Interview: Eva Green, Actor
• Eva Green in the Catherine Palace, St Petersburg, photographed for Mont Blanc.
It's close to 5pm when I meet Eva Green, in a particularly quirky room in London's Sanderson Hotel. In one corner is a running machine, while the bathroom is entirely visible behind a plate-glass window. Silently praying that I won't need to use the facilities during our encounter, I cast my eyes over Green, who is opposite me sipping from her bottle of mineral water. She's wearing a white blouse with ruffles, a scarf and black velvet jacket, and there's a long dark coat slung over the back of her chair.
"It's my queen outfit!" she giggles.
"Regal" is not the first word that springs to mind when thinking about Green – despite the fact she effortlessly conveyed a sense of hauteur when she played the fictional Princess Sibylla in Ridley Scott's Crusades epic Kingdom of Heaven. Rather, there's something bewitching about her, a feeling encouraged by her black nail polish, metallic eye shadow and dark tresses tumbling over her shoulders. With her angular face illuminated by startling blue eyes, it's little wonder Bernardo Bertolucci, who cast her in her debut role in 2003's The Dreamers, noted she's "so beautiful, it's indecent".
Since that breakthrough, Green's career has been quite remarkable. From The Dreamers to her latest work, Cracks, she's appeared in just seven films in total (though she has a further two in the can). Yet this includes playing Bond girl Vesper Lynd in the hugely successful 007 reboot Casino Royale and "good witch" Serafina Pekkala in The Golden Compass, the huge budget adaptation of the first book in Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy. Only The Dreamers and 2004 jewel thief tale Arsne Lupin were made in her native France. The rest have been English-language productions that suggest Green is destined for international stardom.
I wonder how she feels, having such success with so few films. "I've been lucky," she shrugs. "The thing is, I wish I could learn to do work for the sake of it. Sometimes actors do this. They learn from each experience, even if the film was not that great. I can't do that. I feel ill if I can't … I need to love it with my heart." She drifts into introspection, muttering words like "difficult" and "too demanding". What do you mean? "I'm too picky," she clarifies. "Sometimes you just … I'm learning. I have to force myself. I should work more – just to keep going."
In truth, that might not be the right move. Part of 29-year-old Green's appeal is the sense of mystery she brings to her roles, something overexposure might dampen. Nevertheless, her concerns show that she is not above the anxieties and neuroses that secretly riddle actors. She admits she's not the best to be around when she's preparing for a role. "When I'm prepping and really working on it, I'm freaking out: that I'm not going to measure up, it's not going to work, I'm going to look so bland, and I have no idea what the director wants. I freak out completely."
If Green is suffering this turmoil on the inside, it never shows in the end product. "I think she's such a cerebral, intelligent actress," says Jordan Scott, the director of Cracks, who first noticed her when her father made Kingdom of Heaven. "She seems to have really amazing instincts, and there's a subtlety to her." In some ways, she brings to mind Isabelle Adjani, whose turn in Franois Truffaut's The Story of Adele H inspired Green who saw it when she was 14. Both have dipped into Hollywood (Adjani in films like The Driver and the disastrous Ishtar), but you get the sense that, like Adjani, Green's best work will be in Europe.
Even so, Green has one problem to overcome: acceptance in France. Ever since she took a role in Casino Royale, she's been suffering back home. As she once told me, French producers "often think I'm big-headed because I live in London, and they think I want to go to America". While this was undoubtedly because the French rather like to own their actors, and don't appreciate being deserted for foreign assignments, I ask if the situation has improved. "No, not really," she sighs. "It's very French. I don't know. But I really hope I'm going to work with their interesting directors – Jacques Audiard, for example." She lets out a sigh. "It's France and it's stupid."
At least the British have adopted her. Earlier in the year, she appeared in the futuristic thriller Franklyn and now Cracks, a sensual melodrama that's unquestionably Green's most substantial part to date. "It's the best role I've ever had," she says, unreservedly. It's also her most overt attempt to emulate Adjani. "It's a movie about obsession. It's a kind of Adele H … it's a role like that." That film dealt with the daughter of author Victor Hugo and her unrequited love for a naval officer, but Cracks, set in a 1930s all-girls boarding school, is a little more "sinister", as Green puts it. She plays Miss G, a swimming instructor who regales her spellbound teenage charges with hugely falsified tales of her exotic past.
Green cites numerous touchstones – everyone from Blanche DuBois in A Streetcar Named Desire to the title character in The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie – though neither quite convey the erotic charge of Cracks. Much of this comes when a new pupil arrives, a Spanish girl named Fiamma (Mara Valverde), who turns Miss G's head. While the film boasts a particularly controversial (though tastefully shot) seduction scene, Green believes she understands her character's motivations. "I don't think she's a lesbian. She's fallen in love with this girl. She's everything she's always wanted to be. She's travelled, she's cultured, she's sensual … she's the real one. (Whereas] Miss G has created this character. Everything is an illusion. It's all calculated. It's all a faade."
