Léa Seydoux is one of the hardest working performers in show business. With several titles at this year’s Cannes (she had four last year!), she appears in everything from intimate arthouse cinema to giant blockbusters like the Daniel Craig James Bond films. She exploded onto the world stage with Blue is the Warmest Colour, a film that she and her co-lead actor personally received the prestigious Palme d’Or from Steven Spielberg’s jury along with her director, a feat unique in the history of this storied festival.
Her latest role is as daring and audacious has the film itself, tackling the capricious Caprice who along with Viggo Mortensen’s character explore a new kind of art and sensuality. We spoke to Seydoux at Cannes as part of a small roundtable of exceptional colleagues, and despite some reticence to speak in her second language she provided answers as open, generous and affecting as the performances she’s most celebrated for.
The following has been edited for clarity and concision.
Intimacy in cinema, especially in North America, is considered completely offline. Violence is absolutely no problem, but actual intimacy, not just sexual intimacy, but intimacy in emotional ways often is more damaging and more destructive for people than blowing things up. That being said, the mechanism of making intimacy work in cinema is not unlike your machine. The camera is here, we think of it as very sexual, very provocative, and yet it’s very mechanical. As somebody who has, for lack of a better word, exposed yourself emotionally on screen in ways unlike few actors of your generation, can you talk about the challenge of leaving something of you behind, but also of allowing us to fall in love with you on screen?
Thank you. I mean, yeah, to me, if you ask me what the movie’s about to me, it’s like a metaphor about what it is to be an artist. It’s the first, for me it was very clear that it was that. It’s true that our characters, Viggo and I, we perform together with our bodies. It’s almost like I’m the director, and Viggo is my actor. I play with his body. That is what it is to be a director and have actors. For me, when I act, I act with my body, but I act also with my soul, and that’s exactly what the film’s about, where you give your body and soul. It’s true that I think that as an artist, you have to put your flesh on the table. And David literally put flesh on the table! When I act it’s the same, otherwise it wouldn’t be interesting if I was trying to protect myself. I think it’s also what I’m looking for – I’m exposing myself, but with that state of vulnerability. It’s my way to communicate with people, and because of that that I can have a connection.
When at that position you are literally exposed, how do you hold yourself back, how do you not get lost? How are you acting but still holding on to a part of you without showing it. None of us would feel as comfortable in being as open emotionally or physically as you are on a regular basis. How is there still a you, not just the image we have of you?
I give everything and I give nothing. I give nothing and I give everything. It’s difficult to answer that question because I give everything at a moment and then, as you said, it’s behind me. It’s all a piece of me.
So is it hard or is it easy to leave the character behind after you leave the film?
It’s not really like being a character. I mean, I’m playing myself. This is what I am. When you ask what do you keep for you, I see she’s me, she’s me. Every character I’ve been playing has been me, they’ve been a variation on me. Every time I put a new costume on, but it’s me. It’s not interesting if I’m not open to what I’m doing, that wouldn’t be very interesting. This is what I’m looking for. I want to lose control also. I think I’m an actress to, because in society, we have to be like, hello, how is your life, you have rules. But what’s great is that cinema allows you to just go and just whatever. You have a frame, and within that you can safely let yourself go. I think that we all want that. And sex is also about that. Sex is also something that you let go, it’s a relief, but we all want that. But at the same time we want to control our lives.
Is sex a performance?
Is it a sense of exploration, do you discover new things about yourself playing a role?
I never think about myself playing a role. I’m not really, it’s weird. I was thinking do I need to act? I have a big paradox that’s I really need to act, I feel that I need it like it’s my breathing in a way, it’s my way to express myself. At the same time, I don’t like to be seen. And I think that’s my paradox, that I don’t want to be in the light. It has happened many times to me when directors said, “Léa, go in the light, we can’t see you!” I never know how to be in the light because I think that in a way I don’t want to be seen. I have this eagerness to act. I need to do this, it’s a necessity, more than anyone else. I think it’s why I work a lot. And at the same time, I don’t need it. I don’t need it in the sense that it’s everything and nothing at the same time. If cinema stops, or if suddenly people had no more desire to film me, how would it be for me? I think it would be fine. I never wanted to be an actress when I was young. I did want to be famous, or have my image all around. I mean, I have as much admiration for you guys as for actors.
We are not very good. [laughs]
I’m not either! [laughs]
But it’s paradoxical as you say, you need to act because you need to connect?
It’s more I need it and it’s more an existence. I’m very sensitive and sometimes life is just hard. I struggle, like we all do, but I get overwhelmed easily and I really struggle and to act helps me to be connected to the world and to feel alive. I feel alive when I’m acting is all.
What was the film that made you decide you could do this? And what is the film that made you fall in love with film?
I didn’t know at first if I was a good actress or what it is to be a good actress.
What is the first film where you thought I can act?
I still don’t know if I can act.
You can act. We’re critics, we know.
No, but sometimes, because it was not really a dream of mine as a kid, and I just learned on set. I was briefly at theatre school but I was just very wild at the time, wild in the sense that I was on my planet.
What was the first movie that you fell in love with film?
Oh, as a kid, I watched films. Not as many as we can today because we didn’t have streaming. I loved Beauty and the Beast from Jean Cocteau, I loved the animated films of course as a kid. I saw Betty Blue as a kid I don’t know it was just there and I watched it, and I think it was my first erotic experience on film. I was very young. But I saw also so many films like Sissi with Romy Schneider.
Were you watching Top Gun? Were you watching Star Wars? Is your world the European art world, or is your world a James Bond world?
I remember that my father took me to the theatre, I would watch films because I grew up in Paris and I was surrounded by culture in a way. I know that in America it’s not as easy as it is in France. In Paris, you have bookshops everywhere, and I grew up in a very nice neighbourhood where there are all of the theatres. It’s called the Quartier Latin, you have all of the little cinemas. So I watched old movies that I loved. American culture is now global, so of course I knew American films. I can’t remember the title, but there were romantic comedies that I loved as a kid.
You know Cronenberg was asked to direct Top Gun, he was asked to direct Return of the Jedi, he was asked to direct Flashdance, he was asked to do all of these films and he said no. Cronenberg is unique, it’s that he is North American but he is also has a European sensibility. We know you’re European, but I want to get from you, how much North America, how much Hollywood is inside you? How much of this, do you have a love at all for big blockbusters?
I think they are exhilarating. Some of them are beautifully made, and some of them are artificial, some of them are shit. I love cinema, so a blockbuster can be cinema. It is cinema! I love Tom Cruise and I think he’s maybe the best actor in the world. I love Marlon Brando as well. Tom Cruise is a great actor and I love some, he has made great big films. And now I love Timothée Chalamet, he’s great. So charming! And so they’re in blockbusters but I find them amazing.
When you come to Cannes with a film like this and you present it to the world, does it feel in a way like you’ve grown a new organ inside of you and it gets cut out and presented to the world. Is that a metaphor you could say?
Yeah, it is. I perform in a way, but I perform from my instruments with my body.
…And we hold it up and we look at it and we see your tattoo.
Crimes of the Future debuts in theatres June 3.
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