If you were to encounter Jean Reno in an alley, you might run -- very, very fast. The French actor has, after all, played an assortment of assassins and ne’er-do-wells, and his imposing stature is enough to make anyone’s knees knock. But it turns out that the 61-year-old, who reprises his role as Gilbert Ponton opposite Steve Martin in this month’s The Pink Panther 2, is full of surprises.

You alternate between drama and comedy well. Which do you enjoy most? I have to admit that I prefer comedy to drama because making people laugh is a noble challenge. A comedian has to forget his own pain and turn himself into something for others. That said, I enjoy playing different roles, and it’s a conscious decision on my part not to do the same kind of character all the time.

You divide your time between France and the United States. Confess: Which do you prefer? I have a place in New York and [one] in Paris. There are a lot of differences between those two cities, those two continents, and we would need a book to speak about all of them. I can say that I have the privilege of having friends in both places, and I consider it a gift from God that I can live with my family in two different cultures.

That’s a very diplomatic answer. Is it true that in your downtime, you make olive oil? Twenty years ago, I bought a country house in the south of France, in a place called Les Alpilles. Over time, I’ve purchased more land there and, eventually, an olive grove. I love the olive trees -- not only for the beauty of the trees and the olive oil they produce but because they represent for me a strong symbol of peace and eternity. But you have to come to France if you want to buy my olive oil, as it is not available in the United States.

And I also hear that you’ve taken to directing opera? [French singer] Charles Aznavour and [operatic tenor] Roberto Alagna asked me to direct Manon Lescaut for the Olympic Winter Games in Torino in 2006 because they thought I would have the right artistic vision for this kind of piece. They were right! It was a terrific experience.