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Brigitte Bardot on Cannes, celebrity and career

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SAINT-TROPEZ, France (CNN) -- She was the object of desire for most of the male population in the 1950's and 60's and one was one of the first actresses to earn the title "sex kitten."

Now, Brigitte Bardot uses her status as a celebrity to bring publicity to the animal rights campaigns that she is spearheading, protesting the abuse of creatures including seal cubs and dogs.

In an exclusive interview, CNN talked to this star-turned-activist about Cannes, her career and her recent work promoting the humane treatment of animals.

CNN: Can you tell us about your first impressions of Cannes and 1955 and your most precious memories of the festival?

Brigitte Bardot: The first time that I came to Cannes, I think it was in 1953, I was 18 and unknown. I came with Roger Vadim, my husband, who was a journalist with Paris Match, who had to interview Leslie Caron.

At the time of this first visit in 1953, I followed Vadim as a reporter on an American airplane carrier en route to Cannes. On board, the commandant received Leslie Caron, Lana Turner, Gary Cooper, Kirk Douglas and lots of others for a party. Totally unknown and very intimidated, I hid behind Vadim when the commandant greeted me and shouted to the crew in the middle of the bridge, "That's Brigitte!" Not knowing how to answer, I said, "Hello, men!" Everyone went crazy! The sailors lifted me up and carried me around in triumph, shouting, "Bridget! Bridget!" They had no idea who I was because I was nobody.

In 1967, it was far less funny. The crowd and the press were hysterical, and hustled me, crushed me and abused me. Everyone said the police were completely overwhelmed. It's an atrocious thing to remember, but it was to please my husband at the time, Gunter Sachs, who was showing a film made in Kenya, which I'm sure wouldn't have been shown without my presence. That was 40 years ago, and I've never been back.

CNN: You're an icon of French cinema. What made you this way?

BB: I don't know. I think that I arrived and left at the right time. My wild and free side unsettled some, and unwedged others.

CNN: They say that your role in "And God Created Woman" brought a whole new audience to French cinema -- how did the world's reaction to the film make you feel?

BB: Vadim became famous worldwide as a director, and I as an actress, but the other side of the coin was terrible. My life was totally turned upside down. I was followed, spied upon, adored, insulted. My private life became public. Overnight, I found myself imprisoned, a gilded prison but a prison nonetheless. I had lots of opportunities to survive this madness. Madame de Staël said, "Glory is the bright mourning of happiness."

CNN: Your foundation has met with great success promoting the rights of animals. What are its current projects?

BB: There are lots of them: anti-fur campaigns, the horsemeat industry, breeding conditions, the transport and slaughter of animals for their meat... The task is long, exhausting and often discouraging.

CNN: What's your strongest memory?

BB: The day when I decided to stop everything.

CNN: When you think back to your cinematic career, what makes you the most proud?

BB: That it gave me the profile that today allows me to fight against the suffering of animals.

CNN: Out of your numerous films, which is your favorite, and why?

BB: "En cas de malheur" with Jean Gabin. I was face to face with a superstar of French cinema, which intimidated me greatly at the time.

"La Vérité" by Henri Georges Clouzot. A superb role but a devilish Clouzot.

"L'Ours et la Poupée" with Jean Pierre Cassel, who made a wonderful partner and friend.

CNN: If you had the opportunity to make a film today, with which director would you like to work? And alongside which actors?

BB: Oh la la! The page has turned. Cinema is finished for me.

CNN: Can you describe the spirit of Cannes in five words?

BB: Dream, glamour, glitz, international, artificial.



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