Brought up in Paris, Green never went to boarding school but she did attend a "very uptight, bourgeois" establishment. "When you're quite sensitive – and I was – I think school makes you who you are. I was very crazy in school. I was working a lot. I was a very good student. I wanted to please the teachers so much. I hated myself. There was no real dialogue. You couldn't blossom as an individual. Other students in this school were very happy. But me, I hated it – I had to get out of there." But why did she hate herself? "For not going 'F*** off!' You couldn't express yourself."
Raised with a twin sister – who likes computers and dreams of breeding horses, apparently – Green was always likely to act. Her aunt, Marika Green, began a 40-year acting career in Robert Bresson's Pickpocket. Her mother, the Algerian-born Marlne Jobert, who gave up acting when she had Green, had top billing opposite Kirk Douglas in 1971's To Catch a Spy. Green kept quiet about her desire to follow suit while she was at school, but it all spilled out when she graduated and finally found a means for self-expression. "I went to the other extreme to be an actress," she admits, "and let myself go a bit."
Studying acting at Saint Paul Drama School in Paris for three years, followed by time in London and New York, Green eventually returned to her birthplace to work in theatre. It was here that Bertolucci spotted her and cast her in The Dreamers; even now, Green remains mystified why this tale of a youthful mnage trois caused such outrage. "A lot of people said it was gratuitous and pornographic," she shrugs. "They were quite shocked. I don't know why." She has a point – her full-frontal scenes aside, there was little in the film to cause censure. For the record, she thinks Cracks is "more shocking than The Dreamers".
That said, it's hardly surprising when she admits her father, a Swedish-born dentist named Walter Green, was a little disturbed by her work with Bertolucci. "He was speechless. I'm his daughter; but he should think I'm an actress and I can do things like that." Understandably, Casino Royale was better received. "It was the first time my father was proud of me," she says, quietly. "I was very happy when he said, 'C'est magnifique!'"
He may be less than pleased with the shot on the cover of this month's Tatler – in which she sits on an antique table in front of a mirror, naked – a nod to Helmut Newton's infamous 1973 photograph of Charlotte Rampling.
If Green has a provocative edge to her, and likes toying with her sexuality on screen, she's not doing it out of some childish act of rebellion. Paternal acceptance is evidently high on her list of priorities, as she hints when I ask why she became the face for Mont Blanc. "My father has always written with Mont Blanc pens. It's very chic, and elegant and classic."
There have been other endorsements – modelling for the likes of Emporio Armani, Lancme and a Christian Dior perfume advert directed by Hong Kong maestro Wong Kar-Wai. "If it's like Dior or Mont Blanc, you can't say 'no' to that," she says. "But I'm not going to do something for Iceland!"
As for fashion, she's not obsessed by it. "I don't go shopping that much, because I'm not patient enough." In the past, her eccentric style has led to criticism. One fashion editor nicknamed her Morticia Addams for arriving at an event dressed in "shockingly bad Givenchy". Not that she cares. "I will just keep wearing what I like," she says.
More often than not, though, Green keeps a low profile. Premieres aside, she's rarely seen out with her New Zealand-born boyfriend of three years, Marton Csokas, whom she met on the Kingdom of Heaven set. They're frequently apart: "It can be difficult to keep a relationship going when you're apart filming," she says.
Earlier this year, she completed Womb opposite Matt Smith (who will replace David Tennant as Doctor Who in the new year). "It's unique," she says. "It's like a fairy tale. It's a very unusual love story. Really weird, I have to say." She's not kidding. She plays a woman who clones her husband when he dies, and then gives birth to him.
"You see her from the age of 20 until she's 46 – as a lover at the beginning, then as a mother. It's very f***ed. But it's very beautiful too. It's very slow, it's quite poetic, and the director (Hungarian Benedek Fliegauf] I think is very interesting."
Then comes The Last Word, the new film from Scotland's David Mackenzie. "It's a love story and the end of the world is in the background," she explains. "It's quite light, really. But what's happening is very dramatic. People lose their senses – it starts with taste, then smell, then their hearing." When we meet, Green has just finished the Glasgow-based shoot opposite Ewan McGregor (who worked with Mackenzie on 2003's Young Adam). She didn't get much of a chance to explore the city, she admits. "I haven't seen much of it, because we were shooting across five weeks. It was like shooting a TV movie! Crazy. Very intense."
Shooting two films in 12 months has left Green spent. Too much time living in the hermetically sealed world that is a film set is evidently not good for her. She says that she's planning to take a break now. "I think I need to go to India, and do something. I want to do something new, or to feel some desire, to feel alive." Will she travel on her own? "By myself?" she says, looking horrified. "No. I wish I could – like go to India by myself. But I'm not brave enough." It reminds me of the moment earlier in our conversation when she admitted that she refused to do the lake-diving scene for Cracks.
"I'm very scared of water," she told me. "When you don't see the water ... I imagine monsters – stupid things!"
I wonder if she feels she could just switch off from her career for several months, as McGregor did during his two full-on motorbike jaunts across the globe. "I don't know. It's quite a crazy business. He's well established, Ewan McGregor. I'm not at his level. It's so competitive. It's quite scary. You feel like you go in the bin quite quickly, and people forget about you."
If this is a stark reminder that Green is as fragile and paranoid as the next actor, she needn't worry. In the days of media overexposure, she's one actress who has managed to remember that old adage: always leave them wanting more.
Cracks opens on 4 December