PARIS  -  Veteran French actor Gerard Depardieu has insisted that the controversy over his quitting France was “a big misunderstanding” and that he still loves his country.

“I never left! I refuse to be shut in by borders, that’s completely different,” Depardieu told the Figaro Magazine in an interview published Friday. “I am a free man. I feel at home everywhere in Europe.”

“This whole story is a big misunderstanding,” he said, adding: “I love France as much as ever. It’s my country.” Depardieu, 64, made global headlines late last year when he decided to take up residency to Belgium after the Socialist government sought to impose a 75 percent tax rate on annual incomes over one million euros ($1.3 million). He was subsequently granted Russian citizenship by President Vladimir Putin. The decision stirred up controversy, as have his friendships with Putin and Chechnya’s strongman leader Ramzan Kadyrov. But in recent months Depardieu has sought to play down the move, granting a series of interviews and returning to Paris this summer to shoot a film in which he plays the creator of the FIFA World Cup, Jules Rimet.