It took little convincing to get Léa Seydoux on board to shoot her latest film It’s Only the End of the World. One could easily think that her response was a “me too” one, as the crème de la crème of French cinema were also cast: Marion Cotillard, Nathalie Baye, Vincent Cassel and Gaspard Ulliel. But more than any affection for acting alongside her compatriots was the desire to work with Xavier Dolan, the much-buzzed-about Québécois director. “For me, [Xavier] is a real artist; he’s more than a director,” says Seydoux, with hand on baby bump, at Toronto’s Frings, where we met her, Dolan and some of her co-stars for a Nespresso-sponsored roundtable chat during TIFF. “I’m kind of fascinated and for me he has no age…. I was very proud to work with him and I feel he’s one of the greatest directors we have now.”
Seydoux plays Suzanne, a young artist who dreams of escaping her claustrophobic small-town life. The French film, based on the play by Jean-Luc Lagarde, follows a writer, Louis (played by Gaspard Ulliel), who returns home after 12 years’ absence to tell his family that he is dying. Though the setting is left vague (a cue that hints to the time period is a flip phone), we know that Suzanne is a young artist who dreams of escaping in the way that Louis had, yet she is tied to her rural life where she cares for her eccentric widowed mother (played by Nathalie Baye) and waits with bated breath for postcards from her brother, whom she barely got to know but with whom she is desperate to connect.
The character of Suzanne, however, is not Seydoux’s “type.” In fact, she doesn’t really have one. “Something that baffles me in this industry,” says Dolan, “is that we go toward the same people for the same parts…. I think what’s fulfilling as an actor is feeling that you’re far from your own self, that you are becoming someone else, or reaching another sort of truth in your own way.”
In North America, Seydoux is likely best known as a Bond Girl (she played Madeleine Swann in Spectre), but cinephiles know her as the Palme D’Or winner for her role in 2013’s Blue is the Warmest Colour, in which she played Emma, a blue-haired 20-something who transfixes a high school student named Adèle and becomes the girl’s first and one true love. The three-hour long film garnered controversy for its lurid sex scenes, which blurred the lines between romantic drama and porn, yet the artistic intention was unwavering. Where she’ll go with her next role is yet to be known, though she is set to star in Like Crazy director Drake Doremus’s next film opposite British actor Charlie Hunnam.
Though her roles vary, the scenes that Seydoux owns are those of complete and utter desperation. In It’s Only the End of the World, the film’s tight and close shots work to Suzanne’s advantage, amplifying the already poignant emotion of saying goodbye. You might mistake her tears for yours as you watch them flood her blue eyes.
The emotion that she’s become so adept at portraying doesn’t stem from trauma in her own personal life. “The emotion comes from the body, and you just need to stop thinking,” she says. “It’s not intellectual at all…it’s like a trance almost. So it’s very hard to [explain] because it’s just about a feeling, an emotion. For me, cinema is about emotions.”
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