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by Peter Steel
photographs by Dominique Issermann
June 2000

The French Temptress who tamed Johnny Depp.

There’s a moment in The Girl on the Bridge, Vanessa Paradis’ new movie, in which the French actress sidles up to a stranger on a train and asks if he believes in luck. “Yes,” he replies. “Because you have cuddly breasts.” It’s a nice observation, but hardly astute. A blind man could tell as much. On screen, Paradis is the kind of woman you want to take in your arms and run with, though it helps that she plays up the vulnerability in her role as Adele, a girl saved from suicide by a knife thrower who then proceeds to use her as an erotically charged target.

Over here, Paradis remains the girl who had a minor pop hit with “Joe Le Taxi,” when she was 14. The single did better in Europe, staying at the top of the French charts for 11 weeks. More importantly, it launched her erratic career as singer, model, and actress. Her musical successes have been matched by as many misses, but her talents are more persuasive on screen. She won a French Oscar for her debut movie, Noce Blanche, and The Girl on the Bridge has been receiving terrific notices in Europe.

“It was a complete experience, complete in every emotion,” she says. “I was crazy about the script and I loved the director [Patrice Leconte]. I read it in an hour and a half, holding my breath. When I finished it, I was like, phew! I was so passionate about it.”

The acclaim that Paradis receives for her movies is a far cry from the reception she got after working on “Joe Le Taxi” with renowned French crooner Serge Gainsbourg, who recorded “Je T’Aime” with Jane Birkin the 1960s. “Girls treated me as a bitch and pulled my hair,” says Paradis. “They thought everything that happened to me was too good to be true. Just before I went off to the States one woman came up to me and spat in my face.”

At 27, Paradis retains the aura of a teenager, her pronounced cheekbones and soft brown eyes a near perfect fit for her paramour Johnny Depp, who ditched Kate Moss after meeting Paradis in a Parisian restaurant two years ago. They are unmarried, but have a one-year-old daughter, Lily-Rose, with another child on the way.

While Depp’s star has helped illuminate Paradis—who previously dated Lenny Kravitz—he seems to have needed her more than she needed him. The devil in Depp that couldn’t be tamed by Winona or Kate, has waned since Paradis made him a father. And though she’s coy on the details of their relationship, she’s effusive in his praise. “I believe that the man or woman of your life needs to be a person that you want to give everything to and who you love deeply and eternally,” she says. “That person makes you a better person because there is no reason to be bad and mean and selfish.”

Perhaps to satiate those who can’t imagine a virtuous Depp, Paradis claims to like a guy who’s prone to unpredictable spells of bad behavior. Just as well, really. In February last year, after the couple had eaten at a London restaurant, Depp—flourishing a two-foot piece of wood—charged at waiting photographers and had to be restrained by police, much to the delight of Britain’s tabloid press.

“If you are with someone who always does what you want, exactly when you expect it, you are never going to be surprised,” Paradis says. “It’s better to be with someone insufferable who, out of the blue, will make the magnificent gesture.” She glides easily into what she clearly wanted to talk about all along: “But a child changes everything.”

She says that the effect of having a child has been to dislodge her from too much self-absorption and self-pity. “I’m such a lucky person, it’s scary. I had all this success, but I was always sad, and I thought, my god, I have no right to be sad. There’s people sleeping in the street and you’ve got all this. But I was sad because it was just mine, and I don’t want it to be just mine. I want to share it.”

Paradis captivates. Perhaps it’s her exuberant, slightly disheveled English, how her sentences scramble over each other in her eagerness. Or maybe it’s just that the former Chanel covergirl looks so great. She claims that her goal is a simple life, the sound of noisy kids in a wooden house. “I’ve always done things with my heart,” she says. “I don’t want to be number one. I don’t care about this business, otherwise I’d get an agent in Hollywood and work my ass off.”

Paradis can’t talk for long without enthusing again about her daughter. “It’s just pure love,” she says. “Whenever you come home, or when you’re sad or you’re very mad, you see that little angel’s face and everything is erased. She’s the best therapy. And, yeah, she does make everything worth it. You know why you wake up.”

-- donated by Joni