Catherine Deneuve was born in Paris, France, the third of four daughters to stage performers Renée Dorléac (now retired) and the late Maurice Dorléac. She made her screen debut in Les collégiennes (1957), where she was credited as Catherine Dorléac. She began using her mother's maiden name professionally in 1960, in order to differentiate herself from her elder sister, Françoise Dorléac.
Once a Catholic schoolgirl, Deneuve defied convention during her early adulthood. In 1961, at age 17, she moved in with Ukranian director Roger Vadim, who at 33 was twice divorced and almost twice her age. He directed her in Vice and Virtue (1963) and, on June 18, 1963, she gave birth to their son, Christian Vadim, at the age of 19. One month later, the pair split and broke off contact (he had five wives and four children, and died in 2000).
Deneuve's breakthrough came with the excellent musical, The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (1964), in which she gave an unforgettable performance as a romantic middle-class girl who falls in love with a young soldier but gets imprisoned in a loveless marriage with another man; the director was the gifted Jacques Demy. She followed this up with a riveting performance as a schizophrenic killer in Roman Polanski's suspense classic Repulsion (1965).
On August 19, 1965, the 21-year old Deneuve married British photographer David Bailey after a two-week courtship. The marriage was soured by a language barrier (he did not speak French and she was not yet fluent in English), leading to their eventual divorce. They remain friends, but Deneuve has shunned the idea of marriage ever since.
Meanwhile, she played a married woman who works as a part-time prostitute every afternoon in Luis Buñuel's masterpiece, Belle de Jour (1967) (for which she received a BAFTA nomination), then reunited with Demy for another musical, The Young Girls of Rochefort (1967), which co-starred her elder sister, Françoise Dorléac. Shortly before the film's release, Dorléac was killed in a fatal car accident at the age of 25, leaving Deneuve devastated. Working continuously, she reunited with Buñuel for Tristana (1970), and gave a great performance for François Truffaut in Mississippi Mermaid (1969), a kind of apotheosis of her "frigid femme fatale" persona.
Following her separation from Bailey in 1970 (they officially divorced in 1972), Deneuve began an intense relationship with Italian actor Marcello Mastroianni, and their much talked-about romance combined with four onscreen pairings made them one of the most legendary couples in European cinema. On May 28, 1972, Deneuve gave birth to their daughter, Chiara Mastroianni, at the age of 28. The relationship with Marcello ended in 1975, but the two remained friends up until his death from pancreatic cancer on December 19, 1996, with Deneuve present at his bedside.
For the most part, Deneuve showed little interest in having a Hollywood career. In her first two American films, she was paired with Jack Lemmon in the romantic comedy, The April Fools (1969), and Burt Reynolds in the crime drama, Hustle (1975). Though the reviews were decent, both films met with lukewarm box office. To increase her exposure, Deneuve became the face of Chanel No. 5, causing sales of the perfume to soar in the United States.
Deneuve's magnificent work in Truffaut's The Last Metro (1980), as a stage actress in Nazi-occupied Paris, won her a César Award for Best Actress and revived her career after a slump during the previous decade. Deneuve's third Hollywood strike came in 1983, when she starred in Tony Scott's slick feature, The Hunger (1983), as a stylish, seductive bisexual vampire living in Manhattan, who sets out in search of new blood after the death of her lover (David Bowie). The film became a cult classic, and her erotic sex scene with Susan Sarandon, unintentionally made Deneuve a lesbian icon.
In 1985, her profile was chosen as the model for the symbol of the French Republic, Marianne (a statuette of which is displayed in every city and town hall in the country). Deneuve made a brief foray into producing with the film Strange Place for an Encounter (1988) (opposite her "Last Metro" costar, Gérard Depardieu), but has not ventured back into the profession since. Her unchanging beauty and controlled acting skills were perfectly showcased in the romantic drama, Indochine (1992), in which she played an upper-class plantation owner who falls in love with a young French naval officer (Vincent Perez) in 1930s Vietnam. The film won both the Oscar and Golden Globe for Best Foregin Film during the 1993 awards season, while Deneuve won her second César Award for Best Actress and, at the age of 49, received her first Academy Award nomination, making her one of the distinct few to be nominated for a non-English-speaking performance.
She was very good in André Téchiné's My Favorite Season (1993), and continued to land high-caliber leads in Thieves (1996) and Place Vendôme (1998). After seeing the film, Breaking the Waves (1996), Deneuve wrote a personal letter to director Lars von Trier, who cast her in Dancer in the Dark (2000) opposite eccentric singer Björk; the film won the Palme d'Or at the 2000 Cannes Film Festival. The following year, she made another rare return to Hollywood with a starring role in The Musketeer (2001), a France-based epic adventure.
Now in her late fifties and a grandmother, she continues to work at a steady pace, notably and, most recently, in this year's acclaimed musical 8 Women (2002). Although the elegant and always radiant Deneuve has never appeared on stage, she is universally hailed as one of the "grandes dames" of French cinema, joining a list that includes such illustrious talents as Simone Signoret, Jeanne Moreau, Isabelle Adjani, Juliette Binoche and Marion Cotillard.