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France's Dany Boon has the last laugh

The actor, who developed his comic side as a youngster to cheer up his troubled mother, will attend a screening of two of his most popular films Wednesday at the Egyptian.

September 14, 2011|By Susan King, Los Angeles Times
  • Dany Boon is a popular comic, actor, writer and director in France.
Dany Boon is a popular comic, actor, writer and director in France. (Wally Skalij, Los Angeles…)

A life of rejection and tears naturally could lead a child to grow up to become despondent, a loner.

For France's Dany Boon, it led to the pursuit of a career as a comic actor. Now one of Europe's highest-paid film stars, the funnyman, who will appear Wednesday night at the Egyptian Theatre for a screening of two of his biggest films, "Welcome to the Sticks" and "Nothing to Declare," recalls a childhood in which he wanted nothing more than to make his mother happy, "and the best way to do that was to make my mother laugh."

Pregnant with him at 17, Boon's mother was disowned by her father for her relationship and eventual marriage to a 34-year-old Frenchman from North Africa. "My grandfather told my mother if you go with this guy, I don't want to see you any more for my entire life," Boon says. "I used to see my grandmother a little bit but it was in secret and she would tell me really bad things about my father. They said above all, he's not French. But he was French, just not from here."

His most vivid memory of the estrangement between his mother and grandfather was of a day when he was 5. He and his mother dressed up to attend her younger brother's wedding. But her father wouldn't allow her in. "We stayed in the parking lot in front of City Hall," Boon recalls. "She was crying. We were so close but we couldn't go in. That was the start of my career. First of all, I wanted to understand why he didn't love us and why my mother was crying. All I wanted to do was make her laugh. I wanted her to be proud of me."

The star of such acclaimed French films as "Joyeux Noel," "My Best Friend" and "Micmacs" soon discovered he could cheer his mother up by telling jokes and imitating conversations he had overheard. His audience grew bigger when as a teenager he became a street performer doing pantomime and playing guitar.

His career caught fire as he hit the comedy-club circuit in Paris at 26 and around France with his wry observations on the cultural prejudices in the country. His stand-up comedy engagements still sell out every year at the famed Paris Olympia music hall.

Boon, 45, who with his family splits his time between Los Angeles and Paris, explores those same cultural differences in the films he has directed, especially 2008's "Welcome to the Sticks," about a post office administrator caught scamming an inspector who is sent to a small town in northern France where the inhabitants speak a dialect called Ch'ti, which Boon spoke until he was 12. The broad comedy became France's biggest box-office hit and was an international success. The Italian remake is the fourth highest-grossing film in Italy's history. A German remake has been set and Boon will be the artistic advisor on a proposed American version.

The actor's 2010 comedy "Nothing to Declare," about a French-hating Belgium border patrol officer who is teamed with a French officer, also struck a chord with audiences. After Wednesday's screening of the two films at the American Cinematheque event, they will be available on iTunes.

Boon's greatest achievement, though, may be his mother's pride in her oldest son. Though she protests when he wants to give her money, she did allow Boon to buy her a car and a house in their hometown. "I wanted her to come to Paris and she said, 'No, I want to stay in the north of France.'"

Because they are only 17 years apart, they have a special bond. "Sometimes she was my mother," Boon says, laughing, "but we are really like brother and sister."

susan.king@latimes.com

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