French actor Gerard Depardieu has already been charged with rape in another case - he denies the allegations

Paris (AFP) - French police on Monday questioned screen legend Gerard Depardieu after two women accused him of sexual assault, his lawyer confirmed, adding that the actor was later released.

The 75-year-old star, who has made more than 200 films and television series, was charged with rape in 2020 and was forced to put his career on hold last autumn as allegations of sexual harassment and assault mounted against him. He denies any wrongdoing.

A police source earlier said officers were going to question Depardieu over allegations from two women that he assaulted them on film sets, one in 2021 and the other in 2014.

“The custody is over. He is no longer being held in the police station,” Depardieu’s lawyer Christian Saint-Palais told reporters shortly before 6:30 pm.

Saint-Palais, who had refused to comment when arriving at the police station in the capital’s 14th district, deplored the press leaks about Depardieu’s detention.

Arriving at the police station in the capital's 14th district, the actor's lawyer Christian Saint-Palais refused to comment

“When someone is charged, inevitably there is a moment when they must explain themselves,” said Saint-Palais.

“And so today was one of the days when it was necessary to explain oneself regarding the accusations made against you that you deny.”

Contacted by AFP, the public prosecutor’s office did not reply.

The first woman accuses Depardieu of assaulting her when she was a member of the crew on the 2022 feature film “The Green Shutters”.

The set designer, who filed a formal complaint in February, told investigative website Mediapart that Depardieu grabbed her as she left the set in a private hotel in Paris.

She alleged he groped her “waist and stomach, moving up to (her) breasts” and made obscene comments before his bodyguards removed him.

The woman’s lawyer, Carine Durrieu-Diebolt, declined to provide AFP with further details.

The second woman has alleged Depardieu groped her “all over” and made “inappropriate” remarks while she was an assistant on the set of 2015 film “Le magician et le Siamois” (“The Magician and the Siamese”), she told regional newspaper Le Courrier de l’Ouest.

- Rape charge -

Depardieu already faces a rape charge, as well as claims of assault from more than a dozen women – all of which he has strongly denied.

“Never ever have I abused a woman,” Depardieu wrote in Le Figaro newspaper in October.

'Your place is in prison, not on stage': Feminists protest against the actor in May 2023

Police in 2020 charged Depardieu with rape and sexual assault after actor Charlotte Arnould alleged he raped her in 2018 when she was 22 and anorexic.

Another sexual assault complaint filed last year by actor Helene Darras, who said Depardieu groped and propositioned her during a 2007 film shoot, has been dropped for being past the statute of limitations.

Spanish journalist and author Ruth Baza said in December she had filed a criminal complaint in her home country against Depardieu, alleging he raped her in 1995 in Paris.

Despite the events having passed the statute of limitations, she said she decided to file her complaint in the hope that it would “help other people” to do the same.

Depardieu had long made headlines for antics such as socialising with the leaders of Russia and Belarus, obtaining a Russian passport to protest against a planned tax hike in France, and delaying a 2011 flight after urinating into a bottle that overflowed.

The actor obtained a Russian passport to protest against a planned tax hike in France

But debate over whether to show his films intensified at the end of last year after a television report showed the actor repeatedly making obscene comments in the presence of a female interpreter during a 2018 trip to North Korea.

His wax sculpture was hurriedly removed from the Musee Grevin waxwork museum in Paris and Canada’s Quebec region stripped him of its top honour.

- ‘Salacious nonsense’ -

Actor Anouk Grinberg, a co-star to Depardieu on “The Green Shutters”, has described how she and others on set were “treated to his salacious nonsense from morning to night”.

Actor Anouk Grinberg has spoken out about Depardieu's behaviour on set

“When film producers hire Depardieu on a film, they know they are hiring an aggressor,” she told AFP.

Grinberg said producers of “The Green Shutters” had supposedly appointed someone to deal with harassment issues but that she did nothing.

French cinema has in recent months been rocked by allegations that it has shrugged off sexism and sexual abuse for decades.

Depardieu’s case has exposed a major split in French cinema and wider society, with some defending his right to the “presumption of innocence” and others supporting his accusers.

President Emmanuel Macron sparked an outcry in December when he defended the “immense actor” as innocent until proven guilty and insinuated he was the victim of a “manhunt”.

Actor Judith Godreche, 52, has urged the authorities to protect young female actors from sexual violence

Macron later added that he should have emphasised the importance of women speaking up.

Actor Judith Godreche, 52, has become a leading voice in France’s #MeToo movement after accusing two film directors of abusing her as an underage teenager.

Speaking in the upper house of parliament in February, she urged the authorities to reform the French cinema industry to protect young female actors from sexual violence.