‘I am so lucky. Every girl wants to be in a film with Daniel Craig': French actress Léa Seydoux on her chemistry with Bond co-star

The 30-year-old actress is ready for a new mission opposite 007. She tells Charlotte Pearson Methven about her on-screen chemistry with Daniel Craig, the allure of French women and the thrill of psychological seduction

'My character is a doctor, not a super-action girl, so in theory I didn’t need to be that fit but I did it for myself, to be comfortable in my body,' said Léa Seydoux of her role as psychologist Dr Madeleine Swann in Spectre

'My character is a doctor, not a super-action girl, so in theory I didn’t need to be that fit but I did it for myself, to be comfortable in my body,' said Léa Seydoux of her role as psychologist Dr Madeleine Swann in Spectre

Whatever you do, don’t call Léa Seydoux a Bond Girl. I make this faux pas when meeting the 30-year-old Parisian, who plays Daniel Craig’s love interest in the upcoming 007 film Spectre, and a Gallic froideur falls across the room. 

‘You should ask me, “How is it to play a very interesting female character in a James Bond film?”’ she reprimands, her voice rising with each word. 

‘Not… “a Bond Girl!”’ This is all said in a heavy accent, and with a steely look in her eye. 

For a terrifying moment, I worry that I have really offended her, but then her face erupts in laughter, revealing a gap-toothed grin that calls to mind another quirky French beauty, Vanessa Paradis, and I know we are going to be OK.

Reclining in an armchair in the suite of a sleek Central London hotel, Léa, it seems, is being playful to lighten up what has been a strenuous day of promoting Spectre. 

But if fulfilling press obligations in English – a tongue she admits she isn’t yet entirely comfortable in – can feel draining, making the film was anything but. 

‘It was brilliant. I think James Bond is part of one’s education – completely international and universal – and the stories just keep getting better.

'For me, Casino Royale was really something special. It’s no longer only about action and beautiful people. It’s much deeper now. It’s about human feelings.’

She’s wearing a stripy trouser suit with pops of purple – the sort of thing only a cool French girl could get away with. 

Her pretty face lights up as she talks about Spectre and, in particular, her leading man Daniel Craig – her tussles with the language adding a charm to her descriptions.

‘I am so lucky. Every girl wants to be in a film with Daniel Craig, right? Many are probably jealous I got to film love scenes with him,’ said Lea

‘I am so lucky. Every girl wants to be in a film with Daniel Craig, right? Many are probably jealous I got to film love scenes with him,’ said Lea

Even by Bond standards, Spectre is an intoxicating mix of exotic locations, thrilling high-speed adventure and sexual tensions. 

Filming took eight months and ranged from Rome to the Austrian Alps and the Moroccan desert. 

‘All of my scenes were with Daniel. It was a dream,’ she gushes, all traces of insouciance vanished. 

‘I am so lucky. Every girl wants to be in a film with Daniel Craig, right? Many are probably jealous I got to film love scenes with him, no?’ Erm, yes.

‘It was scary, too, though,’ Léa adds. ‘I thought, “Will I be good enough?”, “Will people believe in the love story?” But it was much easier than I thought and Daniel was so good with me. 

'He is the perfect James Bond – the best ever, I think, serious and strong as well as intelligent.’ 

It sounds as if Daniel made a big impression on her, I say.

‘We have the same sense of humour. There was a real complicity. Even when filming serious scenes we joked and had fun. It was always that “wink, wink” feeling between us. 

'The chemistry was strong. I hope the audience can feel that.’

But filming was also not without its challenges. Léa describes director Sam Mendes (who also directed Bond’s previous outing, Skyfall) as ‘amazing’ and ‘a brilliant director, but tough’ (he, in turn, has said Léa is ‘the whole package’). 

The film – and Mendes – asked a lot physically of the cast, which also includes Monica Bellucci as Bond’s other love interest, Ralph Fiennes as the new M and Naomie Harris as Miss Moneypenny. 

‘It was really cold in the Alps and then really hot in the desert. We were over 3,000 metres high in the mountains, so a lot of people got altitude sickness. 

'Then we had to run in the desert, me in heels. I trained a lot to prepare – weights, cardio, everything. 

'My character is a doctor, not a super-action girl, so in theory I didn’t need to be that fit but I did it for myself, to be comfortable in my body.’

