What’s next for Léa Seydoux? Cover interview and shoot

It’s a cold, clear day in Paris, and the Shangri-La suite, where we’ve gathered for today’s cover shoot, is abuzz with activity. Léa Seydoux, poised in an armchair and draped in Louis Vuitton finery, absent-mindedly shimmies her shoulders in time to the Ray Charles song wafting from a speaker.

She suddenly gets up, flings open the balcony doors, strides outside and throws out her arms as if to hug the nearby Eiffel Tower. “J’adore la France!” she exclaims, impassioned. “C’est la joie de vivre! C’est le je ne sais quoi!” A pause. “Where is my baguette?” She dissolves into self-mocking giggles. The Seydoux we are greeted with – bouncy, easy-going, jovial – is at odds with her rather austere, melancholic on-screen persona. This gap between her lived reality and presentation of it feels fitting for someone who seems constantly pulled between two contrasting poles: shyness and exhibitionism, withholding and revealing, Hollywood blockbusters and French dramas…

lea seydoux

Alexi Lubomirski

Silk shirt, Louis Vuitton

preview for Léa Seydoux’s guide to Parisian style

The latter is why we’re meeting. The prolific Seydoux has two movies out this spring that sit at opposite ends of the sci-fi spectrum. There’s Dune: Part Two, the sequel to the Oscar-winning intergalactic epic, which marks the actress’ return to mega-budget cinema following stints in the Mission: Impossible and Bond franchises. And The Beast, a loose, largely francophone Henry James adaptation that deals with the threat of AI and incels, is so experimental that it has a scannable QR code instead of closing credits. “My strength is that I’m able to travel and adapt,” Seydoux says. “I have more freedom because I’m a European actress, which suits me. I’m not trying to be popular, I’m just trying to enjoy myself. In America you have to conform. I don’t want to adapt myself to the system, I want the system to adapt to me!”

“I have more freedom because I’m a European actress, which suits me. In America you have to conform. I don’t want to adapt myself to the system, I want the system to adapt to me!”

Much like her latest Bond outing No Time to Die, which was delayed by the Covid pandemic three times before becoming the highest-grossing film at the UK box office in 2021, Dune: Part Two was also postponed, though this time because of the actors’ strike. “It’s always something!” she says, cheerily. “Life is greater than you and you can’t control everything. I’m fine with that.” Seydoux was not in the first Dune film, but her former Robin Hood co-star Oscar Isaac invited her to visit the set in Hungary, and she was “very impressed” with what she saw. Wearing a navy cowl and cool-eyed expression, in Dune: Part Two she plays Lady Margot, a member of the Bene Gesserit sisterhood who use genetic experimentation to elevate the human race. It was less the role that appealed to her than the chance to work with the director Denis Villeneuve. “Denis is a great filmmaker,” Seydoux says. (The actress primarily speaks in a measured tone, going quiet for such extended periods that you assume she’s finished talking, only for her to ramp up again. But when discussing directors, she quickens her pace.) “I like to melt into the director’s vision, and Dune really is his vision. He’s a pure artist. It’s very inspiring.”

lea seydoux

Alexi Lubomirski

Cotton jumper, silk skirt, leather shoes, all Louis Vuitton

Collaborating with renowned auteurs is what motivates Seydoux. That’s more important to her than the parts themselves, which is why you’ll find her in just one vignette of Wes Anderson’s The French Dispatch and one scene of Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds. “What was difficult in this one is that the part is very small. I couldn’t really dig in and I had anxiety about that,” she explains. “Margot will have more to say.” The silver lining, though, was that Seydoux was spared shooting in the titular desert, which she wasn’t particularly keen to do after battling a sandstorm with Daniel Craig on Spectre, when they had to don goggles between takes to protect their eyes from the furiously swirling grains. “It was so hot. I’m very agoraphobic, so for me the desert is unsettling.”

Seydoux is one of those rare French actresses who has achieved crossover success. She broke out domestically playing a coquettish schoolgirl in Christophe Honoré’s 2008 modernisation of the 17th-century novel La Princesse de Clèves. It wasn’t until five years later, when the intimate lesbian love story Blue is the Warmest Colour delighted and shocked audiences (it was banned by indecency laws in Idaho), that the English-speaking world started to notice her intoxicating, naturalistic performance style. Seydoux and her co-star Adèle Exarchopoulos were awarded the Palme d’Or for their efforts alongside the director (the prize’s usual recipient) – an honour that had never happened before, or since, for an actor. Seydoux keeps hers in pride of place on a shelf in her office. “I’ve always felt that an actor was also a co-auteur. In a way, you write the film with the director,” she says. “Adèle and I really are the co-auteurs of Blue is the Warmest Colour.” You get this impression during the Bazaar shoot, too, when Seydoux rushes over to the monitor after each set-up to offer comments (“Actually, I think it’s good when I smile”).

lea seydoux

Alexi Lubomirski

Yellow and rose gold, platinum and diamond earrings, from a selection, Louis Vuitton

Whether working in Europe or America, Seydoux isn’t someone who relies on the tics and tricks other actors cling to, which makes her every move dangerously, thrillingly unexpected. By and large, though, Hollywood has yet to use her to her full potential (even her plucky Bond girl is frequently cast as a damsel in distress, bundled into unmarked cars). Take Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol: she slashes at an opponent with a corkscrew, then unceremoniously meets her demise seconds later, kicked out of a 130th-storey window. Does she not wish for more substantial roles in America? “I take what I get!” she says with a laugh, before continuing more carefully. “I’m really satisfied with the parts I’m given… I’m not frustrated. It’s tough for someone who’s not totally American to lead a Hollywood film.” Seydoux is also thankful that her outsider status insulates her from some of the US studios’ more pernicious demands. “The industry in America…” she trails off, searching for the words. “I find it harsh on women. It’s hard for women to age. I don’t want to be afraid not to be desirable or to lose my contract. In America it’s economic, and when it becomes a matter of making money, you lose your freedom. I don’t feel comfortable with the fact that you have to tick all the boxes. Being a woman on screen is easier in Europe.”

