Léa Seydoux on Bond Girl celebrity and truth in cinema

BY James Mottram

13th Jun 2023 Celebrities

Léa Seydoux on Bond Girl celebrity and truth in cinema

With the release of Léa Seydoux's latest film, One Fine Morning, we catch up with the French actress about James Bond, working with Tarantino and world cinema

In a suite in Paris’ Hotel du Collectionneur, Léa Seydoux is quietly unpacking her extraordinary career.

Since bursting onto screens well over a decade ago, this talented, elegant actor has graced everything from Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel and The French Dispatch to James Bond films Spectre and No Time to Die, playing Madeleine Swann, the woman who captured the heart of Daniel Craig’s 007.

“I feel very happy,” she shrugs. “I just go with the flow.” If this sounds laissez-faire, Seydoux is not someone who takes her position of privilege for granted. “I have to pinch myself,” she admits.

It’s an understandable sentiment. While many French stars don’t conquer the international film circuit, the 37-year-old Seydoux is a rare exception.

"I see the cinema as a global language, and we have different dialects"

Even before her international breakthrough, 2013’s intense same-sex love story Blue Is the Warmest Colour, she’d landed small roles for big directors like Quentin Tarantino (Inglourious Basterds), Ridley Scott (Robin Hood) and Woody Allen (Midnight in Paris).

She even featured opposite Tom Cruise in Mission: Impossible—Ghost Protocol, the megastar requesting her personally and casting her without an audition.

As much as she loves the Hollywood movies she’s done—and she’s increasingly doing more of them—she has her eye on conquering world cinema.

“I see the cinema as a global language, and we have different dialects,” she says, reeling off a list of directors—Austrian, Israeli, Tajik—that she’s worked with in the past.

“It has no boundaries. And I want to be able to explore every kind of movie in a way. And this is what I love. I mean, I love to adapt myself. I feel that I’m a bit like a chameleon. I like to transform myself.”

Romantic melancholia in One Fine Morning 

Lea Seydoux in One Fine MorningIn One Fine MorningSeydoux plays a single mother who finds solace in a new relationship during a challenging time for her family

Just occasionally, though, she hides in plain sight. We’re here to talk about One Fine Morning, Seydoux’s latest, a film that’s somehow both devastating and uplifting in the same breath.

She plays Sandra, a translator and single mother whose father, a former philosophy professor, has been stricken by Benson’s syndrome, a rare and cruel condition caused by Alzheimer’s.

As brutal as this is for Sandra to see, at the same time, she falls in love with an old friend (Melvil Poupaud), giving her joy at this most terrible of times.

Sandra’s commonplace nature, dealing with everyday vicissitudes of life, was part of the appeal for Seydoux.

“It’s true that it’s the first time that I that I’ve played someone who’s normal! And it’s the reason, maybe, why people are so touched by the movie—because they can relate to her.

"She goes through very simple emotions. Emotions that we are all connected to. I mean, what is it to have a sick parent? It’s a movie about very simple subjects like love, death, motherhood. I like that.”

"I was born melancholic. But I’m also very joyful. You can be both"

Playing down her beauty, something most directors emphasise, it’s a performance of great subtlety from Seydoux. Although we shouldn’t be surprised.

As The Hollywood Reporter noted, “She’s the rare star equally adept at cranking up the wattage—her gaze can smoulder with the best of them, and she knows how to give lines a showstopping urgency—and turning it down enough to slip credibly into the skin of ordinary women.”

It’s Seydoux’s first film for Mia Hansen-Løve, the French writer-director behind Bergman Island and Things to Come, who has been watching her work for years.

“Something I find very special about her is that although she’s been in so many films as an actress—and she has such a long career now and experience—to me, she has an innocence about her presence on screen and how she acts,” Hansen-Løve tells me.

“And there is a sadness about her that moves me a lot because that sadness never seems ‘acted’.”

In person, Seydoux doesn’t seem sad. She’s a little shy and softly-spoken but seems possessed of quiet self-confidence. Today, she’s wearing brown ankle boots, black and white check trousers, and a cream, button-free top with zips at the end of the black sleeves.

Next to her, her phone’s home screen has a picture of Georges, her six-year-old son with long-term actor boyfriend André Meyer. Yet she instantly agrees with Hansen-Løve’s assessment of her.

“I’ve always been melancholic, even as a kid,” she nods. “I was born melancholic. But I’m also very joyful. You can be both.”

