Monday, 10 October 2011

Eva Green: Bewitching and Bewildering

Sunday Times Culture, October 2, 2011 by Jeff Dawson

Is Eva Green Britain’s ultimate screen Nemesis? She seems to have made it a personal mission to despoil our idols. She had James Bond blubbing into his budgie smugglers In Casino Royale. In the forthcoming movie, Womb, she gets Dr. Who (well, Matt Smith) run over. Dare one mention TV’s Camelot, in which her Morgan Le Fay stopped tastefully short of bedding half-sibling, King Arthur, but gave Dark Age Albion a good old seeing to? 

Green is certainly a beguiler, wafting into the lobby of a London Hotel, her slender frame clad head-to-toe in black — from the leather jacket to the lace-up boots, her face hidden behind giant Jackie O shades. The dark hair is pulled back in a tight ponytail, hoop earrings clang, her lips blood red against alabaster skin.

“Hello,” she says, extending slender fingers sporting clunky goth rings and inch-long Wiccan-regulation talons. In the middle of shooting Dark Shadows with Tim Burton and Johnny Depp at Pinewood Studios, in which she plays (not for the first time) a crazed witch, Green is either taking her work home with her or has been spending far too long with the Burton-Bonham-Carters.

She was shooting till 3am. Black is easy. “You don’t have to bother in the morning.” But her character’s a hoot. “She’s extreme, she’s big, she’s full-on, very cuckoo. I’ve never played somebody so over the top,” (which is saying something), so one must be very nice about her new chums, Tim and Helena. You should lend them a comb, I say. An unconvincing laugh. Too early in proceedings.

In her new film, the low-budget Scottish independent, Perfect Sense, from director David Mackenzie, Green adds Obi-Wan Kenobi to her list of conquests… okay, Ewan McGregor. He plays the bit-of-rough Glaswegian chef to Green’s toff-totty scientist.

Though what starts out as your typical mismatched set-up veers off into apocalyptic sc-fi as the world’s population — including the denizens of Clydeside — becomes afflicted with a series of short, sharp illnesses that wipe out the senses of smell, taste, hearing, sight and, one supposes, though we don’t get that far, touch. 

“The story was very unusual and provoking,” she considers. “When I read it there was a lot of humour, like a romantic comedy, but when I saw the movie it’s quite dramatic, not funny at all.” It’s very odd. There are riots in the streets. Green eats a bunch of gladioli. They weren’t very tasty. “Oh my God. We had a bucket next to us.”

She perches on the sofa, orders green tea and — in what can only assume is an acquired and filthy British habit — squashes her chewing gum onto the saucer. “Isn’t that nice?” Better than the pavement.

Her eyes are deep blue, her voice a sort of cut-glass English, or the kind of cut-glass English uttered by someone imitating “posh”. There are only the slightest of curlicues to suggest her Parisian provenance.

The Anglophilia began at 17 when she came to study English in Ramsgate. Later, she returned to Blighty for drama school. Though she did start her career in France, the now 31-year-old has been living in London for… “uh six years,” she ponders. She prefers Primrose Hill to Paris. “I feel like a grown up. I feel more centred. It’s very calming.” She even likes our grub.

Nowadays Green not only speaks English but thinks in it too. A recent few days away, speaking exclusively French, was rather discombobulating. Back on the Dark Shadows set, her line readings were all over the place. You use different parts of your brain, she describes.

Green had made only one French-language film, 2004’s Arsène Lupin, before us Anglo-Saxons got our horny mitts on her. Though what is most intriguing is that after 2006’s Casino Royale, which made her a star… “I disappeared,” she cuts in. One wouldn’t go quite that far. “I did,” she insists.

Certainly, when the world was Green’s big glossy oyster, she decided to throw in her lot with the grubbier end of independent British cinema. “Well I really need to like what I’m doing,” she explains. “If I don’t like something, I don’t think that I can even perform. A movie’s from my heart, my soul.” So what if few people see her stuff? It’s better than the “3D films and fighting monsters” which clog up our multiplexes, she grumbles. People who watch such things have had “a lobotomy.”

Acting was in the family. Green’s mother, Algerian-born actress, Marlène Jobert — now a children’s author — worked with Jean-Luc Godard. Her uncle, Christian Berger, is a cinematographer, her aunt, Marika Green, an actress. Even her father, Walter Green, a Swedish dentist, who met his wife while filling a cavity — “what a romantic” — had popped up onscreen in the 1966 film Au Hasard Balthazar about (it says here) a knackered donkey. “He hated it. You can see it on his face,” she says. The experience, that is, not the poor beast.

Her surname is pronounced, with a nasal snort, “Grenn”, her coniferous appelage not the contrived stage name some assumed. Nor she was conceived during a duet between Babs Streisand and Kris Kristofferson. She pulls a face.

Mama was not keen on her daughter following in her footsteps (Green’s sister is married to an Italian count and breeds horses in Normandy). “My mother stopped when she was 40, when she had me actually, so I was never like on sets,” she says.

