From make-up.. to natural blusher

Léa Seydoux on coming over all coy with Daniel Craig and Melvil Poupaud

by Richard Mowe

Léa Seydoux and Melvil Poupaud in One Fine Morning: 'I found myself blushing in our first love scene. I suppose it was my natural shyness coming through.'
Léa Seydoux and Melvil Poupaud in One Fine Morning: 'I found myself blushing in our first love scene. I suppose it was my natural shyness coming through.' Photo: MUBI
Who would have thought that Léa Seydoux whom some directors have regarded as an object of desire and representing a certain kind of sex appeal, would have baulked at getting intimate with her leading men.

Yet over a collective chinwag in Paris the current star of Mia Hansen-Løve’s One Fine Morning (Un beau matin) and normally a glamorously assured model for luxury brand Louis Vuitton, confessed she blushed so profusely during a read-through with James Bond Daniel Craig for No Time To Die she had to take a break. “I had to say, ‘I love you’ and became red in the face. He gave me a strange look and I had to call a halt because I was embarrassed and actually conscious of my reaction,” she smiles, guardedly.

Seydoux (French cinema royalty through her grandfather Jérôme Seydoux, chairman of the film company Pathé) manages to lose herself in the role of Sandra in an autobiographical tale of Hansen-Løve’s relationship with her own dying father, played by Pascal Greggory. Despite the pain of the situation she tries to hang on in there and find a measure of happiness and comfort in the trials of everyday life, not least with friend Clément (Melvil Poupaud) with whom she strikes up passionate relationship.

“Even with Melvil whom I know well I found myself blushing in our first love scene. I suppose it was my natural shyness coming through,” she said. “I really liked this portrait of this woman and I appreciated it was very much Mia’s own story. I liked the fact that it was a rebirth and a new departure in her life. She had already had a life and a first child and she had all that behind her while she was still relatively young. I think there was a certain sense of naturalism in the script.”

Léa Seydoux all glammed up as TV journalist in Bruno Dumont’s France
Léa Seydoux all glammed up as TV journalist in Bruno Dumont’s France Photo: UniFrance
Unlike the uber-glamorous TV news presenter in Bruno Dumont’s France, Seydoux in One Fine Morning wears barely perceptible make-up and is deliberately de-glammed. Her delicately nuanced performance and gamine cropped hair-do recalls Jean Seberg in Jean-Luc Godard’s Breathless. It’s unlike anything we have seen her offer previously whether as a Bond girl, a prison guard for Wes Anderson in The French Dispatch, a temptress for Arnaud Desplechin in his Philip Roth adaptation Deception or a gory performance artist for David Cronenberg in Crimes of the Future.

Hansen-Løve has said that Seydoux is the first actress to make her cry. “That’s true - I saw her crying and she also made me cry too. I am not surprised because it was very much the story of her father. I had the same experience on another film I made Dear Prudence (La Belle Épine) which also was a personal journey for the director Rebecca Zlotowski who, as a ten-year-old, discovered her relatively young mother had died and she had to call the emergency services. She was very moved by the scenes we were filming and she was in floods of tears some of the time.

“I am pleased when someone tells me they cried when they watched a performance because that means they were moved. There are actors who can cry on screen but they don’t move you in the same way. When I’m watching a film it isn’t necessarily an actor crying that can move me but rather a certain detail can set me off. Recently when I saw The Banshees of Inisherin there were certain scenes that made me cry.”

Hansen-Løve wrote the role in One Fine Morning with the actress in mind. “I had been attracted to her for a long time, but it was this character that allowed us to meet. I thought she was great in her last few roles but I wanted to show her in a new light. In recent years, Léa Seydoux has been looked at a lot as an object of desire. She embodies - in a very powerful way - a certain sex appeal, a certain unconventional glamour...

