Does news travel across oceans? You bet it does, sometimes with a charming French accent and sometimes not. Can you spot your local French celebrities?
The French are renowned for their culture and artistry, and are gaining a reputation worldwide for their passion for music and cinema. The country is home to some of the world’s greatest actors and singers, as well as some of the world’s most celebrated sports superstars. From fashion to language, the French influence is felt everywhere.
Brigitte Barbot and Marion Cotillard may be household names, and I know I’ve seen both Kylian Mbappé (footballer) and Gerrard Depardieu (actor) on American TV. But there some of these you may have to think about a bit.
Now, there are a lot of retired French actors, footballers, and politicians who are still household names and instantly recognizable to French people.
However, in the interest of keeping things brief and useful, I’ve only listed current French celebrities who are relatively active and regularly in the news today.
I. Actors & Actresses
Here are hottest actors and actresses of today, who have already transitioned from French films and tv shows, to anglophone audiences.
1. Omar Sy
Already well known on the French screen for roles like The Intouchables, his Netflix hit Arsene Lupin has made him even more famous.
The 4th of 8 children, Sy is the son of West African immigrants, growing up in the Parisian suburb of Yvelines. His other English roles include:
- X-Men: Days of Future Past
- Jurassic World
- Transformers: The Last Knight
With plenty of charm and smooth acting, it is clear that Omar Sy is just getting started.
2. Marion Cotillard
Having played characters like Edith Piaf and Joan of Arc, Cotillard has more than proved her acting chops.
She has one several awards, including an Academy Award for Best Actress, a Golden Globe Award, a BAFTA Award, two César Awards, and many more.
Her biggest films in English include:
- The Dark Knight Rises with Christopher Nolan
- The Immigrant with Joaquim Phoenix
- Allied with Brad Pitt
She is married to Guillaume Canet who is also a famous French actor, with whom she has 2 children.
3. Vincent Cassel
Vincent Cassel usually plays the bad guy in front of English-speaking audiences.
His most famous movies include:
- Ocean’s Twelve with George Clooney and Brad Pitt
- Ocean’s Thirteen with Clooney and Pitt
- Black Swan with Natalie Portman
- Jason Bourne with Matt Damon
Born in Paris to a dad who was an actor and mom as journalist, his sister is also an actress, while his brother is a rapper. Oh, and he used to be married to Italian actress Monica Bellucci, with whom he has 2 children.
4. Léa Seydoux
Léa Seydoux may only be in her mid-30s, but she has been a part of French cinema for a long time.
One of seven children, her mother was an actress and the Séydoux family is considered cinematic royalty as movie and film company producers.
However, she proved her talent on her own, winning several awards including the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival for her role as a lesbian art student in the critically acclaimed film Blue Is the Warmest Colour.
Seydoux has appeared in major Hollywood films including:
- Inglorious Bastards with Brad Pitt
- Robin Hood with Russell Crowe and Cate Blanchette
- Midnight in Paris directed by Woody Allen
- Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol with Tom Cruise
5. Melanie Laurent
Melanie Laurent was introduced to acting at the age of sixteen by legendary French actor Gérard Depardieu, who cast her in a small role in the romantic drama The Bridge (1999).
She went to star in many more films, picking up several Césars (the French version of the Oscars) along the way.
Her most famous English films include:
- Inglorious Bastards with Brad Pitt and Marion Cotillard
- Beginners with Ewan McGregor and Christopher Plummer
- Night Train to Lisbon with Jeremy Irons
- Now You See Me with Mark Ruffalo
6. Luc Besson
Alright, Luc Besson is not an actor, but a director, and a very famous one in French cinema. As writer, director, or producer, Besson has so far been involved in the creation of more than 50 films. Currently on this 4th wife, the director has 5 children and a closet full of awards.
His most famous movies include:
- Taken series with Liam Neeson
- Lucy with Scarlet Johansson
- The Lady with Michelle Yeoh in a biography of Myanmar’s Aung San Suu Kyi
- The Family with Robert De Niro, Michelle Pfeiffer, and Tommy Lee Jones
You can find more famous French actors here.
Music makes the world go around. So we had to include the top French musicians and celebrities of today that that are on everyone’s playlist.
Stromae is Belgian, not French, it is close enough. A singer, rapper, and songwriter, his French hits are impossible to put into a particular category.
The repetitive refrains of the minimalist Alors en dance were a club massive hit, following up with Papaoutai and many other hits.
2. Maître Gims
Maître Gims, which translates to “Master Gims”, is the French musician who is everywhere.
The Congolese singer, rapper, and composer may sing in his native French but he is so popular he has transcended the barriers of language to collaborate Sia, Pitbull, and Lil Wayne among others.
3. Vanessa Paradis
Vanessa Paradis may be Johnny Depp’s ex, but she has been a big star in France in her own right for decades.
Her 1991 French hit “Joe le taxi” propelled her to international fame at the age of 14, and she has been a staple on the French charts ever since.
