Summary: Léa talks about her childhood, her shyness and personality, how she was casted to Midnight in Paris, how was it to work with Tarantino and other artists and why [she believes] she wasn’t chosen to play Lisbeth Salander. It’s long, but it’s definitely one of her best interviews ever.
From all coffee tables, Léa Seydoux chooses the smallest one, located in the back of the room, next to a pair of wooden chairs. The waiter, standard-bearer of Parisian kindness, refused to accommodate us in the first option: a great round armchair upholstered in red velvet seemed to suit better her rising star status. “It’s for large groups”, he explained with no visible symptoms of grief. Curiously, nobody recognized her in this fine Saint-Germain bistro, two steps away from the house where she grew up and full of couples that protected themselves from the apocalyptic weather of this summer Sunday. The reason might be her short blue hair, so different from the usual sinuous hair she used to have.
The motive is the shooting of her last film, Le Bleu est une couleur chaude (Blue is a hot color), an adaptation of Julie Maroh’s comic, in which she plays a lesbian painter. She’s returning to France after working with Quentin Tarantino, Ridley Scott, Woody Aleen and Tom Cruise for about 3 years. That is, after the first step of her meteoric career with no missteps, marked by right decisions and a work ethic worthy of her strict Protestant education. One could say that this 26-year-old actress, outspoken and with a sardonic smile, doesn’t care much about all. She’s more worried about arriving late at a birthday party, at which she should had arrived already. “I can stay about 45 minutes. Do you mind if we start?”
SMODA: People who worked with you have defined you as eccentric.
LÉA: Really? I don’t think I am. At best, I’m a bit of a weirdo. If I’m eccentric is only because I easily detect the absurd side of life.
S: They also call you nostalgic.
L: Maybe. I miss those times when I didn’t have any worries, like my childhood. I wasn’t the world’s happiest kid, but I had a freedom I miss. It fades when you realize you’re mortal.
S: This sounds like Woody Allen.
L: He said he was happy until he was three years old. Then he realized what death was. It happened to me the same when I was four. And I think about death everyday.
S: That’s why you’re described as tortured.
L: I am [tortured] as a person and as an actress. Mainly because I look at myself in a very critical way. And it’s fine to be self-critical, but one must not exaggerate.
S: “Modern life frightens me a lot”, you said. What do you fear?
L: I don’t like the speed of things. I’d say human relations were more beautiful and noble in the past. Deep down, I suspect it’s not true, for I perfectly know that the human soul is a bit mediocre. Truth is people nowadays are more uniform and less original. You can also see that in today’s culture. A film by Marcel Carné inspires me more than a comedy about French people on vacation going on camping. Culture is fundamental. Literature saves you. Cinema saves you.
S: About cinema, did you have any role models to follow?
L: I’d say two: Audrey Hepburn, for her elegance, and Catherine Deneuve, for her career and her intelligence. But it’s only a bit of admiration. The only role model I’ve had is my mother. And she has a lot of flaws. But she’s also very charismatic and everyone is fascinated by her. She’s very politicized. She founded an association to help the children of Dakar and she spends part of her year there. She’s the typical rebellious person. She hates consumerism; the word she hates the most is “shopping”.
S: On the other hand, your father is a business man surrounded by celebrities and great fortunes. You said you visited Mick Jagger and Lou Reed when you were little.
L: My parents divorced when I was little and this created a sort of duality in me. I’m a bit like my father and a bit like my mother. It’s contradictious, though it’s not a big problem. I prefer this instead of having two bourgeois parents or two parents involved in the cooperation with Africa.
S: Would you say that your posh girl image does not correspond to reality?
L: Yes, I’d say that. My family is Protestant, so I had a strict and austere education. I’m still a rich girl because I come from a rich family and I like things such as cashmere sweaters and Hèrmes bags [laughs]. But I’m an original rich girl. I like to get away from what I am. That’s why I live in a neighborhood like Chàteau d’Eau [popular African colony in the right side of Paris]. Nobody recognizes me there.
S: The fact that your grandfather was the owner of Pathé studios, an authentic empire of French cinema, didn’t help you at the beginning of your career?
L: I don’t believe it had much influence or opened many doors for me. I decided to dedicate myself to this because my parents always visited artists, so I always saw it [acting] as a possibility.
S: Does your strict Protestant education make you feel guilty and respect all the fame and the luxury?
L: A bit, yes. My mother used to dress me with second handed clothes, so privileges sound a bit obscene to me. But I can’t deny my love for fashion. I enjoy them [privileges] a lot, maybe because my childhood was the opposite.
