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From locksmith to limelight: Dujardin, star of 'The Artist,' adored in France

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Remy de la Mauviniere/AP

(Read caption) French actor Jean Dujardin addresses reporters during an interview with the Associated Press in Paris, Tuesday, Jan. 24. The movie, 'The Artist', in which Jean Dujardin plays the main role, received 10 Academy Award nominations.

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Move over Gérard Depardieu. France has a new face on the global silver screen.

Jean Dujardin, who manages to be both suave and folksy – in a French sort of way – is a 2012 "Best Actor" Oscar nominee for his role in “The Artist,” a black and white “silent” throwback to the 1920s, with swing-era jazz and plenty of playful nostalgia.

Mr. Dujardin, unknown abroad until now, is loved in France as an unsnobby comic who rose from a working class Paris suburb, a one-time locksmith who was told his face was too rotund for the camera.

“I adore him …he is a born clown,” says Christine Bertholts, a legal secretary in Paris, in a typical comment. “And those eyebrows!”  

While France has produced several female Oscar winners, Dujardin, will be the first French male to take home the prize if he gets the nod on Feb. 26. 

Dujardin plays George Valentin, a silent star with a pencil-thin moustache who can’t or won’t make the transition to talkies and goes into a funk, but is saved by his adorable dog and a woman he generously helps when he’s riding high.

The French actor learned to tap dance for the part, and says his favorite American actor is Paul Newman. He is up against George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Demian Bichir, and Gary Oldman for the Oscar.  

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