If you're hoping to spot Audrey Tautou on your next trip to Paris, don't expect to find her in Montmartre, the hilly, bohemian neighborhood in which 2001's Amélie took place. ''It's become even more touristy,'' says the 26-year-old French actress who charmed audiences as that film's titular impish dogooder. ''I haven't boycotted it I mean, I still go there it's just not where I live.''
You couldn't really blame her if she did avoid that part of town, if only to maintain some distance from the character who made choppy, bobbed hair all the rage three years ago. A $174 million worldwide hit (which Miramax pushed to $33 million domestically), the film catapulted Tautou into the public spotlight so intensely that she wondered if she'd chosen the wrong profession. ''There were so many people who enjoyed this movie who were looking at me as if I was, I don't know, Jesus Christ, you know?'' she says with a chuckle on a recent November afternoon in a Manhattan hotel room. ''I was a bit oppressed by that attention. But with time, people forget, and life becomes quieter.''
Maybe, but not for long. Tautou (pronounced toe-TOO) may very well make the world fall in love with her all over again as Mathilde, the soft-spoken, courageous heroine of this month's WWI-era drama A Very Long Engagement. An epic that juxtaposes the sweetness of true love with the grisliness of war, the movie reunites Tautou with her Amélie director, Jean-Pierre Jeunet. Since its release in France last month, Engagement has steadily held the No. 1 spot at the box office and is already garnering critical praise here. Mathilde, a woman determined to find her presumed-to-be-dead fiancé (Gaspard Ulliel), is arguably the most demanding, grown-up part Tautou has played. ''It was while filming Amélie that I thought, Of course Audrey would make a superb Mathilde,'' recalls Jeunet, who struggled to get the project off the ground for more than a decade. (The $60 million movie is based on a 1991 French novel that Warner Bros. optioned shortly after its release.) ''She can do drama, comedy, she's very good at acting with her eyes, and she's grown so much. Plus, in France, most actors are only capable of playing themselves. But Audrey is different. She's a character actress.''