Berlin 2012: Cafe Chat With 'Farewell, My Queen' Star Lea Seydoux (Q&A)

2012-05 FEA Berlin Lea Seydoux P

The 26-year-old Frenchwoman has already racked up a list of impressive credits, including supporting roles in Mission: Impossible -- Ghost Protocol and Woody Allen's Midnight in Paris. But her two headline roles in Berlin's competition lineup could put this Prada pitchwoman firmly on the Hollywood A-list. 

"Before anything else, I choose films because of the talent of the directors," the French star of Berlin Festival opener told THR about her diverse film choices.

PARIS - Let’s get things straight. Lea Seydoux is not a model. “I’m not sure why everyone says that. I’ve done some fashion shoots, but always as an actress,” the demure French beauty says over coffee at a café in Paris’ hippie-chic 10th arrondissement. With no make-up on, her hair pulled back into a messy bun and a large winter coat draped over her shoulders, an imperceptive onlooker might not recognize the girl who, in just a few months, seduced Owen Wilson, nearly killed Tom Cruise and upstaged the Queen of France.

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The 26-year old actress has already filmed with Quentin Tarantino, Ridley Scott, Woody Allen, Benoit Jacquot, Brad Bird and, soon, Michel Gondry. She’s the face of Prada and has graced the front cover of French fashion magazines all year.

Yet Seydoux isn’t worried about her growing celebrity. “It’s not about my career. I don’t think about that as much as my desire to work with different filmmakers who all have their own languages,” she said. Despite the loud call from Hollywood, the actress continues to choose edgy art-house roles in her native France.

She was nominated in 2009 for the Cesar Award for Most Promising Actress for her role in Christophe Honore’s La Belle Personne then again in 2011 for her performance in Rebecca Zlotowski’s first film Dear Prudence as a grieving adolescent who gets involved with the dangerous world of motorcycling. Right after Berlin, Seydoux will head in front of Abdellatif Kechiche’s camera for his adaptation of Le Bleu est un couleur chaud before shooting Michel Gondry’s The Foam of the Days. The loyal Seydoux will take a pause from Hollywood blockbusters to film Zlotowski’s sophomore title, romantic drama Grand Central opposite fellow breakout star Tahar Rahim. Seydoux spoke to THR’s France Correspondent Rebecca Leffler about her diverse film choices, blushing in front of Tom Cruise and where she can be found when the clock strikes midnight in Paris.

The Hollywood Reporter: You’ve acted in such a wide range of films. How do you choose your projects?

Lea Seydoux: I make films for directors. Before anything else, I choose films because of the talent of the directors. The story and the other actors are of course very important, but for me, it’s all about the director.

THR: You’ve gone from auteur French cinema to Hollywood blockbusters then back again. What do you prefer?

Seydoux: I tend to find the American films I do easier because they’re mostly fiction. In France, there’s more realism which is always more vulnerable and more intimate for an actress. I love both. I love the idea of making movies. Since culture is so easily lost nowadays, I try to resist the call of facility. I loved doing Mission: Impossible. Brad Bird is an unbelievably talented technician – he masters his craft. And Tom Cruise is one of the most incredible actors in the world. Mission: Impossible was pure entertainment, which I also love.

THR: How is making films at home different from Hollywood?

Seydoux: U.S. cinema is much more physical. I love it. The body is also a great form of expression that can be very important to a role.  I love making films in the U.S. U.S. culture is a big part of my life. When I was young, I went to summer camp and really had an American experience, not just things I picked up from the internet or watching movies. I spent so many summers there that really influenced who I am today.

THR: We’ve heard a lot about Benoit Jacquot’s opening night film in Berlin Farewell, My Queen, but tell us about your role in your other Berlin movie, Ursula Meier’s Sister?

Seydoux: I haven’t seen the film yet. I can’t wait ! It’s a movie that’s very important to me. It was a real cinematographic experience, both filming with a child, shooting in against the beautiful backdrop of the Swiss mountains and working with Ursula Meier. She’s a director that I didn’t know personally, I only knew her work. She’s a great filmmaker.

THR: Both films will screen in Berlin, but which one did you film first?

Seydoux: I went from a closed studio set for Mission: Impossible to the mountains of Switzerland for Sister then to a chateau in Versailles for Farewell, My Queen. That’s what’s great about this job. I get to live many different lives. These two roles are completely opposite. They’re completely different worlds. Both films are very intimate.

THR: In what direction do you want your career to go?

Seydoux: I love to play more radical characters. I love to play characters who are struggling to survive. I want to do different things every time. I love to explore different worlds.  It’s not about my career. I don’t think about that as much as my desire to work with different filmmakers who all have their own languages.
: You’ve dabbled in the fashion world as well. Is that something you see yourself pursuing?

Seydoux: I like fashion because I’m a woman, but I don’t like clothes that women disappear in. I love fashion from the 1940s or 1950s. I love very feminine style. I love period costumes that evoke this possibility to travel through time. I’m not a model. I’ve never been a model. All of the ads I’ve done, I’ve done as an actress. It’s all related. I love being photographed by great photographers just like I love to be filmed by great directors. To disguise myself in any way is always fun.

THR: You come from a very prominent French cinema family. Did you feel pressure to succeed because of your family name?

Seydoux: I do come from a cinema family, but I never felt any pressure or anything negative. Plus, my family members are producers. I wasn’t drawn to an acting career as a child. I wanted to be a singer then.

THR: You studied music at the prestigious Conservatoire de Paris. Any desire to return to a musical career?

Seydoux: I’d love to, but I don’t have enough talent to be an opera star. I’d love to do a musical comedy though.

THR: Where are you usually found at midnight in Paris?

Seydoux: On the street. I love nighttime. All of a sudden, all of the marginal people come out. The night belongs to the marginal. I love that.

THR: What is a typical day like for you in Paris, when you’re not filming ?

Seydoux: When I’m not filming, there are still always things to do. Today for example, I’m doing interviews. Tomorrow, I’m going for an ice-skating lesson with Audrey Tautou to prepare for Michel Gondry’s movie.

THR: What’s next for you after Berlin?

Seydoux: I’m concentrating on Abdellatif Kechiche and Michel Gondry’s films for now, but after that, I’d love to make more films in the U.S.

THR: Have you thought about heading behind the camera to write or direct?

Seydoux: I consider myself too novice, too new. I need to experiment. I need to live stories before I can start to tell them on screen. I still have a lot to learn.

THR: When we see you on screen, it’s hard to believe, but you’ve said that you’re very shy. Is that true?

Seydoux: Yes, I’m very shy. Michael Jackson has always fascinated me – he was the biggest star in the world and he was shy. I’m a little bit…very shy. I’m blushing in my Mission: Impossible scenes with Tom Cruise. He noticed, but was charming about it. I’m not as shy in front of the camera because I’m concentrating.

THR: What are some of your favorite spots in Berlin?

Seydoux: I love to shop at Acne. And I had the best noodles at a noodle house there.

THR: And in Paris?

Seydoux: I love jewelry from Anna Rivka and shirts by Thomsen and my mother’s shop CSAO in le Marais that sells African objects.

THR: Can we keep track of your whereabouts in Berlin, Paris and across the globe on Facebook and Twitter like so many celebrities now?

Seydoux: I’m not on Facebook or Twitter. Just talking on the phone is already a lot in itself!