Cannes: The actress opens up about her director-first approach and how it’s led her to some strange contrasts, including her two new projects.
It was hard to be at the Cannes Film Festival this year and not meet Léa Seydoux. The French actress starred in two critically acclaimed films, David Cronenberg’s dystopian Crimes of the Future and Mia Hansen-Løve’s romantic drama One Fine Morning, at this year’s festival, and also took part in a lively celebration of the festival’s 75th anniversary. During the two-week event, she was spotted at restaurants and parties across the city, fitting into the scene on time.
Cannes has become something of a ritual for Seydoux, except for last year when a positive COVID test ruined her trip, despite having three films in competition: The French Dispatch, The Story of My Wife and Bruno Dumont’s “France”. Even when circumstances prevented her from coming here, audiences couldn’t avoid Seydoux on the big screen.
“Every French actor comes here,” Seydoux said in an interview a few blocks from the Croisette this week. “It’s like a club.”
But the 36-year-old actress remembers what it was like before she became a member. As a teenager, she came to Cannes with some fellow actors who were starring in a short film, and the group crashed in a nunnery outside the main area. “I was just here with my audience,” she said. “I didn’t know what Cannes was.” Now she’s returning to the festival for the first time in years and she fits in perfectly. “Some people have told me that last year was sleepy,” she said. “It feels like it’s gotten back to how it was, doesn’t it?”
But Seydoux himself could be a part of that return. Cannes embraces a mix of art house and commercial cinema alike, a combination that Seydoux has embodied over the past decade. She and Adèle Exarchopoulos shared a Palme d’Or for Blue is the Warmest Color with their director Abdellatif Kechiche in 2013. While the actresses later criticized Kechiche for his behavior on the set of the sexually explicit film, the project only raised the profile of a star who had by then already appeared in Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol through Midnight in Paris.
Seydoux is used to juggling many different film worlds. She was recalling working on Swiss director Ursula Meier’s tender sibling drama Sister when she was recalled by the studio to reshoot Mission Impossible. “It was like two different worlds,” she said. Her two films at Cannes that year presented an even stranger challenge: She was halfway through playing a sensitive single mother in One Fine Morning when filming went on hiatus between seasons and onto the set of Crimes of the Future” in which she plays a futuristic performance artist operating on stage. “It was crazy,” she said, “but that’s also why I love this job. You have to constantly adapt.”
Growing from a screenplay the filmmaker wrote over 20 years ago, this process of the Cronenberg film involved several stages. In fact, when the project first came to her, she was in talks to play the supporting role of an organ registry agent, which eventually went to Kristen Stewart. The central character of Caprice, the artist who removes artificial organs from her performance and her romantic partner Saul (Viggo Mortensen), went to Natalie Portman.
But when Portman dropped out due to scheduling conflicts with Thor: Love and Thunder, Seydoux got the bigger role. Now she’s an integral part of the film: As Caprice, Seydoux is a passionate creative who lends an emotional foundation to Cronenberg’s enigmatic view of the future of physicality. Ideas come hard and fast in Crimes of the Future, to the point where even Seydoux admitted she wrestled with them. “I didn’t get it,” she said of the script. “I didn’t know what I was doing. But I had to make a choice and I think it worked.”
With One Fine Morning – which won the Europa Cinemas Award at this year’s festival and was acquired by Sony Pictures Classics – the opportunity to work with one of France’s most renowned up-and-coming directors was a no-brainer. When Mia Hansen-Løve sent her the script, Seydoux said she found an easy path into the character, who forms a new relationship with a married man while caring for her dying father.
“I liked the parallel between desire and death with her father’s illness – it was very interesting to have these two very powerful experiences at the same time,” Seydoux said. “She’s just a normal woman. She is like no fantasy or object of desire. She has a job, she’s a mom, and we feel like she’s struggling in life. That touched me a lot and I had the feeling that I could bring a certain level of emotion with me.”
Like many French actors, Seydoux said she looked to directors when choosing her offers, but that hasn’t ruled out blockbuster opportunities. In 2015, she was cast as love interest Belladona Boudreaux in the pre-Disney Fox production of the X-Men spin-off Gambit, which would star and be directed by Channing Tatum. Tatum later left the project over creative differences with the studio, saying the experience left him frustrated for years.
Seydoux said she enjoyed the version of the script that was sent to her. “The script was really good,” she said. “It had a few funny bits in it, but they wanted to make more of a comedy.” She did a screen test for the role, she said, because it was such a departure from her other work. “I feel like people in America have more imagination,” she said. “I was offered films that were very, very far from what I was doing, and I was like, ‘Oh. Interesting.’ I love the feeling that I can adapt. For me it is very exotic.”
At Cannes, the complicated legacy of “blue is the warmest color” continues to pop up in talks, and she said she’s OK with it. “I have no problem with the vision of the film,” she said. “It’s more about his technique. He was beyond harsh and manipulative. I think he could have made the same film but with respect. I think the film is really respectful and I agree with the sex scenes and I love sex scenes in cinema. Sexuality is part of life. It’s not a bad word. I am offended by violence, not sex.”
As if to underscore this point, one of Seydoux’s upcoming projects is a new adaptation of the erotic novel Emmanuelle, which will be directed by Happening director Audrey Diwan. The story revolves around a woman’s sexual fantasies. “It’s going to be a portrait of a woman of our generation that I don’t think has ever really been told, in the sense that female sexuality as seen through a woman’s eyes has never really been explored,” Seydoux said. “Audrey and I are from the same generation, so I know we’re on the same page in what we want to say about a modern woman.” This project will be filmed next year; In the meantime, she’s gearing up to star in Bertrand Bonello’s sci-fi thriller The Beast, opposite George MacKay. “I make the films I want to see,” she said. “It’s the only path I choose.”
She declined to list other filmmakers who might come her way next. “I never thought I would work with all these directors,” she said. “This is how I want to continue my journey.”
NEON will release Crimes of the Future on June 3, 2022 in the US. One Fine Morning was acquired by Sony Pictures Classics at the Cannes Film Festival but has no release date yet.