But she trod the boards anyway and had only just begun in Parisian theatre when she was spotted by Bernardo Bertolucci, the director, most famously — or infamously — of Last Tango In Paris. He raved that the 22-year-old Green was “so beautiful it’s indecent” (the rascal). “Ah yeah, that’s him,” she chuckles. It proved quit a tonic. “I was going through a weird time. I was not enjoying myself on stage and I think he saved me.”  

Bertolucci cast Green in The Dreamers, a European co-production, set during the Paris riots of 1968. It was risky business — Green is starkers for much of the picture, undertaking a triangular sexual relationship with an American student and her very own screen brother.

“My mother and my agent didn’t want me to do it. But I was so much in love with Bertolucci’s his work. I was big fan. I had a big poster of Last Tango in Paris in my room.” The nudity “was not pleasant”, but the fact that there were three of them sans-culottes lessened the impact, she says. 

 “It’s more difficult now. If I have to do a sex scene. I feel very self conscious,” she admits (in Perfect Sense her breasts make an appearance within 90 seconds). “Now I’m like, ‘Ohmigod. Never on top!’” She mimes lying back and thinking, one supposes, of England, maybe Ramsgate. “Close your eyes!” 

Unsurprisingly, The Dreamers got Green a lot of interest. It was but a short hop to Ridley Scott’s Crusader epic, Kingdom Of Heaven. Unfortunately, much of Green’s part, as moody Arab seductress, Sibylla, was cut out at the last minute. “I was devastated, but I learnt a lot from it. It’s politics. Hollywood is afraid of darkness.” Scott has since restored Green’s role (complete with her bedding of Orlando Bloom) in his Director’s Cut.

Green later made a film with Jordan Scott, Ridley’s daughter, called Cracks, in which she plays an unhinged lesbian house mistress, a lust object for the blue-stockings at a girls’ private school.

It was Casino Royale, though, which changed everything. “I’m not spitting on it,” she joshes. In the re-booted franchise, Daniel Craig found waspy Vesper Lynd no mere babe but an equal. Green had read the script not “not as a Bond thing” but as “a spy story, love story. She was a cool character  —very sharp, witty, a lot of banter (she snaps her fingers). It was kind of old-fashioned.”

A stringent elocution programme was required to woo the producers. But so convincing was Green in the final product that everyone assumed she was one of us. She appeared with Craig again in The Golden Compass (as another witch) and has remained a celebrity. The other day I saw a headline in a women’s mag: “’Pasta relaxes me,’ says Eva Green”. She laughs. “They could have used something else!”

French sexiness seems somehow effortless. A couple of years ago, I interviewed the actress, Ludivine Sagnier — a friend of Green’s, it turns out — who attributed her own appeal, with majestic insouciance, to a regime of no gym, eating what she wanted and smoking lots of fags. Green chuckles. “Sometimes you want to provoke. You want to go, ‘Yeah, I’m a whore.’” But she’s not dissimilar. “I’m not good. Because I don’t have time, when I come back home, I’m going to have a glass of wine and a cigarette. I’m not going to exercise.” 

For a while Green was the face of Midnight Poison, by Dior. She became pally with designer John Galliano, who got into bother with his anti-semitic rant in a restaurant. Where most in showbiz dropped him like a hot potato, Green, half-Jewish via her mother, has remained loyal. “He’s a very fragile person. He’s like a little bird. I’m sure he’s going to get back on track, he’s so talented. Sometimes, when you are a bit drunk, you cannot be yourself.”

If the rumours are to be believed, the filming of another British indie, the futuristic Franklyn (she plays a schizophrenic), caused Green to spurn an invitation to join Nicolas Sarkozy on his campaign trail — shortly after his divorce and before he met Carla Bruni. It prompts one to envisage a parallel history where Green is France’s First Lady. But it’s all nonsense, she says. “It was crazy. I don’t know the man. I was invited like to a party once or something. But then it turned into something ridiculous.”

More recently, Green’s appearance in Camelot raised a few eyebrows. “What the fuck is she doing?” she mimics. With its furs and leather, its swords and sorcery, it proved a guilty, trashy pleasure. As Morgan Le Temptress, Green got to be not just naked and bonkers and[ital] a witch, but to bleed out of her eyes. In one episode, in a break from more classical interpretations of the Arthurian legend, Morgan calls her lover, King Lot (James Purefoy), a “silly cunt”. 

“She’s so ballsy. We don’t have a lot of roles like this. I didn’t want to play girlfriends and love interest. It’s great to be almost like a man,” she gushes. Sadly, Camelot has not been recommissioned — Le Morte D’Arthur, as you might put it.

There was talk of Green playing Maria Callas in a biopic, but that won’t be happening. Instead she is excited about Womb, another low-budget film about cloning and in which she plays both partner and mother of Matt Smith. “He’s an eccentric. He’s unusual. I’ve never met somebody like him.” But, a confession. “I don’t know Dr. Who,” she whispers. “I’ve never seen it.” 

Green must go. She’s due back at Pinewood to put her witchy moves on Johnny Depp, a shoot that will go on all night again. It’s a blinder of a day outside, but as her pallor attests, Green has seen little of the sun in recent weeks. Must be like doing shift work. She laughs. ”I feel like a vampire.”


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