- Share this article on Facebook
- Share this article on Twitter
- Share this article on Email
- Show additional share options
- Share this article on Print
- Share this article on Comment
- Share this article on Whatsapp
- Share this article on Linkedin
- Share this article on Reddit
- Share this article on Pinit
- Share this article on Tumblr
It’s been just eight years since Adele Exarchopoulos became the cinematic revelation of the Cannes Film Festival. The French actress didn’t only enjoy her major breakout moment on the Croisette with 2013’s Blue Is the Warmest Color, Abdellatif Kechiche’s critically-lauded lesbian romance, but made history by becoming the first actress to win the Palme d’Or — alongside her co-star Lea Seydoux — and, at just 19 at the time, its youngest ever recipient.
Less than a decade on and several Cannes visits later, Exarchopoulos — now 27 — is back, this time with two films. In Julie Lecoustre and Emmanuel Marre’s Zero Fucks Given — appearing in the Critics’ Week sidebar — she plays a party-going flight attendant working for a budget European airline and struggling with her own sense of identity and purpose as she jets from one destination to the next.
Out of competition and acquired by Netflix during Cannes, she’s also part of an ensemble cast in Cédric Jimenez’s thriller The Stronghold, set in the crime-soaked streets outside of Marseille and following the notorious BAC police brigade, who deploy morally questionable tactics to improve drug seizure stats.
Speaking to The Hollywood Reporter, Exarchopoulos reflects on her relationship with Cannes and how it was the “beginning of everything,” but considers the good times and the bad (Sean Penn’s The Last Face), the career path she’s navigated after her explosive breakout in Blue is the Warmest Color and explains why Thierry Fremaux might not want to hear what happened to her Palme d’Or statuette.
You’re returning to the festival where you had your major breakthrough, won the Palme d’Or and have been back to several times since. Does Cannes hold a special place in your heart?
Yeah, I have strong memories of Cannes. But what’s funny is that for Blue Is the Warmest Color, I didn’t really realize what was happening. I didn’t know publicity, I didn’t know what was meaningful or not, so everything was quite exciting. I didn’t even know that we got a Palme d’Or each! I remember at around 4 a.m. after a party with my friends, one of them said, “Wow, did you know that it’s the first time ever and probably the last time that the Palme will go to an actor,” and I was like, no! So for me Cannes really is the beginning of everything, but at the same time I’ve had both Cannes experiences. I went with Blue Is the Warmest Color and it was a huge success, and everyone was like “oh, it’s incredible,” and then I went with the Sean Penn movie (The Last Face) and it was really hard. Cannes can really destroy you or build you up. There is obviously good, constructive criticism, but then there’s often [some] that seems quite unfair. There’s a lot of noise!
Where’s the Palme now?
Ooh la la, I hope Thierry Fremaux will never see this interview. So we were given our awards a year later because they had to build them, and I was so happy that we had a special party. The Palme comes on this plinth, to hold it up and I was so excited that… I broke it. I didn’t glue it back, just tried to keep it held together. Anyway, it’s now at my parents’ place. But to be honest I love the story more than just the statue.
Zero Fucks Given — great title aside — is a really interesting film that opens a fascinating window into the lonely world of the budget air stewardess. What drew you to the role?
I watched the directors’ short movies before — they were in the same style with a real documentary, natural feel. And he [Marre] told me that he didn’t have any script at the time — that he just wanted to speak about loneliness and how you find the purpose to your life. He said it was going to be a really small crew, that we didn’t actually have any authorization to shoot on the planes so we’d make a deal where all the people on board would agree to be filmed but could travel for free. And he was like, do you want to go with me?
I understand you were the only professional actor in the film…
It was just me and my sister. And my dad — he’s one of the producers of the movie! But yeah, everyone is their own actual real-life character. The airlines knew and they picked some stewardesses. It was really an experience. Sometimes there were scenes shot on an iPhone. Honestly, it was really crazy and looks so much like a documentary. There was no makeup department — I was doing my own. It meant it was really hard to not lose yourself into the character.
Has it changed your attitude to people with those sorts of jobs, when you see the mundane repetition?
To be honest, to play a stewardess in a low-cost company made me realize the hard rhythm and the fact that when you’re in the air you can’t really do anything connected to your life. For example, we were just about to take off and I got a message from my son’s school about an issue, and I was trying to handle it, but we had to take off, and I couldn’t do anything for several hours. It’s very hard. There is also this image of stewardesses, you see where they’re staying in each country with their teams in hotels, seeing the world, but at the same time you’re always far from home and can’t build real relationships.
The Stronghold is a very different film, a thriller set in the crime-ridden streets outside of Marseille. What attracted you to this sort of movie?
It’s a mainstream film, but what I really liked is the way that it actually shows people on both sides — including the people living in this rough neighbourhood — just trying to get by. Also you see the bosses of these drug trafficking organizations and they’re the people wearing suits. They’re never the ones who are going to have any problems. It showed that those who always suffer are the families. It’s really a good mirror to society — showing what happens when harsh right-wing politics are being imposed on people.
You’ve had a real mix of films since Blue Is the Warmest Color. Has there been a particular career path that you’ve chosen to go down when picking your projects?
As I remember, I was very young so I didn’t try to have any strategy. I remember getting a lot of offers and I think what I’m really proud of is that I was honest with myself. I thought, sure, people may believe I can do anything now, but I know I can’t because I still have stuff to learn. I won’t say which ones of course, but there are movies that I made that I wasn’t particularly proud of and I regretted elements of. But I always remember truly why I made them. And it was either for a human interaction or working with a director or for a character. But I think the choices you make reveal who you are, and can also be quite political, even if it’s not conscious. I just tried to follow my instinct and so far I don’t have any regrets. It must have been hard having such a huge breakout and then dealing with the amount of offers, trying to work out what would be the best direction to take. What was hard was that I traveled for a year with Blue Is the Warmest Color, and it was really cool — I discovered a lot of stuff, learned a lot about myself and defended the movie, and then when I came back to reality I had to make these choices. And it was the way that people were looking at you, and trying to make you become something — like, oh, it would be good if you lose weight, or if you do this. One day I was telling myself ok, I don’t want to be like these people who get lonely because they’re shooting movie after movie, and I don’t want to be what people project about me. I really wanted to keep my freedom. So it was hard, but thankfully all the people around like my family aren’t from the industry and don’t really care about it. So there was still a feeling of luck and pleasure — like wow, I’m going to work with Sean Penn or oh la la, I’m going to work with Ralph Fiennes! I never got bored.
Interview edited for length and clarity.
Sign up for THR news straight to your inbox every day