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Irène Jacob (Suresnes, July 15, 1966) is a French-Swiss actress and singer.
Born in Paris, but after three years she lived in Geneva, where she moved with her parents. She was the youngest of four children and was educated in an environment of high intellectual and artistic level (her father was a physicist, her mother a psychologist, a brother, a musician and the other two were scientists.) In Geneva she became passionate about theater:
My family was very reserved with feelings and never talked about them […]. I think part of the reason why I felt attracted to the theater is that I wanted to get closer to their stories because they could help me relate to my family.
Jacob developed his interest in acting after watching the Charlie Chaplin films. “They made me scream and cry, and that was exactly what I expected from a movie: to awaken my feelings.”
He made his debut in theater at the age of eleven. He studied at the Geneva Conservatory of Music and also learned foreign languages (speaks English, German, French and Italian.) In 1984 he moved to Paris, where he studied acting at the French National Academy of Rue Blanche. He completed his training at the Dramatic Studio in London.
He made his debut in the cinema in a small role of Au revoir les enfants (Adiós, muchachos, 1987) by Louis Malle, where he plays a piano teacher. The following year he participates with another secondary role in La Bande des quatre (1988).
In 1991, he stars in La Double Vie de Véronique by Krzysztof Kieslowski, in which he plays two women, one Polish and one French. With this film he will get the prize for female performance at the Cannes Film Festival. Jacob was then twenty-four years old and received numerous offers to work in Hollywood (among others, for Indecent Proposal by Adrian Lyne, role that finally played Demi Moore and in Pulp Fiction by Quentin Tarantino, which eventually was for actress Maria de Medeiros) , but preferred to focus on European cinema. Kieslowski relied on her for a new leading role in Trois Couleurs: Rouge, where he shared a cast with a French film star such as Jean-Louis Trintignant. Rouge closed the trilogy Trois couleurs, whose previous female protagonists had been Juliette Binoche (in Bleu) and Julie Delpy (in Blanc). Trois Couleurs: Rouge had an extraordinary critical success. He received three nominations at the Óscar Awards (best director, best film and best original screenplay). She was also nominated as best film or best foreign film in The National Board of Review, New York Film Critics Circle Awards, National Society of Film Critics Awards and Los Angeles Film Critics Association Awards. In the César Awards she was nominated for best film, best actor (Jean-Louis Trintignant), best actress (Irène Jacob), best director (Krzysztof Kieslowski) and best script (Krzysztof Kieslowski and Krzysztof Piesiewicz). The New York Times included the film in its list of “The best 1000 films ever filmed.” “
After this success, Jacob began an important international career in 1995, working with Michelangelo Antonioni and Wim Wenders on Beyond the Clouds, in the adaptation of the homonymous novel by Joseph Conrad Victoria and in William Shakespeare’s classic, Othello . He soon became part of American productions such as the independent drama Trusting Beatrice and the action film US Marshals (1998) by Stuart Baird, where he starred opposite Tommy Lee Jones and Wesley Snipes. In 1999 he collaborated in films of different genres (and filmed in different countries) that have in common an Irène in more aggressive roles, full of sensuality and erotic presence, among which are: Spy games, an action comedy directed by the Finnish Ilkka Järvi-Laturi; the period drama My life so far by the renowned British filmmaker Hugh Hudson, along with Colin Firth and Malcolm McDowell, and the political thriller George Hickenlooper’s The Big Wheel of Power, set during an election in the state of Missouri and whose main attribute is his argument based on an original script – and unpublished until then – of Orson Welles. From this period also date the comedies of acute social satire Londinium and L’Affaire Marcorelle, where he again plays a young Polish woman, no longer a lyrical singer, but a scathing prostitute involved in a case of extortion to a magistrate.
After some years absent from the big screen in which he participated in theater and telefilms, he would return to the cinema in 2004 with Automme and in a secondary role in the epic adventure film Nouvelle France. In 2006 he filmed in Spain The Education of the Fairies by José Luis Cuerda and in 2007 he starred in Martin Frost’s The Inner life under the renowned novelist and filmmaker Paul Auster in the company of David Thewlis and Michael Imperioli. That same year he also participated in the drama Nessuna qualitá agli eroi, directed by Paolo Franci and with Bruno Todeschini and Elio Germano, a film that caused some controversy after its premiere at the Venice International Film Festival. In 2009 he participated with a small role in the French youth comedy Les Beaux Gosses by Riad Sattouf. In 2010, he joined the cast of Rio Sex Comedy, again with Bill Pullman, Charlotte Rampling and with his real life partner, the French actor Jérôme Kircher. The film premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival.
His filmography is very varied and includes comedies, dramas and action films. His career has been developed mainly in Europe and he has participated in high and low budget films, with prestigious directors and with others almost unknown. He has also been a member of important film juries, such as the Locarno International Film Festival, which he presided over in 2007.
Apart from his film career, he has also dedicated himself to the song. He has collaborated, among others, with the French rock group Weepers Circus and with Vincent Delerm.
Irène Jacob at the Cannes Film Festival (1991). Photograph by Georges Biard.
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