France's biggest international movie star is being investigated by the Paris prosecutor over accusations of rape and sexual assault, judicial source says, The prominent French actor denies any wrongdoing.

Actor Gerard Depardieu reportedly met the
Actor Gerard Depardieu reportedly met the "young actress and dancer in her twenties" when he led a master class at her school. (AP)

Prosecutors in Paris have opened a preliminary investigation of a woman's rape and sexual assault accusations against actor Gerard Depardieu, a French judicial official said Thursday. A lawyer said the French film star denies the allegations.

The complainant was "a young actress and dancer in her twenties", Le Parisien newspaper said, adding that she alleged the 69-year-old actor sexually abused her on the sidelines of a play rehearsal and at his home on August 7 and 13. 

The two met when Depardieu led a master class at her school, BFM TV reported.

The judicial official said the woman filed a complaint against the French film star on Monday near the southern city of Aix-en-Provence. The case was assigned to Paris prosecutors on Wednesday.

The official requested anonymity in discussing the case Thursday because he was not allowed to disclose details about an ongoing investigation.

Depardieu's lawyer, Herve Temime, said on France's BFM TV that the actor "absolutely denies any rape, any sexual assault, any crime."

Depardieu was "shaken" by the "groundless" accusations, Temime said. The lawyer declined to say if Depardieu was in France on Thursday or to give details on the actor's connection to the woman, who was identified by French media as a 22-year-old actor, comedian and dancer.

"He will obviously participate in the investigation and answer the questions," Temime said. 

'An ogre and a poet'

Depardieu has appeared in 200 films over six decades and holds a rare position as a French actor who is known in Hollywood. He won a Golden Globe for his performance in "Green Card," a 1990 English-language romantic comedy co-starring Andie MacDowell.

His first big hit in France was "Les Valseuses," ("Going Places"), Bertrand Blier's classic farce about two wandering thugs.

Before he crossed the Atlantic to play a bon vivant Frenchman to MacDowell's prissy horticulturist, Depardieu played roles from Jean Valjean, the thief-turned-saint in "Les Miserables," to Christopher Columbus.

In 2014, he had the leading role in "Welcome to New York," the film inspired by from the life of Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the former director of the International Monetary Fund who was accused in 2011 of sexually assaulting a hotel maid.

Once described by actress Brigitte Fossey as "both an ogre and a poet", Depardieu worked under directors ranging from Bernardo Bertolucci, Andrzej Wajda, Jean-Luc Godard and Ridley Scott.

The accusations against Depardieu are the latest in a string made against prominent men in the wake of the rape and assault claims against Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein and the #MeToo movement that they gave rise to.

Criminal past

His fame and fortune as a global cinema star starkly contrasted the world in which Depardieu grew up.

Born in 1948 to an illiterate alcoholic metal worker, he was the third of six children raised in extreme poverty.

By his own account, Depardieu began running with bad company early on. He committed a variety of crimes — including, he claimed, grave robbery — before landing in jail at 16 for stealing a car.

"At 20, the thug in me was alive and well," Depardieu wrote..

In 2013 Depardieu sparked a huge outcry by leaving France and taking Russian nationality in protest at a proposed tax hike on the rich in his homeland.

Russian President Vladimir Putin treated him to a dinner to present him with his new citizenship and Depardieu was subsequently full of praise in an interview to Komsomolskaya Pravda daily.

Source: AP