Born Juan Moreno on July 30, 1948 in Casablanca, Morocco to Spanish parents. Juan Moreno eventually changed his name to Jean Reno. Reno had fond memories of his childhood in Morocco. He spent his early days with five of his good friends at the beach, escaping from the heat of the Moroccan day. Reno also spent his days watching American actors like John Wayne, William Holden, Marlon Brando and Jimmy Stewart and French actors like Jean Gabin and Louis Jouvet. These early days were ruined though when the Six Day War came along in 1967 and changed everything. Within the year Jean had left the country heading for France to become a French citizen.
To become French, it was mandatory to sign up for the national service and on May 21, 1968, Reno arrived in Marseille and found France on the brink of civil war. Luckily for Jean, the army saw on his CV, that he had been to the national drama school in Casablanca, and therefore he was put in charge of entertainment and arts. This allowed him to avoid most of the actual soldier duties. After his year of service, he was officially French, so Reno like any drama student, moved to Paris. The drama student life was relatively easy, little work, but plenty of women. Reno managed to survive the 70s on theatre and some T.V. In 1979, he got a part in Costa Gavas’s Clair De Femme, which brought him some praise, he also toured Europe with Didier Flamand’s theatre company, played in Betrand Blier’s Notre Histoire and played a tough guy role in a series of Gallic films.
It wasn’t till 1981, when he teamed up with Luc Besson, did his career begin to head in the direction of stardom. The movies were L’avant Dernier (1981) and Le Dernier Combat (1983). Luc had a 20 pages script and the movie was to be set in black and white. Reno agreed to the part for 500 francs (100 dollars) and the movie took home numerous French awards in 1983.
“Luc and I are like brothers; we instinctively understand one another, and we advise each other all the time about our career choices. Not that we always listen to each other; our relationship is sometimes difficult, but that’s to be expected when you’re both working in the same area.”
After Le Dernier Combat, Reno once again teamed up with Luc Besson in 1985 to have a small role in his movie Subway. Reno’s big break finally came in 1988, once again working with Luc Besson in the movie Le Grand Bleu (The Big Blue). It was Reno’s first big starring role in which he played Enzo Molineri, a free diver, Jean-Marc Barr’s comic rival for Roseanna Arquette’s affection. The movie was international acclaim and Reno blew up. He left his first wife and two children, to sleep around and travel the world.
“Surely, but slowly, you go down. How can I say … It’s like having too much good, so you lose the taste. Too much food, too much fame, too much travel, too much bullshit. That’s why, when they’re young, most of them – actresses, actors, directors, producers – they go into drugs and they go into drink … One day, but chance, I noticed a red light going tootootootootoot in my head. I was having a fantastic love story at the time. But it was a love story that was destroying me.”
After The Big Blue, Reno was big box office in France and everywhere around the world. Well, he was huge in Europe and Asia, but in North America, movie buffs and critics knew who he was and how good he was, but the average movie fan was still clueless, but that would eventually change. After his year and a half joy ride on the success of The Big Blue, Reno settled down to again team up with Luc Besson in La Femme Nikita (1991). Though Reno’s role as a hit man was small, it was just a bridge to his character in Luc Besson’s 1994 cult hit, Léon (The Professional).
But first in 1993, Reno starred in French comedy Les Visiteurs (The Visitors). The movie went on to be the most successful film in French history (take that Titanic). Unfortunately, it didn’t fare well overseas as it was deemed too “European” for most North American audiences.
The release of The Professional in the USA on November 18, 1994 would finally bring Reno to main stage Hollywood. Reno reclaimed the role of the sensitive hit man, who becomes the protector of a 12 year-old-girl (Natalie Portman). Even though 23 minutes of the movie was cut because it was considered too harsh for US audiences, plus the movie being poorly received by most critics (they believed it to be to similar to La Femme Nikita), fans of Besson and Reno lived it for what it was : a beautiful love story. The movie also helped to build Reno’s and Besson’s fan base in North America and has since become a cult classic to the diehard fans. The uncut version was finally released in the USA on DVD on August 15, 2000 for all the fans who couldn’t afford to import it from France.
After Léon, it was time for Hollywood to come knocking, first Reno had a small part in French Kiss (1995) and a role as a secret agent along side Tom Cruise in Mission: Impossible (1996). Both movies were not very good (so the critics say), but Mission: Impossible did well at the box office and give Reno some more time in the spotlight. During this time Reno also did some movies back in France (Le Jaguar and Un Amour de Sorcière), but he came back to the USA in 1997 for Roseanna’s Grave and tried to win the US audiences with his comedy skills, but it didn’t work, US audiences only wanted to see Reno in the action genre.
The movie event of 1998 – GODZILLA!!! Reno got a part in what was suppose to be the movie event of the summer, but it ended up being the biggest piece of trash of 1998. The critics agreed that the only good thing about the movie was Reno (for once the critics where right). Luckily, also in 1998, Reno had a role along side Robert DeNiro in Ronin. Though Godzilla did better at the box office ($55 million opening weekend in the USA, compared to Ronin’s overall USA gross of $42 million), Ronin was the much better movie.
After Godzilla, Reno went back to France to complete a sequel to The Visitors, it was also very successful in France, but didn’t generate much in the USA. Reno will try again to win over the US audiences with his comedy when The Visitors (USA Remake) is released in late 2000 or 2001.
September 2000, will see the release of Les Rivières Poupres in France as the next Reno movie. Reno has said that he would like to do one film in France for every Hollywood film he makes.
In early 2001, be on the lookout for the next USA Reno release: Rollerball, which is a remake of the original movie from 1975.