The next Latina to win an Oscar following Penelope Cruz’s coup for 2009’s Vicky Cristina Barcelona will not be—as you might expect—Salma Hayek, Jennifer Lopez, Eva Mendes or some other A-list Latina star. Instead, it’s a relatively unknown actress named Bérénice Bejo—an Argentinean beauty who stars in The Artist, a stylish French romance film set during Hollywood’s silent film era (1927-1931).
The film, which premiered at the Cannes Film Festival earlier this year (and opens in the U.S. on Nov. 23), tells the story of a beloved male Hollywood star named George Valentin (Jean Dujardin) who dreads the inevitable day when talkies will replace silent films in Hollywood—and bring an end to his career. Bejo plays Dujardin’s love interest Peppy Miller, a young dancer and rising star whose career starts to take off just as George's career begins to decline.
Born in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Bejo and her family moved to France when she was three. There, she began her career as a child star and at the age of 20, Bejo—the daughter of Argentine filmmaker Miguel Bejo—made her screen debut in France. In 2001, she was introduced to U.S. audiences as Heath Ledger’s love interest Christiana in the 2001 film, A Knight’s Tale.
Bejo is married to Michel Hazanavicius, the French filmmaker who directed The Artist. She ddn’t have to audition for her role in the film, because Hazanavicius wrote the part of Peppy Miller specifically for her. “It was important for me to find a way to be an American actress—which I’m not," the proud Latina has said. "I’m an Argentine and live in France—so I watched a lot of Janet Gaynor and early Joanne Crawford."
The Artist isn’t just a film about the silent film era—but rather it is itself a modern day silent film that uses intertitles to tell its story. And that’s not the only novelty about the film: Like George Clooney’s 2005 Edward R. Murrow biopic, Good Night & Good Luck, The Artist is shot entirely in black and white.
At the Cannes Film Festival in May, Jean Dujardin won the Best actor award for his role in the film, and leading Oscar pundits say the French actor is one of the frontrunners to win Best Actor at next year’s Oscars. But Dujardin isn’t the only one getting Oscar buzz—in recent weeks several Oscar pundits and critics have also said that Bejo deserves an Oscar nomination for her work in the film.
Nathaniel Rogers, author of the popular Oscars website, The Film Experience—and one of the most respected Oscar experts on the web—has Bejo on his shortlist for an Oscar nomination alongside stars like Sandra Bullock (Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close), Vanessa Redgrave (Coriolanus) and Octavia Spencer (The Help). Rogers tells Latina.com he thinks Bejo’s got an “excellent” shot at being nominated for Best Supporting Actress this year. "Bejo studied Janet Gaynor (the first Best Actress winner) and other early film stars and it shows,” says Rogers. “There's even a little of Joan Crawford's Dancing Lady in her long limbed exuberant winking performance. It isn't just a novelty role, Bejo gets to run the gamut from slapstick comedy to showbiz melodrama to romantic angst. The Academy's acting branch is sure to be tapping their feet to her dancing and I suspect scribbling her name on their ballots, too."
Rogers isn’t the only Oscar pundit who thinks Bejo’s looking good for a nomination—another popular Oscar website, InContention’s Guy Lodge also has the Argentine actress on their shortlist for a Best Supporting Actress nomination, and The Wall Street Journal raves about Bejo's performance. “For the last few months, film-festival goers have been buzzing about Jean Dujardin's performance as a silent-film actor in "The Artist, but Mr. Dujardin's co-star, Berenice Bejo, is equally terrific as an actress making her way in Hollywood when "talkies" are introduced.”
All of the buzz for her performance helps Bejo’s chances at a nomination. It also helps that The Artist is being predicted to win Best Picture at the Oscars and that the film is produced by The Weinstein Co (which was of course behind last year’s winner, The King’s Speech). Whether Berenice becomes the next Latina to win an Oscar—or not—one thing’s for sure: this is one silent film star that everyone is going to be talking about!