Nine Hollywood Vehicles for Foreign Stars

Catherine Deneuve in The Hunger

It's an old showbiz tradition: make a name for yourself in your home country, do noteworthy work in a movie that scores US distribution, and Hollywood will soon come calling. It does say something about the American film industry that it has always been relatively open to immigrant talent. But those big breaks don't always pan out for the stars, due to language difficulties, their distaste for the studio machine, or indifferent American audiences. Here are nine renowned foreign actors whose Hollywood fortunes came and went.

  1. MACHIKO KYO in The Teahouse of the August Moon. Kyo, who died this year at 95, was Japan's most famous leading lady in the 1950s, appearing in fifty-five(!) films that decade. But it was mostly Akira Kurosawa's Rashomon and Kenji Mizoguchi's Ugetsu which alerted Stateside audiences to Kyo's talents. With Japanese culture briefly in vogue in the late '50s, Kyo was cast in her sole English language film, this 1956 comedy costarring Marlon Brando in yellowface. She never acted in Hollywood again.
  2. MARCELLO MASTROIANNI in Used People. I was surprised to learn that Mastroianni, despite being one of the most recognizable movie stars in the world, evaded Tinseltown almost completely. Like many on this list, he performed in a number of English language productions cobbled together with international money, but 1992's Used People, with Shirley MacLaine, Kathy Bates, Jessica Tandy, and Marcia Gay Harden, was Mastroianni's one true studio picture. That said, I should also cite his smaller role in the 1994 ensemble comedy Ready to Wear, produced by Miramax.
  3. CATHERINE DENEUVE in The Hunger. Mastroianni's onetime partner and France's most celebrated actress, Deneuve stated in a 2016 interview that she "only made two movies in Hollywood; they were not smashing successes". She didn't name the films, but one was most assuredly Hustle, a long-forgotten Burt Reynolds programmer made by Paramount in 1975. The other? I'm guessing The Hunger, the 1983 vampire film that has gained a cult following. But then there was The April Fools, a 1969 rom-com opposite Jack Lemmon. The latter, though made by Hollywood veterans, was something of an independent production – but then, arguably, so was The Hunger, although MGM distributed it.
  4. AUDREY TAUTOU in The Da Vinci Code. After 2001's Amélie made Tautou an art house darling, a studio offer was inevitable. Still, it was four years before she said yes to one: for The Da Vinci Code, released in 2006. Da Vinci wasn't Tautou's first English language film – that would be the 2002 British drama Dirty Pretty Things – but it was her last, although she's rumored to appear in John Turturro's 2020 Big Lebowski spinoff.
  5. AISHWARYA RAI BACHCHAN in The Pink Panther 2. India, of course, is home to the planet's largest film industry, and Rai – she tagged Bachchan onto her surname when she married in 2007 – is one of Bollywood's biggest stars. She's headlined several small UK films, but this execrable attempt at reviving the Pink Panther franchise marks the only time she dipped her toe into Hollywood waters.
  6. HANNA SCHYGULLA in The Delta Force. How do you go from being the muse of genius German auteur Rainer Werner Fassbinder to a supporting role in The Delta Force, one of the junkiest action flicks of the 1980s? This was technically an Israeli production, so maybe I should instead cite Kenneth Branagh's 1991 thriller Dead Again (produced by Paramount) as Schygulla's bona fide studio outing. But who could resist The Delta Force?
  7. ROBERT DONAT in The Count of Monte Cristo. Now here's an unusual case, in that Donat was English and in many respects was a Hollywood star, even though he only made one movie in Hollywood. It's said that the asthmatic Donat couldn't handle California's dry weather, so after completing The Count of Monte Cristo in 1934, he turned down Captain Blood and returned to the UK to star in The 39 Steps, Goodbye Mr. Chips (for which he won an Oscar), and other British classics before dying at the tender age of 53.
  8. MONICA VITTI in An Almost Perfect Affair. This Italian actress starred in the bulk of Michelangelo Antonioni's 1960s classics, from L'Avventura to Red Desert. By 1966 she was an international superstar, and made her English language debut in the British spy spoof Modesty Blaise. For whatever reason, Vitti and Hollywood never connected. At least not until she agreed to star opposite Keith Carradine in this barely-released Paramount rom-com from 1979, set at the Cannes Film Festival.
  9. TONY LEUNG CHIU-WAI in Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings. I'm jumping the gun here, since this Marvel blockbuster isn't due out until 2021. But it's remarkable that the sad-eyed Leung, who will play the villainous Mandarin, never made an English language film before now. He is indisputably one of the greatest stars in Hong Kong and Chinese cinema (In the Mood for Love; Hero; The Grandmaster; Infernal Affairs; Lust, Caution; Hard Boiled; etc.) and many of his contemporaries (Jet Li, Chow Yun-fat, Zhang Ziyi, Michelle Yeoh, Gong Li, etc.) have already done several Hollywood movies. I guess he was just waiting for the right vehicle?