Bond actor Lea Seydoux on role of muse in The French Dispatch and defying expectations


In Wes Anderson’s new starred film, The French Dispatch, Léa Seydoux (No time to die) plays a prison guard who becomes the muse of an inmate.

It’s the latest in a long line of sensual and enigmatic heartbreakers that the in-demand actor has embodied since his pivotal role in the French arthouse film La Belle Person in 2008, and refined in later films. as varied as Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris, Cannes-acclaimed lesbian romance Blue is the hottest color and Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol.

In 2013, Seydoux won the Palme d’Or at Cannes with co-star Adèle Exarchopoulos and director Abdellatif Kechiche for Blue Is the Warmest Color.(Provided: Transmission)

Her recent turn as Daniel Craig’s secret lover, Madeleine Swann – whom critics have dubbed “the antithesis of the Bond girl” – is perhaps the epitome of her mercurial onscreen persona.

“For some reason people think I’m mysterious. Which I’m not at all!” the actor laughs, speaking from Paris via Zoom.

“I don’t know… I think it’s because I’m melancholy,” she said, calming down.

In The French Dispatch, Simone is a mixture of fire and ice. Guardian of the prison of Ennui, she poses naked for Moses Rosenthaler (Benicio Del Toro), artist sentenced to life imprisonment for murder, source of inspiration for the radically abstract paintings which made him famous worldwide.

“Simone is Benicio’s inspiration, she is the object of creation,” explains Seydoux.

In B&W, a stern-looking policewoman in her thirties stands in a prison yard, hands carefully crossed in front of her
Seydoux and Anderson share an interest in French cinema, in particular the French New Wave, including the films of Godard and François Truffaut.(Provided: Disney)

Back in her uniform, she snaps her fingers and orders him sharply.

Anderson wrote the role of Seydoux, who is now a regular in his ensemble, having recently voiced the glamorous-King Charles cross poodle Nutmeg in the French version of Isle of Dogs.

For their latest collaboration, Seydoux says the few lines Anderson originally sent him were “pretty abstract” – but he goes above and beyond to bring his cast to life.

In B&W, a bearded Hispanic man in his 50s in a straightjacket is behind bars, flanked by prison officers, including a woman
“The film is a sort of collection of short stories. So I’ll send you only the parts you need to read, ”Anderson texted Seydoux when he offered him the role.(Provided: Disney)

“He’s funny, Wes – not many people know that, but he does a little animated film of the script. When you get on set, it’s on an iPad, so you can watch the movie before it even gets it. either [made]. It’s like a beautiful work of art, ”she explains.

“He does all the vocals, he plays all the characters. So he’s played Simone before.”

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Seydoux describes Anderson’s new film as “like a comic book”, and his vision of his home country as “idealized”.

“But I think it works… I mean, it’s part of Wes,” she said.

In this cinematic wunderkammer, even the smallest detail is carefully crafted, from the fine stitching of Simone’s fitted uniform to the clever poses she takes (composed with seasoned choreographer Philippe Decoufflé) in a series of paintings: hanging from the ceiling like an acrobat; perched on one leg on a stool; or bent, in profile, arched like a cat.

Seydoux appears in the first of the film’s three long chapters and only has a handful of lines. But of the Hollywood ensemble, his presence is arguably the most memorable; his icy gazes and borderline mechanical movements are imbued with unexpected humor and pathos.

“It’s funny, and at the same time it’s deep, it’s moving, there are a lot of contrasts. It was a lot of fun to do.”

The paradox

When I ask Seydoux if she recognizes herself in Simone, she answers me in a badass voice: “Oh, I’m as tough as Simone, yes, I’m really like that”, then bursts out laughing, throwing a radiant smile with gaping teeth.

An elegantly dressed blonde woman in her thirties is leaning in a doorway, smiling brightly.  A man films her with a large camera.
“Léa Seydoux has a charm that cannot be reproduced on screen,” No Time to Die Cary director Joji Fukunaga told The New York Times.(Provided: Universal / Nicola Dove)

“No, no, not really…” she said, suddenly becoming shy.

This change of temper is reminiscent of how many of his performances have turned over the years, from courageous determination to intense vulnerability.

“When you act in a movie, you always have your subjectivity,” the actor says.

“What I liked about this character is that it’s very hard and dry – or it’s totally in it, and suddenly it opens up. Like the scene with Benicio [Del Toro], when you lie down and he says: “I love you”, and I say: “I don’t love you” – at the same time I have tears in my eyes.

“It’s always a balance between this distance and the very close, like ‘first degree’. I like this paradox”, explains Seydoux.

Playing the muse

Alongside The French Dispatch, Seydoux performed in three other titles this year at the Cannes Film Festival (although she was unable to attend after testing positive for COVID).

Bearded man in his 40s looks pained as he watches a woman in her 30s wearing a 1920s-style hat, who smiles slightly
My wife’s story of Ildikó Enyedi, with Seydoux and Gijs Naber, also premiered in Cannes and was part of the official competition for the Sydney Film Festival in November.(Provided: Films Boutique)

She received particular praise for her performance as a celebrity news anchor in Bruno Dumont’s satire France – a cast piece that perhaps leans on the Seydoux family’s ties to major French film studios Pathé and Gaumont.

And she appeared as a muse – again – in Arnaud Desplechin’s Philip Roth adaptation of Deception, playing an adulterous English lover to a writer named (ahem) Philip.

Both films are expected to hit Australian screens in 2022. (The busy actor also honors upcoming films by writers David Cronenberg and Mia Hansen-Løve.)

Directors and casting agents may equate Seydoux with a certain impenetrable femme fatale figure – but she seems amused by the image that is building around her.

“In France, you have a lot of actors who have a strong nature. It’s not like American cinema [whose actors] tend to perform. It is the reverse in France; they don’t really play, they play with their own nature.

Blonde woman in her thirties with short hair and a military-style top smiles broadly in front of a photo wall
Cannes Film Festival director Thierry Frémaux described Seydoux as “Bardot, plus Binoche, plus Kate Moss, and sometimes all three at the same time.”(Provided: Getty Images / Jason Mendez)

“I think I’m a mixture, I’m a nature but I also like to transform myself. So maybe it’s hard for people to put me in a box. I think that’s why they fantasize a little about me, like I’m a blank page.

In the past, she has suggested that this ability to transform onscreen allows her to slip naturally into a filmmaker’s world, where she says she feels most comfortable.

Critics, who find it difficult to articulate her allure, have compared her to iconic sirens of French cinema such as Brigitte Bardot, Juliette Binoche and Catherine Deneuve.

As flattering as the intention may be, she says of these comparisons: “I can’t recognize myself.”

“It might be pretentious to say, but I think I may have invented my own way of doing things,” Seydoux mused, before collapsing once more into bursts of laughter.

La Dépêche française is now in theaters.

No Time to Die is now in theaters.

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