Oscars 2012: Jean Dujardin Named Best Actor for ‘The Artist’

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The French actor was virtually unknown in the U.S. but picked up momentum as “The Artist” won awards

Jean Dujardin, a 39-year-old French actor virtually unknown in the United States before the release of "The Artist," has won the Academy Award for Best Actor.

Before starring as fading matinee idol George Valentin in the largely silent film "The Artist," Dujardin was best known for playing the lead in two secret-agent spoofs from director Michel Hazanavicius, "OSS 117: Cairo, Nest of Spies" and "OSS 117: Lost in Rio." Those films were big hits in Europe but little-seen in the U.S.

Also read: The Complete List of Oscar Winners

Dujardin began the race as an underdog to the likes of George Clooney ("The Descendants") and Brad Pitt ("Moneyball") but picked up momentum as "The Artist" began dominating on the awards circuit. His victories at the Screen Actors Guild Awards and the BAFTA Awards pushed him into the favorite's spot in final few weeks.

The only one of the key players from "The Artist" who has used a translator in interviews, Dujardin has been studying English and has made well-received recent appearances on the "Tonight Show," "Saturday Night Live" and in a Funny or Die web video.

Dujardin described his inspirations for George Valentin to TheWrap as "Douglas Fairbanks' movies for my character, Gene Kelly's movies for his smile, his movement, his energy, Vittorio Gassman's Italian movies for the physicality, Clark Gable for his mustache."