What's made in Hungary, cultivated in Paris, and is the best thing you can't pronounce?
Tchéky Karyo1 has been featured in over 70 international films from France, Canada, and the United States since 1982, achieving world-wide success in a remarkably short amount of time. He began his film career in the French movie Le Retour de Martin Guerre, or "The Return of Martin Guerre," a movie set in medieval France about a man, Martin Guerre, who returns from war after many, many years. The movie starred (surprise, surprise) Gérard Depardieu, the only household French name in America (sadly, he usurped the title from Marie Joseph Paul Yves Roch Gilbert du Montier, the Marquis de Lafayette). Naturally, this movie made very, very few ripples on the European, non-French pond of box office smashes (we don't speak French, and many consider dubbed films to be "artsy"), though Karyo did join Depardieu again in 1992's 1492: Conquest of Paradise, directed by Ridley Scott.
Karyo's first major international fame came from Luc Besson's film, Nikita in 1990 (also called La Femme Nikita, though not to be confused with the TV show that followed in 1997), one of a string of fantastic films put together by Besson and featuring French actors put into the non-French limelight (see The Professional, 1994). Nikita became an absolute smash, and the relationship played between Karyo's Bob and Anne Parillaud's Nikita is all at once startling, compassionate, and unreal. This first collaboration between Karyo and Besson brought Karyo into two other wildly popular films: The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc in 1999, directed and written by Besson, and Kiss of the Dragon in 2001, for which Besson wrote the screenplay.
Possibly his most impressive performance was in 1991's Vincent et moi ("Vincent and Me"), a warm children's movie where he portrayed the bitterly torn and tormented Vincent Van Gogh.
In addition to a vast number of French films, Karyo, enjoying his success from Nikita as the bizarre secret agent Bob, began expanding his options for further big screen roles. In 1994, he starred in the title role of Nostradamus, his first English starring role, and a sadly disappointing film set during the Inquisition, though it did feature Rutger Hauer wearing candles on his head, and F. Murray Abraham. Despite the issues about the story and writing, Karyo's acting was never in question.
In a strange departure from intensely-creative films, in 1995 Karyo appeared in Bad Boys, an amazingly stupid-yet-fun movie starring Will Smith, Martin Lawrence, and Téa Leoni. This movie was so bad, it required a sequel in 2003.
Possibly his most puzzling role, his sixth film in English, he appeared in GoldenEye, as a Russian. A convincing Russian. This after he played in Operation Dumbo Drop. Don't ask me, his agent was quite clearly insane during this time.
He went on to mediocrity for a while, playing bit parts in English in 1997's Addicted to Love and Habitat, and 1999's Wing Commander before hitting it on the head again in The Messenger and then again in 2000, in Mel Gibson's apocryphal tale The Patriot, where he played "the French guy" (a.k.a. Jean Villeneuve) in Gibson's militia/army.
In 2003, he took a supporting role in The Core, sci-fi flick about the end of the world, where he played a French weapons specialist, who was killed tragically early in the film.
Karyo remains one of the most talented actors in Hollywood or Paris, though many of his roles are shamefully unknown here in America and in Europe. If you are interested in seeing just what he has to offer as an entertainer, get your hands on Nikita, and watch it. Set aside a day and watch all his films. You'll thank me later when he stops keep getting passed over for roles in America just because of his accent.
1 His name is pronounced CHEK-ee CARE-ee-yo (or / ˈčεki ˈkerijo / if you prefer IPA)
Biographical and filmographic information taken from my brain and from www.imdb.com. Rather than list his entire 77-filmography credits, go to http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0001409/ and read them for yourself.
ConfusionTheWaitress says re: Tchéky Karyo : Although I despise the output of mainstream Hollywood, I still quite like Bad Boys (just *not* the sequel). Also, he was in the brilliant British film Saving Grace which just has to deserve some kind of a mention in your write-up. I, too, am sometimes taken in by the mainstream Hollywood garbage, and Bad Boys is a perfect example of a movie I enjoy, but refuse to announce publicly ... except here, of course, where I can be a geek and not feel bad.