“She is often very ‘done up’ in films... Very much dressed up, even disguised. Here, she is much simpler, both in her appearance and in her way of being. I wanted to strip her of her seductive attributes. Filming her with short hair and a bare head is part of that. To film her as a mother, in her daily life, as she works, too. She is not only looked at as a desirable woman: she also watches others a lot. We watch her watching and listening... I saw a reversal that allowed us to get closer to her inner character, her mysteriousness, even more. And a sadness in her, which moves me deeply.”

Léa Seydoux and Camille Leban Martins in One Fine Morning. Director Mia Hansen-Løve: 'I thought she was great in her last few roles but I wanted to show her in a new light'
Léa Seydoux and Camille Leban Martins in One Fine Morning. Director Mia Hansen-Løve: 'I thought she was great in her last few roles but I wanted to show her in a new light' Photo: MUBI
The actress is aware she can occasionally seem melancholic. She suggests: “After the birth of my son (with her longtime boyfriend André Meyer) I saw this photograph of me and the baby and he also has this look of melancholy. I think it is something you are born with … the personality already is formed. I liked the phrase from Nietzsche who believed you become who you are. So don’t wait your whole life for yourself to develop because in my opinion the traits are there from birth.”

Seydoux, 37, has managed to tread an astute line between more modest European productions and such Hollywood blockbusters such as Mission Impossible and James Bond. “I like doing both. There is the upcoming sequel to Dune in which I play Lady Margot in an ensemble cast of Timothée Chalamet, Rebecca Ferguson, and Josh Brolin, reprising their roles, as well Florence Pugh, Christopher Walken and Austin Butler. I enjoyed working with director Denis Villeneuve whom I had met on the jury in Cannes. He is very funny and I adored the experience. I have often noticed that people from Quebec have this joie de vivre about them and he was so enthusiastic about everything. It was a marvellous experience to shoot with Denis but I find it more difficult to shoot films with special effects when you have to play against a green screen. It is difficult to find the truth in such circumstances.”

She starts filming shortly on a reinvention of one of the cult erotic film hits of the Seventies, Emmanuelle for Happening director Audrey Diwan, taking over the role created by Sylvie Kristel. The new adaptation of the 1959 novel by Emmanuelle Arsan will be made in English with a script developed by Diwan and Rebecca Zlotowski. “It is not at all like the Emmanuelle you may remember and all those films in the series. There is eroticism but it is more an Emmanuelle for our times. It will be told more from a female perspective. And I start filming in a few weeks.”

Director Mia Hansen-Løve wrote the role with Seydoux in mind
Director Mia Hansen-Løve wrote the role with Seydoux in mind Photo: Philippe Quaisse/UniFrance
She is back working again with Bertrand Bonello on the sci-fi melodrama La Bête inspired by Henry James’s 1903 novella The Beast In The Jungle. She was to have worked with the late Gaspard Ulliel whose role now is taken by George Mackay. She worked with Bonello previously in On War in 2008. Seydoux plays a woman from the near-future where emotions have become a threat. She decides to filter her DNA and get rid of all feelings using a machine that will send her into her past lives to begin the synaptic purge. That is, until she meets George MacKay with whom she feels a special connection.

By sheer coincidence contemporary Adèle Exarchopoulos who, with director Abdellatif Kechiche, shared the controversial Palme d’Or with Seydoux for their performances in Blue Is The Warmest Color ( La Vie d'Adèle), in 2013, also is giving interviews in an adjoining room.

The film marked an auspicious turning point to both their careers. Seydoux has said she felt like a "prostitute" while shooting the long and explicit sex scenes between her and Exarchopoulos and they have both criticised the director. She has admitted, however, that she wouldn’t change a thing about the way the film was made. She told one interviewer: “I’m proud of the film, and proud of having gone through that process. Cinema is a way to learn things and grow, and while it was uncomfortable to have experienced that, I now feel I can do anything.”

Glasgow Film Festival: One Fine Morning screens at Glasgow Film Theatre on 08 March at 18.00 and on 09 March at 15.45. UK and Ireland release through Mubi on 14 April.

Richard Mowe talked to Léa Seydoux at the Unifrance Rendezvous with French Cinema in Paris last month.

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