Despite his unorthodox visage, Gérard Depardieu has made a profound mark on the acting world, earning a recognition as one of Europe's most accomplished performers and appealing leading men. Perhaps a contributor to his consistently intense performances, Depardieu's childhood was one of extreme poverty. At twelve years old, he dropped out of school and hitchhiked across Europe on an informal tour funded primarily by the profits of stolen cars and assorted black-market products. Depardieu would likely have continued in his juvenile delinquency were it not for a friend who was attending drama school in Paris. Intrigued, Depardieu enrolled at the Theatre National Populaire, where he studied his trade alongside future co-stars Patrick Dewaere and Miou-Miou. In 1965, the young actor made his debut in a French short film by the name of Le Beatnik et le Minet, and began making regular appearances on French television shows.
By the mid-'70s, Depardieu had co-starred in 11 French films, though he wouldn't enjoy widespread success until his role of a nihilistic but lovable petty criminal in director Bertrand Blier's Going Places (1974). Not long afterward, Depardieu could be found holding his own against acclaimed French actress Isabelle Adjani in Barocco and portraying a passionate Communist organizer in 1900 (both 1976). In 1978, Depardieu re-teamed with Blier for the Oscar-winning Get Out Your Handkerchiefs, and he went on to win France's prestigious César award for his performance as a resistance fighter in The Last Metro (1980). After his portrayal of a 16th century peasant in The Return of Martin Guerre (1982), Depardieu played the title role in Danton, and he stepped behind the camera as co-director for 1984's Le Tartuffe.