With a chevalier de legion d’honneur in hand from the Government of France and awards for acting and singing, Paradis is still a household name.
4. Julien Doré
Julien Doré’s breakthrough came as the winner of Nouvelle Star (the French version of American Idol) that he auditioned for on a lark, to get exposure for his band.
After winning, a duet with Coeur de Pirate in Pour un infidéle hit the top of the pop charts and he has remained one of the top interesting French musicians ever since.
5. Coeur de Pirate
With her first album Comme des enfants at the age of 18, Quebeçoise Béatrice Martin aka Coeur de Pirate found success early as a teen pop sensation.
Throwing off the stereotypes, she remade herself with creative and softly sung ballades, like Somnambule, Pour une infidéle with Julien Doré and Renaud’s Mistral Gagnant.
You can find more famous French musicians and the top songs that changed French culture here.
There are many popular sports in France, but nothing that quite captures the imagination like football (aka soccer to North Americans). With France having the won or being finalists in the World Cup and European Championships several times over the past 20 years, fans in France have been spoilt. Even the most casual of fans can pick their favorite French footballer.
1. Kylian Mbappé
National team forward Kylian Mbappé is the current chou chou and star of French football.
Not even 25 yet, he has a closet full of trophies, from the 2018 World cup to several Ligue 1 titles with Paris Saint-Germain. He is so good, he even has the grudging respect of hated rival Olympique de Marseille fans.
2. Paul Pogba
Manchester United midfielder Paul Pogba may have an up-and-down relationship with ManU fans, but he is a firm favorite with French fans.
Having also played for Juventus in Italy, Pogba is multilingual, speaking his native French, as well as being fluent in English, Italian and Spanish.
Known as a playmaker and attacking midfielder, ManU paid a transfer fee of €105 million ($123 million) for him in 2016, which at the time was the highest paid by an English club. He was also part of the 2018 World Cup winning team.
3. Karim Benzema
Karim Benzema might be the superstar forward for Real Madrid but he was kicked off the French national team because of a rather bizarre blackmail scandal involving photos of a teammate and his wife.
The court cases are still ongoing with no conclusive evidence and accusations of racism flying.
Unfortunately due to the drama, Benzema missed out on his chance of winning the 2018 World Cup with France although he was recalled to the French team in 2021. (He is the only player on this list who does not have a French Legion d’honneur given by the French President.)
4. Antoine Greizmann
French forward Antoine Greizman has his good days and his bad days. He used to play for Spanish side Athlético Madrid, before moving to powerhouse Barcelona in 2019.
With a rather rocky start with his Barcelona fans, it has not always been all fun and games.
Nevertheless, he is a stalwart of the French national side, winning the 2018 World Cup with France, and was the French golden boy before Mbappé (8 years his junior) came along.
5. Zinadine Zidane
At nearly 50 years old, Zidane is no longer an active player, but still one that captures the French imagination.
As a player, he has won the Ballon d’Or, 1998 World Cup, European Cup, and too many other trophies and personal accolades to count.
As the coach of Real Madrid, he won 3 Champions Leagues back to back, as well a La Liga and other titles. Known for his fiery temperament (and a rather famous head-butt), Zizou remains the coach that all young French footballers like Pogba and Mbappé want to play for.
IV. Fashion Designers
1. Isabel Marant
Isabel Marant is a French fashion designer and owner of the eponymous fashion brand, which was launched in 1994. Since then she has won several awards including the Award de la Mode (1997) and Fashion Designer of the Year at British Glamour’s Women of the Year Awards (2012).
Known for her quintessential French girl style, as in “done but not overdone”, her style i a blend of bohemia and street chic, mixed together effortlessly.
2. Jean Paul Gaultier
When a Jean Paul Gaultier broke out into the fashion scene he was described as an “enfant terrible“. His style is rather unconventional, attracting the attention of many a Hollywood celebrity and musician. (Madonna’s infamous cone bra was his creation.)
Gaultier founded his eponymous fashion label in 1982, but moved it toFrench luxury house Hermès from 2003 to 2010. He is now back on his own, producing haute couture, fragrances, and putting on shows.
3. Christian Louboutin
When you think of shoes to go with that haute couture outfit, it has be a pair of Louboutins. Named after French designer Christian Louboutin, his signature red-bottom shoes are instantly recognizable.
Louboutin was born in Paris, and was the black sheep of his family, being kicked out of school 3 times. He soon found his path though, sketching shoes and eventually founding his label in 1991. These days his brand designs everything from shoes and purses, to wallets, cosmetics, and fragrances.
4. Hedi Slimane
The head fashion designer of Céline, this French luxury leather fashion house seems safe in Hedi Slimane’s hands. Céline is part of the LVMH empire, and Slimane is regularly considered one of most influential personalities in fashion.
Born in Paris, he was previously the creative director for Dior Homme (the menswear line of Christian Dior) and later for Yves Saint Laurent.
