PARIS — Over Earl Grey and macaroons at La Duree tearoom, Sandrine Dumas speaks in a conspiratorial sotto voce that draws you into the table.

She has deep chestnut eyes and fine brown hair. From her neck, a diamond-studded horseshoe pendant dangles on a ribbon. That single piece of jewelry is the only exterior sign linking her to the house of Hermès, to which she is related by her father, Jean Louis Dumas, chairman of the family controlled luxury firm.

“I never aspired to that world,” she offers. “Hermès doesn’t need me.”

And, of course, Dumas, 41, has been doing just fine on her own.

Twenty years ago she started acting, piling up credits that today include films with directors from Robert Altman to Milos Forman. And though she recently took some “obligatory” time off to focus on her family, giving birth to two boys, she’s come back with brio this year.

In an important career move, she stepped behind the camera for the first time, directing a short film, “Bodyguard,” about a young boy who doesn’t want his sister to grow up. It was honored with a special jury prize at the Berlin Film Festival.

She then directed her first play, “Chere Maitre,” by Peter Eyre, which opened this fall to strong reviews at the Theatre de la Gaite here. 

Though the play’s subject was challenging — it’s based on the correspondence between George Sand and Gustave Flaubert — Dumas handled it like a seasoned pro. She transformed the writers’ ruminations on the meaning of art, life and friendship into a breezy, entertaining repartee. A saxophonist, offering abstract riffs while ambling across the stage, punctuated the intense moments with fitting levity. And though the characters’ luxurious dressing gowns had a familiar, sophisticated air, she bridles at the notion that she would have even thought of outfitting them in Hermès. 

“My friends thought I was crazy to start with this play,” she explains. “I had to adapt it from English to French and there was really no example to follow. The play had been staged in England as a reading. But I wanted something different.”

This story first appeared in the December 29, 2004 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

Dumas says her experience as an actress helped. “I wanted to bring the characters to life by thinking how they would feel each moment that they wrote a different word on the page. I wanted to make it lively. That’s what I think theater should be.”

She continues, “I’m so lucky. Everything went so well. It really makes me want to do another play.”

But in the meantime, she’s busy writing the script for what she hopes will become her first feature film.

“I want to continue to do theater,” she says. “But I won’t abandon film. What I love about making a movie is the moment filming begins. With a play, I love rehearsals. They force you into a searching mode. You have to consider and to reconsider every aspect of the character.”

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