As the only child of a stylist father and a mother who produced runway exhibitions, French actor Gaspard Ulliel came of age in the shadow of the Parisian fashion world. Ulliel undertook an early foray into drama, when an adult friend of the family sought to establish an agency for child actors and -- impressed by Ulliel's visage and natural ability -- asked the then 11-year-old actor to join. Ulliel instantly agreed, and debuted with roles in numerous French telemovies.
Ulliel's first taste of international exposure arrived in 2001, when the 17-year-old actor appeared as Louis in Christophe Gans and Pascal Laugier's fantasy and martial arts epic Brotherhood of the Wolf (aka La Pacte des Loups). Derived from a legendary series of events in French history, the picture weaves the tale of a strange, rhinoceros-like beast that prowls the countryside and devours hundreds of victims, but is countered by a team of local warriors. Although the role of Louis was a relatively small part, Ulliel's work caught the eye of the brilliant French director André Téchiné, who cast the teenager opposite the luminous French actress Emmanuelle Béart in his WWII drama Strayed (aka Les Égarés, 2003). As Yves, a rough-hewn, working-class Frenchman who helps lead Béart's widow and her children to safety in an isolated, rural cabin (and subsequently conducts an affair with Béart), Ulliel impressed everyone with his haunting presence. As one journalist observed, this role finally "made critics take notice."
Ulliel continued his history of pairing up with French screen goddesses when director Jean-Pierre Jeunet (of Delicatessen and Amélie fame) enlisted him as the missing soldier lover and fiancé of Audrey Tautou's Mathilde in the 2004 wartime romance A Very Long Engagement (aka Un Long Dimanche de Fiançailles). The picture swept away the hearts of critics and the public when it premiered in late 2004 and received two Academy Award nominations. And although Ulliel's character is, by the very nature of the story, offscreen for much of the film, he made an enduring impression and continued his career ascent.
Ulliel received premier onscreen billing for the first occasion in 2005, as Simon, a young man en route to spend Christmas with his über-dysfunctional French family, in Rodolphe Marconi's disturbingly intimate drama The Last Day (aka La Dernier Jour). That same year, Ulliel joined the massive ensemble cast of Richard Dembo's La Maison de Nina, and shot "Marais," Gus Van Sant's contribution to the film-a-sketch Paris, Je t'Aime (2007), while gearing up for his American debut.
That debut (a natural for Ulliel, who speaks fluent English) arrived in the form of Peter Webber's 2007 horror picture Hannibal Rising -- the Dino de Laurentiis Company's fifth installment in the ongoing series of films about Hannibal "The Cannibal" Lecter, the psychopathic madman who devours his victims. In the film, Ulliel plays Lecter at a young age. The story finds him watching helplessly, and driven over the edge into insane fury, as his family is slaughtered by a bunch of crazed soldiers; he then ultimately enrolls in medical school to learn how to extract brutal anatomical revenge on the war criminals responsible for extinguishing his clan. He went on to appear in The Third Part of the World, Inside Ring, The Vintner's Luck and The Princess of Montpensier.