ARTICLE ALEXANDRA MARSHALL
PHOTOGRAPHY NAN GOLDIN
STYLIST HANNES HETTA
WITH NEARLY 30 FILMS TO HER CREDIT, INCLUDING THE SAPPHIC TALE BLUE IS THE WARMEST COLOR, CURRENTLY IN U.S. THEATERS, FRESH-FACED ACTRESS LÉA SEYDOUX NEVER PLAYS TO TYPE
There are a lot of reasons to like the 28-year-old French actress Léa Seydoux. In no particular order, here are the top four:
1) She doesn’t give a shit about looking hot.
Seydoux, who grew up in Paris and is the face of Prada’s most heavily marketed perfume, Candy (originally appearing in iconic ads lensed by Jean-Paul Goude), shows up to our meeting in a 10th arrondissement café wearing a rumpled tweedy pullover, too-short gray sweatpants with elastic cuffs, black ankle socks, a pair of puffy white Nikes with hot pink trim, a black wool topcoat, and a wide-brimmed black hat. It is common these days to hear actresses with fashion company contracts say, as Seydoux does, guilelessly, “I am really not that focused on my appearance.” But few of them put their money where their mouth is when being interviewed for a magazine sure to describe their outfit. When Seydoux says “I like to buy clothes and be stylish, but I have this big distance with fashion,” I can see that she means it, even though she is a convincing model, both in Prada finery and in much skimpier attire, like what she wore (or didn’t) for last month’s relaunch of French skin mag Lui.
For red-carpet moments, for which she is usually nonchalant, ethereal, and chic, she turns to her sister, a stylist. Today, with her creamy, makeup-free skin and very rumpled, now-auburn bob, she is adorable anyway. “I’m not attached to my hair, you can do whatever you want,” she says. “It grows really fast.” That’s a good thing, because in Blue is the Warmest Color, which won the Palme d’Or at Cannes this year—honoring not just the director, Abdellatif Kechiche, but also, and very unusually, the actors, Seydoux and her 19-year-old costar, Adèle Exarchopoulos—Seydoux has her first career brush with truly bad hair. In the film, based on Julie Mahon’s graphic novel of the same name, she plays a butch lesbian artist with a shocking blue crop who starts a romance with Exarchopoulos’s 15-year-old character. “I could see that Abdellatif was afraid to ask me to cut it and dye it,” Seydoux recalls. No need. Rather than pull an Audrey Tautou and go to a chic transformer like John Nollet for her radical makeover, “I went to a barber shop in the 18th arrondissement, near where Abdellatif lives,” she says. “There was no hair or makeup person on the set—we weren’t allowed to wear makeup at all—so for continuity, we had to redo the blue color every day.” Half the time it was Kechiche, a two-time César-winner, for both Best Picture and Best Director, with a visceral hatred of gloss and artifice, who did her color himself, in a bathtub on their tiny apartment set in Lille. Fun!
2) She’s not afraid of unlikable roles.
Seydoux may have first come to the public’s attention in 2008, in Christophe Honoré’s tragic romance, La Belle Personne, playing an unattainable Thing of Perfect Beauty, as do so many French ingenues. And she still does pretty-girl parts, like in Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris. (She also can play a badass bitch, like in Mission: Impossible—Ghost Protocol and Ridley Scott’s Robin Hood.) But these days she is taking on more complicated personalities with antihero tendencies. In last year’s Farewell, My Queen, she plays a servant to Marie Antoinette with a supercilious attitude and a visible problem with hygiene. Opposite the drop-dead gorgeous Diane Kruger and costarring with the luminous Virginie Ledoyen, she seems to relish scratching her era-appropriate lice and mosquito bites with cranky abandon. In someone else’s hands, her character in Blue Is the Warmest Color could come off as narcissistic and predatory, but she brings soul and complexity to the role. Like many dedicated actors, she sees all her characters as ways into parts of herself that she couldn’t otherwise access. “I was so shy when I was younger,” Seydoux explains, “and there were so many aspects of my personality I couldn’t express. Through acting, I finally could. That’s why it was so important to me to be an actress, it was more than a passion, but something I needed as a person.”
3) She is really gung ho, but not very PC, about her job.
Seydoux holds nothing back in Blue Is the Warmest Color, a hyper-naturalist examination of the life cycle of a love affair, whose incredibly graphic lesbian love scenes earned the film an NC-17 rating in the U.S. She is also quite upfront when talking about the film, which recently set in motion a public spat with the notoriously controlling Kechiche: in an interview for The Daily Beast, Seydoux and Exarchopoulos both said they’d never work with him again. “I really wanted to do this film and I wanted to go all the way with it,” Seydoux says, acknowledging how important the performance was in her evolution. “But the process was very difficult. I had to totally dedicate myself to Kechiche for a year, to show my desire for the film and for him. I was supposed to promote Mission: Impossible and I couldn’t really leave Paris, because if the phone rang or he sent a message asking to meet, I had to go. It was a little too extreme and there comes a point when that approach doesn’t really work.”
One reason the shoot took so long was that Kechiche extended the shoot from two months to five, with many 100-take shots, including a physical fight scene with no stunt doubles and a particularly graphic ten-minute love scene, which took a week to shoot, with no choreography. She’s filmed other love scenes, “but not like that one,” Seydoux says, ruefully. “It’s a little cliché to say I feel freer in my body now, but it’s the truth. But it’s not something that I love to do. I don’t know if it’s something I love to watch, either.”
4) She defies typecasting.
She can go convincingly from giddy in Wes Anderson and Roman Coppola’s Prada Candy commercials to tough and demanding for Kechiche, to a fairy-tale princess opposite Vincent Cassel in Christophe Gans’s upcoming Beauty and the Beast. (She also has a small part in Anderson’s next movie, The Grand Budapest Hotel.) One role that Seydoux is about to start shooting gives her pause, however: Loulou de la Falaise in Bertrand Bonello’s upcoming Yves Saint Laurent biopic. It’s one of two YSL movies currently filming, and the one without Pierre Bergé’s blessing, which has meant no access to the archives. (“Thankfully they found someone with a huge collection of vintage Saint Laurent,” she notes.) “Everyone I’ve spoken to about Loulou tells me she was so extraordinary,” says Seydoux. “I feel the pressure. In France, you’re always judged.” If she ever decided to pull up stakes and relocate, America would be glad to have her.
BLUE IS THE WARMEST COLOR IS IN THEATERS NOW
PHOTOS OF LÉA SEYDOUX AT HER HOME IN PARIS, SEPTEMBER 2013
CONTRIBUTING ART EDITOR DOMINIC SIDHU Makeup Christine Corbel (Management Artists) Hair Olivier Lebrun (See Management) Manicure Philippe Ovak (Marie-France Thavonekham Agency) Stylist assistant Josefine Forsberg Equipment rental RVZ