CONFESSIONS OF A NERVOUS MUSE: Eva Green, interviewed.
Eva Green was born in Paris in 1980, the daughter of a Swedish father (dentist Walter Green) and a French mother (actress Marlene Jobert). Educated in France and England, Green appeared in several theatre productions before landing the role of Isobel in Bernardo Bertolucci’s The Dreamers — set in 1968 Paris, and described as “a sexual sizzler” by one American critic.
The film co-stars Louis Garrel as Isobel’s twin brother Theo and Michael Pitt as Matthew, a young American drawn into the siblings’ secret world of movies, revolution and sensuality. With her black hair, pale skin and large eyes, Green has been compared with the more exotic-looking actresses of French cinema such as (half-German, half-Algerian/Turkish) Isabelle Adjani and (Danish-born) Anna Karina. In Bertolucci’s phrase, she’s “so beautiful, it’s indecent.”
This interview was conducted at the London Film Festival in November, 2003. Soon after, Green was confirmed as the female lead opposite Orlando Bloom and Liam Neeson in Ridley Scott’s Crusades epic, Kingdom of Heaven, to begin filming in 2004. As one excitable French website broke the news: “Eva Green sous la charme dOrlando Bloom — elle a seduit Ridley Scott!”
Neil Young : The Dreamers is your first movie, and it seems to be turning out quite well.
Eva Green : Yeah I’m very lucky… for the moment
Your mother has worked with many prominent directors including Godard and Chabrol. What did she think when she heard you were working with Bernardo Bertolucci on your first film?
She was very scared for me, she’s knows that I’m very sensitive and very insecure and it’s really a hard job, you’ve got to show yourself all the time, you can’t take nothing for granted. It’s very ephemeral — the most difficult thing is to last, so… But I think now she’s fine.
Do you use your mother as an inspiration for your own acting in any way?
She’s very different from me — she’s much more instinctive. I’m more cerebral. She can be very very funny — she’s like Shirley MacLaine, she’s like that… she’s not so dark.
How did you get the job on The Dreamers?
I did a casting two years ago, it was for CQ by Roman Coppola, it was really a disaster. Then the casting director called me back for Bernardo — she thought I was too tragic for the CQ part. It was really weird. And I’ve heard the movie’s not so good. I did an interview on camera, and the casting director asked me questions about sexuality, cinema, politics, and if I would get naked in a movie (laughs). So eventually Bernardo saw the tape and he wanted to meet me, and I met him. So we did, with Louis Garrel, an improvisation in front of the camera — I think he just wanted to see if I could fit the character. Have a kind of mystery… a secret, yes? We didn’t know each other at all, but we had to act like we were brother and sister. And then we did screen tests in London with Jake Gyllenhaal, based on the script, because he was going to play the Michael Pitt role. He had to drop out, because… I don’t know… his lawyers or his agent didn’t want him to get naked in a movie. It would be really bad for his career because in America I think they’re very very puritan, and if you’re doing a scene with frontal nudity, then people will think that you’re a pornographic actor, or something. It’s really weird — I don’t really understand that mind-set.
The film has already had caused controversy in the U.S.
With censorship. (breathes out) I think they’re crazy — it’s paradoxical because you can watch movies with a lot of violence in it, and then… naked people, it’s impossible?
Is it the sexuality, or the 1968 revolutionary-politics angle that makes some Americans uncomfortable?
For me the politics is just a backdrop in this movie. When we had a press conference in Rome, all the journalists were asking us questions about ’68, and I didn’t understand why. OK, it’s about ’68, but let’s talk about the movie! It’s a love story and also kind of a comedy.
Were you nervous when you heard you’d got the part?
My agent called me and told me I was picked, I was very very nervous. At first I was like “aaahh!! God! it’s a dream!” And then I was afraid of not measuring up, it’s my first movie and I’m not confident.
Which of Bertolucci’s movies had you seen?
Last Tango, Novecento, Last Emperor, Little Buddha, Sheltering Sky.
And did you think, there’s Debra Winger, and Liv Tyler, then me
And Marlon Brando…
It’s a daunting list of talent and now you’re the new one. I saw a magazine headline “Bertolucci’s New Muse”… did you feel like a muse?
