Gaspard Ulliel, César-winning French actor, known for films such as A Very Long Engagement and Hannibal Rising – obituary


Gaspard Ulliel, the actor, who died of a skiing accident at the age of 37, rose to fame around the world after playing the young Hannibal Lecter in Hannibal Rising (2007) and becoming the muse of Chanel cologne; Yet he was already a star in his native France, working with directors André Téchiné and Jean-Pierre Jeunet and winning three consecutive César nominations before the age of 21.

Ulliel in Hannibal Rising, 2007 - Alamy

© Alamy
Ulliel in Hannibal Rising, 2007 – Alamy

Its wolfish look was a boon for mainstream brands. In 2008 he appeared alongside Kate Moss in print ads for Longchamp, and in a 2010 Chanel ad directed by Martin Scorsese he played a director bewildered at a press conference by memories of a former love. His cinematographic work revealed a kindness reminiscent of earlier eras: as he once said to Le Figaro, “I am an old soul in a young body”.

Gaspard Ulliel in 2018 - JOEL SAGET/AFP via Getty Images

© Provided by The Telegraph
Gaspard Ulliel in 2018 – JOEL SAGET/AFP via Getty Images

Ulliel was born on November 25, 1984 in the Parisian suburb of Boulogne-Billancourt, to designer Serge Ulliel and his stylist wife Christine.

At the age of six, he was attacked by a friend’s Dobermann, leaving him with a scar on his left cheek; he would later call it “a beautiful gash that turns into a dimple”, while the newspaper Liberation dubbed it “the most famous scar in French cinema”.

He made his debut at the age of 12 in a televised medical drama, Une Femme en Blanc (1996), alongside Sandrine Bonnaire, later describing his first day of filming as “a revelation”: “I liked the atmosphere, concentration, teamwork, the same energy directed towards the same goal.

He made his big-screen debut as a wounded shepherd in the gory fantasy Brotherhood of the Wolf (2001). After leaving school, he got his first César nomination (for Most Promising Male Newcomer) in the pleasant adaptation of Joseph Connolly Summer Things (2002) by Michel Blanc; then he studied cinema at the University of Saint-Denis.

In 2004, veteran French director André Téchiné cast Ulliel in the war drama Strayed (Les Égarés) as a young man who assists a widowed godmother (Emmanuelle Béart) as she flees Nazi-occupied Paris. Ulliel showed attentive courtesy – indeed, a pivotal sex scene was delayed until the last day of filming to help the young actor get over his nerves.

Video: French actor Gaspard Ulliel dies in skiing accident (NBC News)

French actor Gaspard Ulliel dies in a skiing accident

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He eventually won the César for Most Promising Newcomer in 2005 for playing Audrey Tautou’s absentee beloved in Jeunet’s lavish World War I saga A Very Long Engagement (2004).

Hannibal Rising, which found the killer rising from the ashes of Nazi-ravaged Lithuania, was supposed to be Ulliel’s international breakthrough. But, rushed into production following author Thomas Harris’ just-released origin story, the film proved disappointing, barely recouping its budget despite being widely released.

He did better playing a real holy monster – Yves Saint Laurent – in Saint Laurent by Bertrand Bonello (2014), which earned him his first César nomination for best actor, but which he lost to Pierre Niney, the Saint Laurent of the rival biopic Yves Saint Laurent (2014). Still, with his full-frontal nudity, Ulliel’s performance demonstrated a newfound maturity: he was no longer Strayed’s blushing baby, and no longer to be considered a pretty face.

Ulliel with Nathalie Baye in It's only the end of the world, 2016 - alamy

© Provided by The Telegraph
Ulliel with Nathalie Baye in It’s only the end of the world, 2016 – alamy

Ulliel’s crowning achievement came with Xavier Dolan’s Only the End of the World (2016), a star-studded ensemble piece in which he played a terminally ill writer enduring a particularly grueling homecoming. Reviews were mixed – The Telegraph’s Tim Robey, although largely enthusiastic, acknowledged the drama was “often infuriating”. Nevertheless, Ulliel’s performance finally earned him the César for best actor, at 32 years old.

His international profile had been set for a boost later this year. On the day Ulliel collided with another skier on the slopes of the Swiss Alps, Marvel released the trailer for their new sci-fi series Moon Knight, in which the actor appears alongside Oscar Isaac and Ethan Hawke; the show will premiere on Disney Plus in March.

Ulliel is survived by his partner, the model and singer Gaëlle Piétri, and their son Orso.

In a statement on the occasion of the actor’s sudden death, President Emmanuel Macron described Ulliel as “an icon of French elegance who dazzled the camera”.

Gaspard Ulliel, born November 25, 1984, died January 19, 2022

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