'He is the perfect James Bond – the best ever, I think, serious and strong as well as intelligent. We have the same sense of humour. There was a real complicity,' said Lea of Daniel Craig

'He is the perfect James Bond – the best ever, I think, serious and strong as well as intelligent. We have the same sense of humour. There was a real complicity,' said Lea of Daniel Craig

Léa plays Dr Madeleine Swann, a psychologist.

‘Psychology is a big aspect of the film,’ she explains, ‘and how my character seduces Bond with her mind and intelligence. 

'I have no background in medicine or psychology, but I read psychology books all the time and have been to see psychiatrists myself,’ she admits. 

‘The power to understand the mind is fascinating and, from my experience, therapy really works.’

Léa had a privileged, if complicated, upbringing in Paris’s fashionable Saint-Germain-des-Prés district, as part of a prominent family with six siblings from her parents’ various marriages (they divorced when Léa was three). 

‘The important thing is we are all close now,’ she smiles, ‘but no one else is involved in acting. 

'One of my sisters is my stylist, so she gets to travel with me sometimes.’

Her parents – her father Henri is a businessman and her mother Valérie is a philanthropist – travelled frequently when she was growing up. 

‘My mother is very political,’ says Léa. ‘She visits Africa, mostly Senegal, all the time. Sometimes I go with her.

'She works with African artists, helping them sell their work, and supports women who are on the streets with their children. It’s her passion. 

'She has a big social conscience. I hope I have inherited some of that, but I am not involved like she is.’

Despite her openness in some ways, Léa admits that she suffers from crippling shyness, and in the past has had terrible problems with anxiety and panic attacks.

‘It is OK to be a little shy,’ she shrugs, ‘but my problem is that sometimes I am too shy. 

'It will often hit me when I am acting – such as the first time I met Daniel – and this is my big challenge. When it happens, I know I just have to keep going.’

‘We became so close. There’s love between us. But it was not an easy film to make. It was…very difficult,' said Lea of her role opposite Adèle Exarchopoulos in Blue is the Warmest Colour

‘We became so close. There’s love between us. But it was not an easy film to make. It was…very difficult,' said Lea of her role opposite Adèle Exarchopoulos in Blue is the Warmest Colour

Acting seems an unusual career choice for someone with this affliction, but Léa says she simply followed an older friend into it because the lifestyle appealed to her. 

‘I had always wanted to be an opera singer! Then I saw this friend getting into acting and found his life so great, so free. He seemed to be able to just work when he wanted to. I thought: “That seems nice. I’ll try it.”’ 

So she met her friend’s agent, went to some castings and started in small French films at the age of 18. 

She makes it all seem so easy – not an experience echoed by most struggling would-be actors – and says she takes rejection in her stride.

‘My feeling has always been that if a director does not think I am the right person for a certain role, then I am not, so why get upset?’ she shrugs. 

She almost had her moment opposite Daniel Craig when she auditioned for the female lead in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, but the part went to American actress Rooney Mara instead. 

In the past, Léa has been quoted as saying she was not ‘anorexic’ enough for the role, but today she is more diplomatic: ‘It was not the film for me. And I got my opportunity to be with Daniel later anyway. 

'When a director believes I am the right person for a role, then I really become that person. I get this feeling, “This part was made for me”, and I live and breathe it!’

Léa had this experience – in a breakthrough moment for her career – when her all-time favourite director, Woody Allen, called her out of the blue. 

‘I love him. Hearing his voice on the phone was crazy. I was in LA at the time. He was in Paris and he assumed I was there, too. 

'He said, “Can you meet me tomorrow?” I didn’t hesitate. I said, “Yes,” and got on the next plane back to Paris.’ 

Woody had seen a picture of Léa and been so bewitched that he cast her on the spot for his film Midnight in Paris, in the (albeit small) role of Gabrielle, a young coquette who has a flirt with Owen Wilson. 

‘I think there is something very authentic about French women. They don’t try too hard. They are sophisticated in a way that’s very natural and charming,’ said Lea (pictured as Clotilde in The Grand Budapest Hotel)

‘I think there is something very authentic about French women. They don’t try too hard. They are sophisticated in a way that’s very natural and charming,’ said Lea (pictured as Clotilde in The Grand Budapest Hotel)

Other parts in Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds, Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol opposite Tom Cruise and, most recently, Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel have added to an impressive CV. 