Amusingly, her latest French film, The Beast, satirises mainstream American moviemaking and its obsession with youth (a darkly comic moment finds Seydoux’s character listening, overwhelmed, to a plastic surgery clinic’s exhaustive treatment menu). A cinematic nesting doll, it’s a turn-of-the-century romance hidden in a sci-fi movie, hidden in a meta-acting exercise, hidden in a home-invasion thriller. Seydoux portrays the disaster-predicting Gabrielle in 1910, 2014 and 2044. (“That was the challenge, to play the same character at three different periods.”) The Beast opens with Gabrielle, an LA-based actress at this point, alone on a green-screened sound stage reacting to invisible stimuli. The scene sideswipes at the unreality of such productions, and mirrors those Seydoux is best known for internationally (the director Bertrand Bonello describes the film as “a kind of documentary about her”). “Green screen is very scary because you don’t see the depth and you have to imagine everything,” Seydoux explains of the process. “You are totally disarmed.” As is her way, she put aside her misgivings and got the job done. Seydoux is an actress who can do anything and, going one further, actually will do anything. You’ll see her writhing in orgasmic ecstasy as blood runs down her chest (Crimes of the Future), jumping from the top of a building despite her fear of heights (Spectre). A scene in The Beast, which required Seydoux to lie in a bath of gelatinous black gunge for several hours, elicited similar trepidation. “I was like, ‘Oh no…'” she says, laughing. “In the end, it wasn’t that bad. I even fell asleep! Sometimes you have to do uncomfortable things.”

lea seydoux

Alexi Lubomirski

Silk shirt; pink gold, platinum, diamond and sapphire bracelet, from a selection, both Louis Vuitton

This is Seydoux’s guiding philosophy. She runs towards the discomfort others baulk at. Her acting technique is to treat each film as if it’s her first. She’s not interested in character psychology; she works things out in the moment. “Acting is not comfortable at all for me,” she says. “It’s like a laboratory. I try things. Sometimes it works, more or less.” Fear is an essential pillar of her practice. “It’s not very pleasant, but I have to say it makes me feel alive. I use fear, and transform it into something tangible.” She never plays it safe, as evidenced by her exceptionally wide-ranging filmography that spans genres, countries, eras. It’s difficult to identify much connective tissue between her movies, and that’s by design. “It has to be intellectually stimulating. Many times I’ve said yes to films and I don’t know what the result will be. If I enjoy doing the film, then it’s a success for me. I’ve never done a movie for money in my life. Like, never.” Seydoux is guided by her own taste, not the market’s, which explains why – in a nod to her childhood ambition of becoming a singer – she dreams of doing a musical one day.

Speaking to Seydoux, you get the sense that work is the outlet through which she exits her comfort zone. When the cameras stop rolling, she “loves being lazy” and is perfectly happy to lie down and stare at the ceiling. “I’m very good at looking at a tree for an hour,” she says. “I love to contemplate. I have a very strong inner world and a lot of imagination.” She prefers to explore that inner world than venture out into the real one (“I’m not obsessed with travelling”) and, taking up another solitary pursuit, plans to finally finish reading Proust soon. That’s not to say Seydoux never leaves her house. On the contrary, she has “a lot of fun” attending the Paris Fashion Week shows of Louis Vuitton, the house for which she has been an ambassador since 2016. “They’re like a second family,” she says. “Nicolas Ghesquière reinvented the modern woman. He created his own style and language that’s futuristic and romantic.” The actress embraces different styles, be that the “timeless looks with a vintage twist” she gravitates towards for red carpets or the “jeans and a sweater with a nice pattern” she wears day to day.

lea seydoux

Alexi Lubomirski

Leather bustier; white gold, diamond and spinel earrings; matching necklace; matching ring, all from a selection, all Louis Vuitton

“Acting is not comfortable at all for me. It’s like a laboratory. I try things. Sometimes it works, more or less. I use fear, and transform it into something tangible. It makes me feel alive.”

Seydoux’s next film project promises similar versatility, since it marks a first for her: comedy. She’s set to star in A notre beau métier from the absurdist provocateur Quentin Dupieux, whose previous lo-fi, high-premise cult movies have featured head-exploding tyres and canine-sized house flies. She can’t divulge too much, though does reveal that she’s playing an actress in a B-movie. “I think it’s going to be very, very funny.” Also on the docket is a collaboration with Arthur Harari, the Bafta-winning and Oscar-nominated co-writer of Anatomy of a Fall.

Despite her prodigious cinematic output, Seydoux mostly leads a quiet life in Paris with her investment banker partner André Meyer and their seven-year-old son Georges. When she’s with them, even out and about, she’s able to put away her public image and be her private self. People-watching, her favourite pastime, is still possible. “Fame is really not something that interferes in my life. Sometimes I’m surprised when people look at me in the street. And then I’m like, ‘Oh yes, I forgot. I’m famous,'” she admits. “But so many people don’t recognise me, it’s crazy. I can take the train or bus with no problem.” She’ll ‘very often’ find herself in those mundane situations where she has to spell out her name to someone and is met with complete confusion. “People are like, ‘What? Seydoux? How do you spell it?’ They’ll put a C and I’m like, ‘No, S! S!’ They don’t know who I am.” They can be forgiven for their ignorance. Léa Seydoux is so chameleonic that each new side to her feels like a revelation.

‘Dune: Part Two’ is out in cinemas now. ‘The Beast’ is out in cinemas on 31 May

By yowuj