No, not at all.
As an actor, what’s it like working with Bertolucci?
He’s always, like, testing us. And we wanted to please him… It;s good because, he manipulates, but at the same time, were very free, you know. Sometimes it felt like he was sending us some magic rays — it’s really weird. There’s a real exchange, too. In the morning, he would ask us questions about the scene, and the characters’ behaviour. For example, in the first script it was more focussed on the two boys: they made love, it was really stronger. He toned that town, it was too much, so now it’s just suggested. And one day he changed his mind, and he didn’t want me to be a virgin any more, so I was like, “OK, why?”
And you felt confident enough to kind of stand up to Bertolucci and question him?
It was OK, you know, he really asked you for your opinions, there was a real exchange, and he manages to communicate what he wants with just a simple gesture, or a word.
You filmed in Paris?
Yes! Just five minutes from my home! I could sleep in my own bed at night.
I read somewhere that the reason why French actresses keep their looks is because shooting on French movies doesn’t start till 10.30am. Is that correct?
That’s not true! Maybe we have that reputation, but it’s not true.
Of the leading French actresses, which do you like?
Jeanne Moreau. I love Jeanne Moreau, she’s very ambiguous.
Any others, French or otherwise?
I love Cate Blanchett! And Juliette Binoche, and Helena Bonham Carter.
Theres such a reliable stream of French actresses: Adjani, Huppert, Beart. Are you the next big thing from France?
I don’t know… Maybe I will stop tomorrow
Would you be comfortable with the kind of fame that engulfed Audrey Tautou after Amelie, and she became almost a recluse?
I think all actors actors are very, how do you say it, narciss-sistic, and all want recognition. We all want that, of course, but, at the same time I want to disappear, you know. To hide…
Disappear into the role, or disappear from public view?
In life. I’m not very good at interviews, I don’t like that so much, and TV is another thing — the lights and the make-up, and people asking you a question you can’t answer. I don’t want to sound stupid. Sometimes I can’t give the answer they want. Some people can just say a phrase that will sum up and sell the movie. You know some people are training actors for interviews, in France. When I was in school, and we had an exam, and the teacher asked me what I thought of this text, I would have a mental block and I couldn’t think, so I think it might be a good exercise. Yeah, I need that! I wouldn’t feel like I was gonna faint. The worst is on TV do you know this guy in France called Fogiel, he’s really mean. He would ask me questions like “So, you made the Bertolucci movie, thanks to your mother?” But then he cuts you off all the time, so you can’t answer. A lot of people hate him. He’s very famous in France.
In the movie, Isobel often impersonates legendary actresses like Garbo, Dietrich, Jean Seberg. Did you study all their old movies for this?
At first there was a scene where I had to imitate Bette Davis in Beyond the Forest. Then it changed and became Marlene Dietrich in Blonde Venus. I saw a lot of movies with Bette Davis, because the writer told me at the beginning she’s like Bette Davis — quite provocative. It’s good because I had the opportunity to discover her work. Also Dietrich and Garbo… Queen Christina!
It’s great for a young actress, to play all these different actresses in one movie.
They’re all quite the same, all kind of femmes fatale. It’s not like I’ve gotta be, you know… a dwarf… But it’s a lot of fun. I loved that. You feel like a child trying on clothes.
Were there other impersonations that didn’t make it into the final cut?
I think one Hitchcock movie — there’s a scene where my brother was supposed to cook eggs. And I was supposed to come and put out my cigarette in the eggs. It’s a scene from To Catch a Thief with Grace Kelly, but it didn’t end up in the movie.
Did you know much about Bette Davis before you started working on the role?
I knew Bette Davis, and I loved her, but I really looked at her work, how she acted, when I had to act like her. I wasn’t imitating. I wasn’t quite Bette Davis, but kind-of sharp-tongued, you have the impression that she’s going to bite you…
More haughty — Garbo’s face was that kind of mask. Not smiling… It’s not my favourite actress. I don’t like her very much, she’s too cold for me.
Blanchett can be chilly.
