Relative newcomer Adèle Exarchopoulos was the belle of Cannes this year
for her breakthrough and baring turn in “Blue is the Warmest Color.” Her
performance opposite Léa Seydoux as a teenager coming to grips with her
homosexuality was so strong, it caused the Jury, led by Steven
Spielberg, to award the Palme d’Or not just to filmmaker Abdellatif
Kechiche, but to its two lead starlets as well — a first for the festival.
Following its unofficial preview in Telluride, the film made its North
American premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival where the actress emerged as one of the true talks of the festival, boding well for the
awards season ahead (distributor Sundance Selects is surely betting on her
performance given the film doesn’t qualify for a Best Foreign Film
Oscar — to know why click here).
Exarchopoulos, outfitted in a designer dress and Nike sneakers, sat down with Indiewire in Toronto to discuss her breakout role, giving all of herself to the performance, how she got the part, and her recent remarks made to The Daily Beast where she and Seydoux spoke ill of their director.
“Blue is the Warmest Color” doesn’t mark your first film, but it does mark your highest profile project to date. What’s this ride been like?
It’s so cool. It’s been great witnessing all the different reactions to the film. I think you learn something watching the movie. It’s been my first time in Toronto, my first time in Telluride, my first tip to LA. So it’s been great just discovering everything. It’s been an experience.
When you first signed on for the role did you ever envision the film going on a journey like this?
No. I mean I knew Abdellatif does justice to his actresses. In France all the actresses he works with go on to great things. He likes new faces.
How did he discover your face?
Via the casting director. I passed the casting, they gave me the comic book [the film is based on a French graphic novel by Julie Maroh], and then one day Abdellatif wanted to meet me for coffee. He was sitting there and it was so strange. It felt like an exam. I’m not comfortable with telling a director how badly I want to work with them. He didn’t speak, he just watched and observed me. We remained in silence just watching in each other. I thought it was going terribly but I discovered after that he’s always like that. Like in interviews he takes his time to make sure he chooses the right words. He’s so complex. So we met for a few coffees over months and months. I didn’t think I had it, and then one day he called me up to tell me, “It’s you.”
So how long did this casting process take? It sounds like there were a lot of steps.
Two months. It was long because you expect a response every day.
I’m guessing he had you chemistry test with Léa.
No! Just one screen test to see what our faces look like together. When I met her she was already famous in France, and we immediately became more than friends. We didn’t want to force the relationship. If it didn’t work, we’d just work together. But it worked. She’s instinctive and cerebral — she has her own mystery. We are different and complimentary.
Did Abdellatif have you two hang out prior to shooting?
No. Because we shot chronologically, he wanted us to not really know each other at the outset. He wanted us to discover ourselves.
Given that the project was shot chronologically, how did your own personal journey mirror that of the character’s. You must have grown.
I know that I changed. I know that I became more mature. But what specifically really changed inside of me? I don’t really know.
I had to really lose myself. We had no makeup or hair on set. He’d give me directions like, “Buy a hamburger and cry. Go.” Even while I was sleeping he’d be shooting me. He wanted to capture every moment’s truth. So the journey was different for everyone. I grew up with my character and I discovered how fragile I can be. So yeah, I learned a lot about my own emotions, my worth ethic and how far I’m willing to go. It was taxing and overwhelming but I loved it.
Can you take me back to the first time you saw the finished film and what that experience was like?
I didn’t know what to expect because I spent five months making so many different choices. I watched the film at a press screening before it screened officially in Cannes and I remember thinking, “I don’t know.” [Long pause] I was proud and not disappointed. I thought he did an incredible job with this movie. He made people question themselves. It’s about how a person can change your life.
You expose so much of yourself in this film, and I’m not just talking about the nudity. After seeing the film were you nervous of the world seeing you so exposed?
I was. My dad came to the screening. Everyone was telling me to not bring him, but maybe I’d never be in another movie so I wanted to share it with him.
What did he think of the film?
He was proud. He said that at times he didn’t recognize me.
Were your parents at all wary about you making the film?
You read the comics and they’re explicit. It tells such a good and beautiful story, so no. They are so respectful or me and took their distance. It’s just cinema to them. I think cinema is the art of reality.
On top of all the adulation the film’s received, a lot of attention has been paid to the nudity. Has the reaction surprised you?
Yeah, but I understand it. American audiences aren’t used to it. It’s a choice by the director. We all have sex, it’s like a drug, everyone loves it. We had to show how making love to someone is visceral. We had to convey how much of yourself you give over. So we chose to show to everyone the emotion behind the discovering of one’s sexuality.
We are adults, so come on. It’s fiction, it’s cinema. I don’t get the big deal.
How did you and Léa work together in the lead up to the sex scenes?
We have really different ways of working. For the sex scene is was really a question of trust. We were allies on this movie. So I helped her, and she helped me. It was pretty natural really. We just trusted ourselves. I was terrified of the breakup scene. Abdellatif pushed us all the time to do our best and not ‘act.’ He was really there for us.
What was the most challenging scene?
Every scene was challenging. I mean for me it’s difficult to take a phone call and be natural. It’s more complicated than giving yourself. But yes, every scene was so challenging.
How long did it take you to recover when done the shoot? Did you even feel the need to recover?
I went to Thailand for a week with my boyfriend. It really helped. I just cut everything out.
I have to ask: Everyone’s talking about The Daily Best interview. Is there anything you want to clarify about what was said?
I just think it’s too bad that people are talking about this, even if we provoked it. It was naive.
On whose part?
On me and Léa. We were saying true anecdotes, but they put all the negative things in the interview. I think every genius is tortured. Sometimes it’s hard to do justice to these people.
My father called me after the interview went live going, “What? There’s scandal?” We learned so much making this movie. Of course you can’t express yourself properly when talking about the huge human adventure we went on, making this movie. The three of us were always together searching, working. It’s only normal that there was some conflict. I chose to make the movie the way we did, and I loved it. It’s hard for me to talk about this, not because there are secrets I’m trying to hide, but because it was so intense.