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With his lean, tall figure, his sunken, weary features, doleful eyes, moustache and prominent nose, the French actor Jean Rochefort, who has died aged 87, seemed born to play Don Quixote. Everything was set up when Rochefort fell ill with prostate problems that meant he could not sit on a horse. Shooting was abandoned after a few days because Gilliam would not replace Rochefort. Despite many attempts to restart the project which themselves became the subject of the documentary Lost in La Mancha , with different actors as Quixote most recently Jonathan Pryce , the film was completed only earlier this year and has yet to be released.
However, in the 70s, he firmly established a reputation as a comedy star of sex farces most of them directed by Yves Robert and black comedies. In the Robert films, he was often an unfulfilled middle-aged married man who has a fling. He spends the night with her, which ends with a farcical exposure of his dalliance.
In the latter, he is the insignificant married proprietor of a small Paris chemist shop, who gets involved in the Paris riots and ends up in Amsterdam with a glamorous singer Catherine Deneuve. He trained as an actor at the Paris Conservatoire in the 50s at the same time as Jean-Paul Belmondo , but had to halt his studies due to military service.
On his return to Paris, he started performing in cabaret and in plays, on stage and on television. In , with Delphine Seyrig , Rochefort appeared in a number of plays primarily by British playwrights, including Harold Pinter , James Saunders and Peter Nichols, but from he devoted himself almost entirely to films. After the success of the 70s, much of his work in the 80s was in films mainly for local consumption until a fruitful collaboration with the director Patrice Leconte in around half a dozen films.
Tandem was the start of a new maturity for the director and for Rochefort, who struck a tragicomic note as the ageing host of a radio game show. In complete contrast, in The Man on the Train , Rochefort played a retired poetry teacher who exchanges his dull life with that of a bank robber Johnny Hallyday. There was something quixotic about many of his roles.