Yeah, but there’s something burning there…
What about Adjani? We don’t see so much of her nowadays.
She doesn’t want to grow old on the screen. She wants to be young forever.
Shes not afraid to be her age.
I don’t like her. She doesn’t really express… I don’t know, I don’t like her.
Did you see 8 Women and think you could have been in it?
Maybe the part of Virginie Ledoyen. My mother turned down the Isabelle Huppert role in the movie.
What about Huppert?
I love her. Shes haughty, too, she keeps her distance. She’s in control all the time.
Will your next movie offer similar possibilities?
Now I’m shooting a movie called Arsene Lupin and it’s taking place at the end of the 19th century, so it’s very different from this Isobel. Less complex, more down-to-earth, she’s suffering all the time, because her boyfriend is in love with Kristin Scott-Thomas, who’s a femme fatale. My character is more of a jeune premiere. How do you say that?
Juvenile lead… juvenile lead… The funny thing is that Robin Renucci, he’s also my father in Arsene Lupin! A crazy coincidence. Were shooting in the suburbs of Paris, in a castle!
The Dreamers is the kind of project that will probably lead to Hollywood offers. Have you had any approaches yet?
Well, I have “castings” … I have a good manager and she’s showing the movie to them. And I have tests to do, first. I’m not supposed to say for what films. But lets say big movies…
Which directors do you like the best?
I love Lars von Trier, David Lynch.
Von Trier seems to be often quite tough on his actresses. Would you like to work with him?
Maybe, in several years, when I’m stronger….
Why von Trier and Lynch exactly?
Well, they make dark movies. I want to kill someone in my next movie! Id like to do a serial-killer movie!
Would you ever consider writing or directing?
I don’t know, maybe I’m not so gifted. I’d love to. But it’s such a hard job.
What were your ambitions as a child?
I wanted to be an actress, but I didn’t want to admit it. A lot of children of famous people want to be actors, because it’s easier. My mother was scared. Now she’s happy. But she hasn’t seen the movie yet… I’m not sure how she’s going to react….
Did she visit the set?
No, no. Nobody is allowed. I didn’t want her to come, I want to be myself, and not be the daughter of somebody…
And it would be odd if your mother was on set, giving her verdict.
“Okay, not very good! Again Bernardo, Bernardo!”
Green is an English name… what’s the connection?
I don’t have any English connection, my father’s Swedish, so it’s pronounced “grain”. He’s a dentist.
Did you never consider following in his footsteps instead?
It’s crazy, no, he had like ten years at school studying.
And there’s a Scandinavian link with another top French actress, Anna Karina, who’s Danish and who you look like a little. Have you met her?
No. But I don’t understand why she married Godard. He’s very difficult.
It’s important for a leading lady to trust her director, of course. Was this the case with yourself and Bertolucci in the more difficult scenes, such as the nude sequences?
Because it was Bernardo… if it been somebody else maybe I would have been more scared. But I saw Last Tango and it’s one of my favourite movies, and I loved it, so…
The story of Maria Schneider [who starred in Last Tango] is kind of tragic, of course…
Yeah, my mother and my agent told me about it, but you know, when you’ve got a chance like that, you don’t think twice… I think with Maria Schneider, it’s not because of Bernardo. She hates Bernardo. She wasn’t ready to do that at the time. I was very scared because of that, people said it’s going to be a very difficult movie for you. I was very surprised by what working with Bernardo was actually like.
And how did you find working with Michael Pitt, who replaced Jake Gyllenhaal?
I remember I was on tour with my play Turcaret. I was walking down a street with my agent, and he saw a poster for Murder By Numbers, and said “this is him.” I thought — he looks like a girl! He had long hair I think he was not very proud of the movie, but he was proud of his performance. I saw him in Hedwig and the Angry Inch, and Dawson [Dawsons Creek]. He’s ashamed of that, but it was good for him. At first, when he came, I was very scared, because I really loved Jake Gyllenhaal, and I met Michael two days before shooting. But we hit it off completely, at once. It was good because, with Louis we worked on our English with a coach for two months. Louis and I had time to know each other, then Michael arrived so it was like the movie, you know.
