María Casares (21 November 1922 – 22 November 1996) was a Spanish-French actress and one of the most distinguished stars of the French stage. She was usually credited in France as Maria Casarès.
Casares was born María Victoria Casares y Pérez in A Coruña, Galicia, the daughter of Santiago Casares Quiroga, a minister in Manuel Azaña’s government and Prime Minister of Spain and of Gloria Pérez.
At the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War (1936), the family was forced to flee. The father went to London, the mother and daughter sought refuge in Paris.
There, María attended the Lycée Victor Duruy then, after her graduation, she took speech classes with René Simon. She enrolled in the Paris Conservatoire, where she won the First Prize for tragedy and Second Prize for comedy.
In July 1942, she auditioned for Marcel Herrand who engaged her for his Théâtre des Mathurins. There, over the course of the next three years,
she appeared in several plays including Deirdre of the Sorrows by J. M. Synge, The Master Builder by Ibsen, Le Malentendu (The Misunderstanding) by Albert Camus (with whom she had an affair), and an especially important premiere, Fédérico, after Prosper Mérimée, with Gérard Philipe.
In the meantime, she began to appear in films.
Her first film role was in Marcel Carné’s Les Enfants du paradis (1945), one of the great classics of French cinema. She also made Les dames du Bois de Boulogne (1945) for Robert Bresson, La Chartreuse de Parme (The Charterhouse of Parma) (1948) for Christian-Jaque, co-starring Gérard Philipe.
For Cocteau, she played Death in his Orphée (1950) with Jean Marais and François Périer and in his Testament d’Orphée (Testament of Orpheus) (1959).
In 1989, she was nominated for the César Award for Best Supporting Actress in La Lectrice.
From 1952 onwards, although she continued to appear in occasional films, she devoted herself mainly to the stage. She joined the Festival d’Avignon, the Comédie-Française and the Théâtre National Populaire under the leadership of Jean Vilar.
Before her, no one actor or actress of foreign origin had ever played at Comédie-Française. She toured extensively throughout the world, appearing in the great classics of French theatre, including, in 1958, Corneille’s Le Cid, Victor Hugo’s Marie Tudor and Marivaux’ Le Triomphe de l’Amour (The Triumph of Love) on Broadway.
Casares took up French nationality in 1975 and three years later married André Schlesser, an actor known professionally as ‘Dade, who had been her longtime companion and theatrical co-star.
She published her autobiography, Résidente privilégiée (Privileged Resident) in 1980, in which she discusses her 16-year affair with Camus.
The actress died at her country house, Château de La Vergne, in the village of Alloue in Poitou-Charentes; she left the property to the village. Today, the Domaine de la Vergne is a residence for artists and a setting for performances.