One of the most celebrated and well-respected French actresses of her generation, Nathalie Baye has enjoyed a lengthy career that has included multiple César awards and work with directors ranging from François Truffaut (who cast her in her breakthrough film La Nuit Américaine ) to Diane Kurys. A versatile performer who exudes both sensuality and skillful comic timing, Baye has been used to great effect in everything from serious psychological dramas to light romantic comedies.
Born in Mainneville on July 6, 1948, Baye, the daughter of painters, developed a passionate love of dance at an early age. Her passion took her to New York at the age of 17, where she trained as a ballerina for two years. Upon her return to France, she became interested in acting and studied drama at the Paris Conservatoire. Over the course of her studies she gained a reputation as a talented comedienne and made her screen debut opposite Isabelle Adjani in the 1971 comedy Faustine. Two years later, Truffaut cast her in a supporting part in his acclaimed comedy La Nuit Américaine (known as Day for Night in the U.S.) and Baye subsequently landed her first starring role in Maurice Pialat's marriage drama La Guele Ouverte (1974).
After working steadily throughout the remainder of the 1970s in such films as Truffaut's L'Homme Qui Aimait les Femmes (1977) and La Chambre Verte (1978), Baye began the 1980s on a very positive note, winning a Best Supporting Actress César for her role as the estranged girlfriend of the protagonist of Jean-Luc Godard's 1979 romantic drama Sauve Qui Peut (la Vie). The decade proved to be an extremely significant one in Baye's career, as it saw her do some of her most acclaimed work. Two more Césars followed, for her performances in the comedy Une Etrange Affaire (1981) and the crime drama La balance (1982), the films' disparate genres further establishing Baye's great versatility. The actress also did strong work opposite Gérard Depardieu in the internationally acclaimed La Retour de Martin Guerre (1982), the psychological drama J'ai épousé une ombre (1982), Bertrand Blier's satirical Notre Histoire (1984), which starred her as a mysterious woman who seduces Alain Delon and practically her entire neighborhood, and Godard's Détective, a 1985 mystery that featured Baye as an unhappily married woman who becomes caught up in some shady dealings.
After a couple of critical and commercial missteps during the late '80s, Baye rebounded with two 1990 films, Nicole Garcia's drama Un Week-end Sur Deux and Diane Kurys' romantic comedy Baule-les-Pins. Both films featured her as a married woman experiencing some sort of crisis and set the tone for the kind of films she became predominately associated with for the remainder of the decade. Thankfully, Baye did not meet the fate of many actresses whose careers are edged out as they edge toward middle age and instead continued to portray vibrant, attractive women in thrillers, dramas, and comedies alike. Two of her more celebrated films were Une liaison pornographique (1999), which cast Baye as a woman who discovers that having an exclusively sexual affair is not as easy as she had imagined, and Vénus Beauté (Institut) (2000), a romantic comedy in which she played a beautician in search of love without commitment. She earned a Best Actress award at the Venice Film Festival for the former film and her fourth César nomination for the latter, further proof that the passing of years had only strengthened her appeal, rather than diminishing it.