5. Virginie Viard
Virginie Viard, the head designer at fashion powerhouse Chanel, might not be as famous as her predecessor Karl Lagerfeld.
She has however been at Chanel for over 30 years, developing a close professional relationship with Lagerfeld and becoming his right-hand woman.
She took over at Chanel after Lagerfeld’s death in 2019, overseeing their haute couture, ready-to-wear, and accessories collections. Viard is the first female designer of Chanel, after Coco Chanel herself. You can read more about French styling with tips here.
French politicians are not traditional celebrities, but in a country where philosophy is taught in school and the talking heads are regularly on tv, these are the names you need to know.
1. Emmanuel Macron
The current President of France is a 40-something former investment banker who is good-looking enough to be an actor.
With a talent and the luck of being in the right place at the right time, he was elected in 2017 with 66% of the vote in the final round against Marine Le Pen. (The 66% is not an indication of his popularity, see Marine Le Pen below.)
He aims to be a centrist but has been called Jupiter for his rather autocratic manner. (French people always dislike the politican in power, so any approval or disapproval ratings should be taken with a huge grain of salt.)
But the reason most people overseas know him is because he married his high school English teacher, Brigitte Trogneux who is 24 years older than him.
2. Marine Le Pen
From the ultra-right wing nationalist side of French politics, is Marine Le Pen. The daughter of the infamous Jean-Marie Le Pen, she inherited the title of leader of the Front National when he retired.
French presidential elections involve 2 rounds of voting, with the final round being a runoff between the top 2 candidates. When her father Jean-Marie Le Pen made it to the final round in 2002, French people “ont fait barage”, meaning voted en masse to ensure that he did not become President, with the other candidate getting 83% of the final vote.
They continued the tradition with his daughter, Marine Le Pen who was in the final round in 2017, giving Macron 66% of the vote. Le Pen is expected to be a strong candidate in the 2022 Presidential election. It is left to be seen if French people will continue to “faire barage”.
3. Anne Hidalgo
Mayor of the capital Paris, Anne Hidalgo was easily elected to a 2nd term as mayor.
With a strong ecological perspective, this left-wing mayor manages to regularly annoy everyone living outside of the Paris city border, with her restrictions on cars and parking spots.
A politician with presidential ambitions, as mayor of Paris, she has the political power weight to make some noise.
4. Jean-Luc Mélanchon
Left-wing Mélanchon has been a politician for over 40 years, and is a perennial Presidential candidate.
With some rather quirky ideas, he is known for supporting the failed regimes in Venezuela and regularly criticizing the European Union and Germany.
Always managing to counterpoint the government in power, he aims to be a populist, but tends to find himself cast as the ultra-left version of Marine Le Pen.
5. Nicolas Sarkozy
Ex-president Sarkozy (2007-2012) had a rather interesting love life and still manages to make headlines regularly the multitude of criminal court cases against him.
Married to singer-actress wife Carla Bruni, his propensity to give quote-worthy interviews to journalists always keeps him in the headlines. He says he isn’t planning a comeback, but with the right field open, never say never.
And so with all that, time for the French pop-culture general knowledge quiz! Keep track of your answers to see how you did at the end.
1. Which one of these is not a famous French footballer?
- a) Larent Blanc
- b) Thierry Henry
- c) Didier Deschamps
- d) Jean Dujardin
2. Who has never been a President of France?
- a) Pierre Trudeau
- b) Charles de Gaulle
- c) François Hollande
- d) George Pompidou
3. Which of these famous personalities was not born in Paris, France?
- a) Emma Watson
- b) Kathie Lee Gifford
- c) Yo Yo Ma
- d) Snoop Dog
4. Serge Gainsbourg was:
- a) An ex-president
- b) A singer
- c) A football player
- d) A writer
5. Which one of these famous astrologers was French?
- a) Nostradamus
- b) Geoffrey Chaucer
- c) Galileo Galilei
- d) Johannes Kepler
6. Which one of these famous French designers descended from nobility?
- a) Louis Vuitton
- b) Jean Paul Gaultier
- c) Christian Dior
- d) Hubert de Givenchy
7. Which of these is not a French actress?
- a) Ségolène Royal
- b) Eva Green
- c) Sophie Marceau
- d) Juliette Binoche
8. Which of these famous personalities was NOT involved in dealings with the French Resistance during World War II?
- a) Ernest Hemingway
- b) Josephine Baker
- c) Edith Piaf
- d) Coco Chanel
9. Which of these famous bands is French?
- a) Sum 41
- b) Snow Patrol
- c) Blur
- d) Daft Punk
10. Which Italian artist is buried in Amboise, France?
- a) Leonardo da Vinci
- b) Michaelangelo
- c) Raphael
- d) Caravaggio
For more fun, don’t forget to check out our other quizzes. A bientôt!
¹ Featured Image: Wikipedia