Falling in love with acting

Lea Seydoux in GirlfriendsOne of Seydoux's early breakout roles came in the comedy Girlfriends

Born in Paris, she has one older biological sister Camille, who later became her regular stylist, and five other half-siblings. Her mother had three children before she married Seydoux’s father. After her parents split, when Seydoux was three, her father had two more children.

Hers was no ordinary upbringing, though. Her mother Valérie Schlumberger is a former actress-turned-philanthropist, who spent much time in Africa, while her businessman father Henri Seydoux founded Parrot, a company involved in wireless technology.

Meanwhile, her grandfather, Jérôme Seydoux, was the chairman of French film outfit Pathé, while her grand-uncle was the chairman of Gaumont Film Company. Given Seydoux’s heritage, you’d imagine cinema was in her blood.

“No, not at all,” she says. “It’s not something that was natural to me.” She says that her family took no interest in her blossoming film career, and, anyway, as a child she had a desire to be an opera singer. She studied music at the Paris Conservatoire.

“I grew up not really with cinema, but artists…people around me who were very inspiring,” she adds. Her parents’ connections meant she became acquainted with icons like musicians Lou Reed and Mick Jagger, and photographer Nan Goldin.

Oddly, though, her desire to act came instead through chance encounters with actors. She met one—she won’t say who—and envied his existence. “I wanted to have his life! Because I like freedom. And I think that when you’re an actor, you have a lot of freedom.”

Then she met a second actor, whose name she also keeps guarded. “I fell in love with him. I was like, ‘Wow, he’s great! He’s a wonderful actor, he’s beautiful.’ I wanted to impress him. I was in love with him!”.

Immediately, she resolved to develop her performance skills. “It was difficult at the beginning because I had no technique,” she says.

She took acting classes at French drama school Les Enfants Terribles, and in 2007—a year after making her screen debut in the French-Belgian comedy Girlfriends—joined the prestigious New York Actors Studio.

Finding success with Blue Is The Warmest Colour

Lea Seydoux in Blue Is The Warmest ColourSeydoux shot to fame with her award-winning role in Blue Is The Warmest Colour

Two years later, she was playing a bit-part in Quentin Tarantino’s Second World War film Inglourious Basterds, as the daughter of a French farmer. “I remember when I saw Tarantino for the first time I was really very shy. But I was impressed.”

It was enough to kickstart a career that truly exploded with Blue Is the Warmest Colour, which won the Cannes Film Festival’s top prize, the Palme d’Or.

“I was very happy when I had the Golden Palm. Extremely happy,” she says. “But for me, the best reward is to touch people. When I feel that I touch people’s hearts, I’m satisfied.”

"For me, the best reward is to touch people. When I feel that I touch people’s hearts, I’m satisfied"

As gentle as Seydoux sounds, she’s often drawn to extremes. Take last year’s Crimes of the Future, the latest film from Canadian horror maestro David Cronenberg.

Like Blue Is the Warmest Colour, it required nudity (albeit in strange, sci-fi-tinged surroundings). Can she ever feel at ease in a situation like that?

“You can’t feel comfortable! But when you’re an actor, you have to show reality. I don’t really like to be naked…but for me, if you want to do cinema and you’re an actor…you want to touch reality and the truth.”

Growing celebrity

Coming up, Seydoux has a small role in another sci-fi, Dune: Part Two, Denis Villeneuve’s follow-up to his spectacular Oscar-winning take on Frank Herbert’s epic novel.

Intriguingly, she’s also set to star in a remake of erotic classic Emmanuelle for French director, Audrey Diwan. It’s due to start shooting at the end of the year, and you can expect a radical rethink from the softcore original.

“I think we want to talk about a woman of nowadays. What it is to be a woman today. And, of course, the relationship to sexuality,” she says. “We want to talk about our desire as women.”

Now also a brand ambassador for fashion giant Louis Vuitton, somehow, Seydoux has retained her down-to-earth nature—in spite of her increasing celebrity.

“It’s not like a level of celebrity…it’s not like Daniel [Craig],” she protests. “He’s a superstar. If he walks the street, everybody will be like, ‘Daniel! Daniel!’ Me...?”.

A look of amazement crosses her face, as if this might ever happen to her. Maybe it will, but you imagine it won’t change her a bit.

Banner credit: Andia / Alamy Stock Photo

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