Bertolucci probably planned it all
How was it between the three actors, working together on such a sensual, incestuous project?
We were behaving like young kids. Louis was like “Okay, look at my dick!” Doing these scenes, it was not so hard. We would see each other during weekends. We were like in a cocoon, and sometimes reality and fiction were intertwined.
Mmmm! We felt like we were living in this apartment, we had our rooms upstairs, then the set was on the first floor.
But you went home at night.
Yes. It was very pleasant, because we were not in reality. It was very difficult for me after the shooting, because I was very depressed. It was so intense, then suddenly everything’s over and you have to go back out on the streets.
How is it for you when you watch the movie now?
You watch yourself, only yourself, and see all the bad things. And I’m naked, so it’s not very easy for me — it’s like somebody else on the screen. It’s like watching holiday photos… Oh, it’s my story!
What’s it like when you see yourself on-screen, in the nude scenes?
It’s not me, it’s Isobel — that’s what I say to myself… I’m not like that… I’m more beautiful!
Are you feeling more confident, now that you have finished one film and are halfway through another.
Is Arsene Lupin proving a bad experience?
I can’t say that. But I don’t know… I’m questioning myself.
Questioning whether you even want to be an actress?
What would you like to do instead?
I’d like to compose music soundtracks. I love the music in the movies. The song Hey Joe in the bathtub, Michael Pitt sings the song, he’s a really really good musician. Now he’s gonna do Kurt Cobain with Gus Van Sant.
And would you consider playing Courtney Love?
I’d love to, but I don’t look like her! The good thing about Michael is that he looks like an angel, but he’s very dark, and he has violence in him.
Did you get to rehearse with him?
No, he didn’t even know his lines before shooting. When the hairdresser was doing his hair he was learning his lines for the first time. I was very impressed by that. I’m from the theatre, I learned my lines long in advance. But I’d love to be able to be self-confident enough to improvise, and let myself go. We did improvise a bit. But it was difficult because our English wasn’t so good.
In The Dreamers, control is a major issue the twins have their own little world where they’re in control
Then she lets herself go. At first she’s showing off how controlled and confident she is. By the end she’s more like herself. I think she takes refuge behind all those characters because … it’s very difficult to explain the character, because I feel very close to her in some ways. In life I can keep a certain distance from people. I’m rather reserved, and people might think that I’m very haughty and impassive, cold. But it’s just a mask of protection. And when she makes love with Matthew, she becomes an adult, in some way. She lets reality come into her Theo and Isobel, they don’t want to face the fact that they have to free themselves from each other and they know that their ambiguous relationship cannot last forever and by remaining in childhood, they’re only playing games, they’re still protected.
Perhaps it’s the parents fault?
Maybe they don’t know that they’re acting this way. My character is quite withdrawn there, she doesn’t act the same with the parents. She’s “yes papa, no papa”, then in the bedroom she is free.
Did the parents originally have more to do, because they’re not in it that much now?
There was a terrible scene, when they come back It was terrible. The mother says “Oh, look, honey, they’re like young puppies, it’s wonderful, it’s the spring of their bodies…” It was terrible too much of an explanation, so it was cut, and that was for the better.
When you were growing up, did you have as much freedom as Isobel?
No, my parents are very cool, but I had a lot of barriers, can you say that? I’m too much in control, and I’m too wise, when I was at school. I worked all the weekend, I didn’t go out. I was very scared of the boys, it was like a spell.
Did you also have a brother?
I have a non-identical twin sister. Were very different from each other.
So you didn’t create your own world, like many twins do?
Not at all, were so different. We don’t really talk to each other. She hasn’t seen my plays, but now she wants to see my movie, and I’m very moved. She’s studying business. She’s more down-to-earth.
Are you becoming more down-to-earth, doing stuff like these promotional activities?
No — I feel like I am dreaming. It’s not like the naked scenes. But when something is really tough for me when I have to talk about myself I’m like, okay, (deep breath), I’m not somebody else, but Im tu crois, sur moi-meme?
Within yourself, like an athlete going into the zone.
I hope this hasnt been too stressful…
No, not at all!
December 30th, 2003