41-year-old actress has played in films ranging from romantic comedy to thriller to drama, and is also a well-known face on television.
But she has steered clear of the public eye since a glossy magazine reported her affair with Hollande.
She has sued the magazine, Closer, for violating her privacy. She is seeking €50,000 ($68,000) in damages and €4,000 in legal costs.
Closer reported in its Jan. 10 issue that Hollande, 59, routinely hops on a motor scooter driven by a bodyguard to spend the night with Gayet in an apartment near the Elysee Palace, and has the bodyguard bring them croissants in the morning.
The scandal took its latest twist Saturday when Hollande said he has split with his long-time partner, Valerie Trierweiler, who had been France’s first lady.
Trierweiler, 48, has been holed up in a presidential residence outside Paris after being hospitalized for a week when Closer broke its story.
Hollande has known Gayet since at least 2012, when she campaigned for him ahead of the presidential election that brought him to power.
She was featured in a campaign clip in which she described him as a “humble” and “fantastic” man “who is really tuned in.”
Known for being energetic and headstrong, Gayet also recently campaigned in favor of gay marriage, one of Hollande’s most socially divisive policy priorities.
Born in the upmarket Paris suburban commune of Suresnes on June 3, 1972, she trained as an actress and studied art history. After an internship in London with Jack Waltzer of the Actors Studio, she studied at the Fratellini Academy circus school in Paris and trained in classical singing.
She started her cinema career in 1993, appearing in Konstantinos Costa-Gavras’s “Little Apocalypse” and “Blue,” the first film in Krzysztof Kieslowski’s “Three Colors” trilogy.
But it was a 1996 comedy, Dominique Farrugia’s “Delphine 1, Yvan 0,” that made her a star in France.
She followed that with “Select Hotel,” directed by Laurent Bouhnik, playing a young drug-addicted prostitute — a role that won her the Romy Schneider prize in 1997, the French film industry’s most prestigious award for emerging young actresses.
She can currently be seen in “Les Ames de Papier” (“Paper Souls”) by Belgian director Vincent Lannoo.
Gayet is known for being daring when taking on movie projects.
“What I like about this profession is entering into different worlds,” she said in 2002.
In 2007 she opened a small production company, producing “Fix Me” by Palestinian Raed Andoni and “Bonsai” by Chile’s Cristian Jimenez, among other films.
She described it as a “logical follow-up” to her work as an actress.
Last year she co-directed a documentary on filmmakers.
Gayet is the mother of two adolescent children from her union with the Argentinian author and screenwriter Santiago Amigorena, whom she married in the early 2000s. They have since separated.