How the Bond girl became 007’s favorite sidekick and a muse to the greatest auteurs of contemporary cinema
Words by MARSHALL HEYMAN
Photography by ALISTAIR TAYLOR-YOUNG
Creative & Fashion Direction by ALISON EDMOND
We meet for breakfast at the Chateau Marmont — perhaps the most obvious place for a celebrity interview, but Léa Seydoux is not your typical Hollywood actor. As she relaxes into an armchair in her early morning, postworkout outfit of track pants and Nikes, she exudes a louche and intelligent French candor, seamlessly changing topics from the sustainable Louis Vuitton gown she wore to the Oscars, to her 3-year-old son George’s love of Paw Patrol, to how she and her countrywomen Isabelle Huppert and Marion Cotillard never get bothered at the supermarkets in France because celebrity culture is different in Europe than it is in America.
“There’s a lot of emotion in this Bond. I cried, which is weird”
Despite calling Paris home, Seydoux has begun to adopt some of Los Angeles’ preferred accoutrements during her brief visits here. For her avocado toast, she requests gluten-free bread. To accompany her black coffee, she asks for du jour oat milk. And in L.A., “you have the best vintage shops,” she says in her raspy Gallic tenor. “I’m always excited to come here. In France, you just have regular milk. Even the food you eat here — I’m crazy about pancakes. We don’t have them in France. We have crepes.”
Seydoux, 34, is no stranger to American audiences, with small roles in Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris, Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel, and the blockbuster Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol. For this spring’s Cary Fukunaga-directed No Time To Die (out in November worldwide), the 25th James Bond movie, the actor reprises her role as Dr. Madeleine Swann, Bond’s enigmatic psychiatrist love interest from 2015’s Spectre.
She can’t reveal anything about the movie, which may or may not be Daniel Craig’s last go-round as 007. “But there’s a lot of emotion in this Bond,” she says. “It’s very moving. I bet you’re going to cry, if you like to cry. [When I watched it,] I cried, which is weird, because I play in it.”
According to internet fandom, a Bond girl has never before returned for a second adventure — the universe’s best-loved spy tends to love ’em and leave ’em. Seydoux insists Swann is much more than ornamental window dressing. “She’s not a character written to please men,” Seydoux says. “She’s not objectified. She doesn’t define herself through her sexuality. She’s smart. She’s independent. And I think she has a real depth.”
“She’s smart. She’s independent. She has real depth”
That description, as it turns out, applies to Seydoux herself. She lays claim to a refined French background. Her grandfather is the chairman of the French film company Pathé; her father founded the wildly successful French wireless company Parrot. “I don’t really come from a family where they valorize that you’re an actor,” she says. “For a moment they didn’t even know I was an actress.” They’ve only recently started to watch her films, she explains.
As a child, she hoped to be an opera singer. “I had a beautiful voice, but I lost it. I was too shy,” she recalls. “I went to the Conservatoire de Paris, and I tried to learn how to properly sing. It was too difficult. You have to do all the breathing exercises. You have to have a very strict regimen.”
Seydoux ascribes her global success to studying American culture and learning English at a young age. In addition to a steady diet of Disney animation like Dumbo and Bambi, arty black-and-white Jean Cocteau films and a strong, nonironic affinity for Saved by the Bell — “the style, the characters and the fact that it’s in a high school; I loved it” — her parents also sent her to summer camp in the U.S. as an adolescent.
“I didn’t speak a word of English,” Seydoux says. “I have a shyness that probably comes from this period, a big fear of miscommunication. I think I was raised with many lies around me. People lied to me as a kid.” (Her parents divorced when she was 3.) “As an adult, I’m obsessed with truth. For me it’s terrible to be in fake relationships.”
That’s in part why she stays away from social media. “I had Instagram for a bit of time,” Seydoux says. “But actually I found it terrible. I don’t want people knowing what I’m doing. I don’t want to show the backstage of my life. I prefer intimacy.”
Blue Is the Warmest Color, released in 2013, established her as one to watch. The film graphically and delicately portrayed a relationship between two young women. Seydoux starred opposite Adèle Exarchopoulos, whom she still considers “a part of my body. I really, really love her.” In a rather unprecedented move, the Cannes Film Festival awarded Seydoux, Exarchopoulos and their director, Abdellatif Kechiche, the Palme d’Or.
Winning that honor “was such a thing. It’s engraved in me,” she says. She will likely return to Cannes this May for her role in the new Wes Anderson film, The French Dispatch, in which she plays a prison guard, and perhaps for Bruno Dumont’s On a Half Clear Morning, in which she plays a journalist. Attending the film festival will always remind her of that “big moment of my life.”
“I don’t think I realized at the time how strong and powerful it was,” Seydoux says of Blue Is the Warmest Color. “And now that I’m older, I completely understand the depth of it. There is a rawness and truth.” At the time, she spoke out about director Kechiche’s treatment of her and her co-star on set, that he was playing out his male fantasies and treating his actors like “prostitutes.” “I got bullied after I spoke. Especially in France, I didn’t get support from journalists. [Kechiche] made it into a social war, and they twisted it. In France, the fact that you come from a bourgeois family and you’re successful — they hate that. They hate success.”
Seydoux says she’s therefore thankful to be able to work outside of her home country. She made five films this year, which kept her away from her family — George and her partner, André Meyer — more than she would have liked. “Sometimes the nanny is like, ‘Look, it’s Mommy on a magazine,’ and I’m like, ‘No, don’t tell him,’” she says. “Still, I think it’s good to have parents that are passionate about something. I hope he’ll be proud.” For now, he’s “obsessed” with Paw Patrol. “He’s laughing, I’m watching, and I’m like, ‘This is too stupid for me.’”
She wants George to learn English, and not just from an animated series about dogs. That means a potential move to London, or even Los Angeles, she suggests. Until then, her California adventures will include visiting Target to buy her son some Paw Patrol merchandise, vintage shopping, walking on the beach and, hopefully, roller-skating. She says, “For me, that’s America.”
This story originally appeared in the Spring 2020 issue of C Magazine.
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