S: Like children without television that become addicted to trash tv?
L: Exactly. Like Michael Jackson, that was forbidden to play when he was a kid and then built an amusement park in his house. Clothes are important in our social image. If you wear clothes that are too different, you may end up feeling rejected.
S: Was it your case?
L: Yes. Not only for the clothes. I was the typical disheveled and strange girl. I wanted to be normal to be part of the group. It was a school for rich kids and, next to them, I looked like a weirdo. They rapidly made me feel that difference.
S: Perhaps, in long terms, it’s not that bad to feel different that early. It may help you do different things.
L: Now I see it that way too, but at that time all I wanted was to my mother to wear Cacharel, to look identically like my friend’s rich moms when she came to pick me up. My house was full of African sculptures, when I wanted a flat ordinary floor. People liked me, but I always felt misfit.
S: One could infer that you respect your success, but you don’t give it much importance.
L: That’s not wrong. Success is great, but I don’t want to be much connected to it. It can be a drug, an addiction. You may want always more. Besides, I like a lot to disappear, to hide myself.
S: You’ve described yourself as shy.
L: It’s what I am, extremely. I’m always blushing. Sometimes I even get paralyzed and I can’t speak. But words are not too useful, are they?
S: You’re not very shy before the cameras. You’ve undressed yourself several times since the beginning of your career.
L: It bothers me a lot. When I was younger I didn’t care [one of her first works was an ad for American Apparel in which she appeared with bare breasts]. But my favorite part in my body are my dark circles [under her eyes] (it’s “ojeras”, but I had read “orejas” LMFAO My ears define me LOL). They define me. They reveal my melancholy.
S: You explained that some directors believe they’re “a maestro, a lover, a husband and God, also”. Can you give us their names?
L: Don’t do that with me [laughs]. Let’s say that the relationship with directors it’s not always easy. I’ve worked with female directors and I see them more like allies. The male ones tend to idealize you and project their thoughts on you.
S: Is Hollywood over?
L: No. I’m just taking a break. It’s something I’ve decided consciously. I’ve worked almost a year with Abdellatif Kechiche, the director of Cuscús. I had to give up of other things, both in the US and in France. I was going to be on Michel Gondry’s new film [the adaptation of The Foam of the Days, by Boris Vian], but I won’t be able for schedule problems. Soon I’ll be shooting a couple of films in France. I wanted to go back to US next year. I like their way of working. I like to travel, go from Marie Antoinette to Mission Impossible.
S: Don’t you think that the roles offered you there are less interesting?
L: Even Woody Allen made me play a very stereotyped French woman. But I don’t see it as a problem. It’s not something that bothers me. It was a role like any other. In all characters there’s work to do, a psychology to explore. I don’t mind embodying the definition of a French woman.
S: What have you learned from Allen?
L: I discovered someone who has the same way to see life as I do: tragicomic. We speak the same language. There was no casting. I arrived at the sets in the end of it all. They showed him three photos of French actresses and he picked me. It was horrible. Woody Allen and Pedro Almodóvar are my favorite directors. It’s a shame that Almodóvar only shoots in Spain.
S: What about Quentin Tarantino?
L: His passion. It’s delightful to work with people that are so in love with what they do.
S: And Tom Cruise?
L: His professionalism. I liked meeting him. He behaved very nicely with me. It was a mind-blowing experience, because I normally don’t go around killing people [laughs].
S: And David Fincher?
L: Perhaps his incredible harshness. I went through a casting experience with him to play Lisbeth Salander, but he chose Rooney Mara. I got upset, but I don’t think I’d be able to do anything to get that part. It was totally against my nature. I had to pronounce six pages of a monologue in English with Swedish accent. I worked hard, but Lisbeth was almost anorexic. I wasn’t like that.
S: And Miuccua Prada?
L: I love Miuccia. And I’m not saying that ‘cause I’m the face of the brand [Seydoux is the face of its new fragrance, Prada Candy]. She seems artistic to me. And, besides, she has a sort of communist side. She has educated her children in an incredible way. I like Jean-Paul Gaultier as well, for being part of this group of creators with unusual personalities. In the prêt-a-porter, I go with Acne. And APC, even though sometimes it lacks of a sexy touch. I also like vintage.
S: Is it true that you like something of Nietzsche?
L: “Become what you are”. I, above all things, want to be happy. And I don’t believe much in happiness, even though I must say that, right now, I like my life.