Football legend Eric Cantona thrilled millions in his role as a striker and last week he scored in front of 320 spectators in a Paris theater debut as a dying man trapped in a collapsed supermarket.
The 43-year-old has had parts in many cinema and television movies, making the jump from green pitch to silver screen as effortlessly as his infamous 1995 leap over the crowd barrier to deliver a kung-fu kick to a heckling fan.
But he had never performed live to a theater audience, so the premiere of Face au Paradis (Facing Paradise), a new two-hander play written by Nathalie Saugeon and directed by his wife Rachida Brakni, was a gamble.
It paid off, judging by the enthusiastic applause and shouts of Bravo! that came as the final curtain fell after 90 minutes of the French-language play that is all dialogue and no action.
He s brought to the theater the same passion he brought to football, said a thrilled Zihi Shokri, a 35-year-old hotel worker, who watched the show wearing a football jersey with the name Cantona emblazoned on the back.
Yet Cantona appeared to do little more than play a theatrical version of himself as he lay on the dusty ground and talked with his equally trapped colleague about life, love and the after-life.
The realist, at times plodding dialogue gave him no opportunity to practice his wacky aphorisms about seagulls or other matters that helped boost his fame.
And he was outshone by the younger Lorant Deutsch, a rising star in the world of French film and theater.
But Tuesday s audience were nevertheless delighted to see in the flesh a living legend, who apart from the five years he spent at Manchester United also played for the French national team 45 times.
The theater debut was yet another dramatic twist in Cantona s artistic post-football career.
The pinnacle of his film career came last year when he played himself in Ken Loach s critically acclaimed comedy Looking for Eric, appearing like a vision to mentor a Manchester postman whose life is spiraling out of control.
Cantona ignored the snobbery that initially surrounded his move into acting after he hung up his boots in 1997 at the height of his soccer career.
Paris critics looked down on the provincial with a strong Marseille accent – he is the son of Spanish and Italian immigrants – who had the gall to think he could excel both on the sports field and in front of a camera.
But he has won over many critics, particularly in the last couple of years with his portrayal of a maverick detective in a pair of movies for French television.
The former France striker s best known film internationally – before Looking for Eric – was his role as a French ambassador alongside Cate Blanchett in the 1998 historical drama Elizabeth.
He is even sometimes touted as a Renaissance man – he is also a painter, a lover of literature, and last month published a book of photographs he took of homeless people.
Cantona also likes to speak his mind on political matters.
In December he stuck his boot into the highly-charged debate on national identity instigated by the rightwing President Nicolas Sarkozy, deriding what he called the stupid nationalist approaches to the issue.
The producers of Face au Paradis hope its three-month run will draw in the crowds and boost the Parisian theatrical scene after a disappointing crisis-hit 2009.
Tuesday s premiere augurs well for a successful run, but French theater critics will not be delivering their judgment until next Tuesday, after a week of previews.