And, in addition to Spectre, Léa is on screen this autumn alongside Daniel Craig’s real-life wife Rachel Weisz in The Lobster, a dark satire in which she plays a forest-dwelling rebel.

Léa fits perfectly, alongside the likes of actresses Clémence Poésy and Audrey Tautou, into that enigmatic French-girl niche that translates so well for the English-language market. 

When I put this to her, she muses, ‘I think there is something very authentic about French women. 

'They don’t try too hard. They are sophisticated in a way that’s very natural and charming, cultured and poetic.’

She doesn’t want to get pigeonholed, though. 

'I would like to do more blockbusters,’ she says. ‘But I like mixing up the genres and will always do the smaller films, too. 

'French cinema is all reflections: about the inner world, with long, slow shots. 

'Hollywood films are all about action and entertainment, bang, bang, bang: they’re made for the audience and there’s more money involved. I like them both.’

Her most celebrated – and controversial – role to date was in the 2013 French arthouse film Blue is the Warmest Colour, for which she was nominated for a Bafta Rising Star Award and won the prestigious Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival (sharing it with her director and co-star – the first time in the award’s history that this has happened). 

The film, which stars Léa as an artist who has a passionate lesbian affair with a student (Adèle Exarchopoulos), features a graphic seven-minute sex scene that was so explicit it caused a scandale, even in sexually liberal France. 

The two actresses said at the time they had ‘felt like prostitutes’, sometimes doing hundreds of (intimate) takes to satisfy director Abdellatif Kechiche. 

Talking about it now, Léa is sanguine and names Exarchopoulos as the actor she would most like to work with again. 

‘We became so close. There’s love between us. But it was not an easy film to make. It was…’ she pauses, visibly uncomfortable, ‘very difficult.’ 

In The Lobster alongside Colin Farrell (left) and Michael Smiley

In The Lobster alongside Colin Farrell (left) and Michael Smiley

And how did her family react? 

‘They are always very supportive of my work,’ she says. ‘They liked it but, for me, it was a bit embarrassing for them to watch.’

Léa has said that the role made her ‘question’ her sexuality at one point, but she is now ‘in love’ with a man. 

‘He is no one famous,’ she smiles, declining to name him. ‘He works as a producer. He is French and we have been together for two years.’ 

Now 30 and happily settled with a partner, does she see starting a family as the next adventure? 

‘At one point I wasn’t sure, but now I know I definitely want to get married and have children – just one or two – and be a really good mother. 

'I like being 30. It’s a new decade. I feel it’s the beginning of great adventures.’

No matter where work takes her, Léa says her heart will always be in Paris. 

‘It is my home and always will be. I love London and New York, but I can’t relax in those places as I do in Paris, which isn’t too big or too crowded. 

'You can still find spots where there are no people.’ 

But if Léa’s star continues to rise, it’s hard to imagine that there won’t be people following her wherever she goes, especially if she gets her wish to appear in more 007 films.

It’s a risk she is willing to take. 

‘I am superstitious, so I don’t want to say it out loud, but of course I would love to do another one! 

'It’s amazing to work with people – the actors and the crew – who are all at the top of their game, and Bond is so sexy, because he is the quintessential Englishman – strong and impenetrable. 

'And he always knows how to rescue people. That is the ultimate fantasy – to be rescued by James.’ And who can argue? 

Spectre will be in cinemas from 26 October. The Lobster is in cinemas now

 

Léa’s lust list 

STYLE ICONS 

Jane Birkin, Catherine Deneuve and my top icon is Anna Karina, Jean-Luc Godard’s muse and the most beautiful woman in the world. 

FAVOURITE FILMS 

I love the animated Disney films such as Sleeping Beauty and Beauty and the Beast. 

ON CATCH-UP 

I don’t really watch it, but I make an exception for Mad Men. Las t meal on earth It would have to be Japanese. I love all the Japanese restaurants in London. 

BOND GIRL INSPIRATION 

I thought Eva Green was amazing in Casino Royale. 

FASHION MUSTS 

If I have an event to attend, Prada is my first choice. I also love the artistry of Jean Paul Gaultier. best book 

THE PLAY 

The Master Builder by Henrik Ibsen. It is amazing. 

FAVOURITE DESTINATION 

Paris – I like to be at home walking by the Seine. If I can see the Seine, then I am happy. I also love my mother’s house in Brittany.

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