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A Parisian In America

Leslie Caron greets a packed house In Huntington

Actress and dancer Leslie Caron, star of stage, screen and TV, made a rare Long Island appearance in front of a sold-out crowd recently at the Cinema Arts Centre.

"She's extraordinary. She spans the culture of the 1950's to the present and she epitomizes what I think a great artist is and she inspires us through and by her artistry," said producer and writer Neal Baer, the producer of "Law and Order: SVU" who specifically wrote an episode for Caron which won the actress an Emmy Award in 2007.

He accompanied the actress on her trip to Huntington.

After the sold-out crowd watched her first film, "An American In Paris" from 1951, Caron discussed her career in detail, including the years she was under contract at MGM, the actors and dancers she worked with, her academy award nominated performance in "Lili" and dancing with both Mikhail Baryshnikov and Rudolf Nureyev to a dance medley of songs from her movies at the Metropolitan Opera in 1982.

The actress admitted her life was by no means perfect. "I've had ups and downs and big moments of despair. I have suffered from depression. At one point I realized either you live or you don't, and if you decide to live you pick yourself up and do what you have to do. And I was aptly rewarded," she said.

While Caron declined to go into specifics about her depression, citing it was "too complex a problem to mention in five minutes," she did offer advice for people suffering from the same illness. "Physical exercise is great to combat it. Get out in the streets. Call people. Just get out from wherever you are," she said.

For almost 15 years before the TV appearance, Caron owned and operated a bed and breakfast in Burgundy, France.

"I'm one of those who likes to bring buildings back to life. I don't like ruins," she said.

The restoration was painstaking and although she enjoyed the experience, she does not miss the place.

"I did it. I'm delighted it was a place for meetings and weddings, but it was not really my profession. But I thought my acting career was over," she said.

Aside from a few small roles, including one in Louis Malle's film, "Damage" with Jeremy Irons, Caron was not actively working as an actress. All that would change in 2006 when Baer's 15-year-old son saw the actress in a movie. "We were on a plane to Paris, ironically enough, when he saw her in 'An American in Paris'," Baer said. At his son's suggestion, Baer wrote an episode specifically for Caron to star in.  "I said yes to TV and that episode without hesitation," she said.

It was that award-winning role on "SVU" that made her realize her acting career was not over. "I realized I do love acting and I could continue to act. I wanted to go back on a stage and work as an actress," she said.

"She is an extraordinary interview subject because she is present, is so spontaneous and she has depth and those are the qualities that made her an actor for 60 years," said Foster Hirsch, an author and film historian who conducted the interview with Caron.

Caron wrote wrote a book of short stories entitled "Vengeance" in 1982 which was published by Doubleday. Her autobiography, "Thank Heaven," which was published by Viking last year, was just released in paperback. Caron said it took two years to write and it was all done by her. "It was a fascinating experience. Sometimes painful, sometime elating. It was very, very hard work and when I finished, I thought I would do something light like act," she said.

Caron signed copies of her book during a reception after the interview. Another acting experience she shared with the audience was about her stage role in Paris earlier this year playing Madame Armfeldt in Stephen Sondheim's "A Little Night Music." That role was originated in 1973 by Hermione Gingold, the actress who portrayed Caron's grandmother in the film "Gigi" in 1958.

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