“It is a rare treat to play someone so ‘normal,’” says French actress Eva Green, referring to her latest role as a buttoned-down scientist in the drama “Perfect Sense.” “I have been playing quite extreme characters up until now, so portraying somebody so down-to-earth was very nice indeed.”
By extreme, she is referring to roles such as a flying witch in “The Golden Compass” (2007), a psychotic and murderous lesbian school teacher in “Cracks” (2009) and, of course, her portrayal of Vesper Lynd, the double agent who ruthlessly ensnares and breaks the heart of James Bond in the highly acclaimed “Casino Royale” (2006). Extreme seems to be part of the actress’s DNA.
However, when it came to her latest role—an epidemiologist trying to stop a world-wide epidemic—the 31-year-old actress embraced the challenge of playing someone who wasn’t, as she says, “cuckoo.”
Set in Glasgow, “Perfect Sense,” which is released in the U.K. on Oct. 7 and other European cities early next year, follows the fortunes of her character, Susan, as she attempts to solve the crisis and, in the best disaster-movie tradition, rediscovers love by falling for a local chef, played by Ewan McGregor. “She has had her heart broken, is a bit cynical and guarded, but starts opening up and allows herself to be vulnerable,” she says, speaking from her parents’ home in Paris.
In the film, described by Ms. Green as “a love story with layers of horror that is also quite dark but ultimately uplifting,” most of the characters gradually start losing their senses—smell first, followed by hearing and sight—and experience extreme emotional and physical distress, such as grief, anger and hunger. Set in an apocalyptic world, the root cause of the epidemic is a mystery.
The Danish-British co-production was shot mostly in Glasgow over a five-week period and the actress says it was challenging in terms of characterization and making the story believable. There was a longer-than-usual rehearsal period, which gave her and Mr. McGregor the chance to get to know one another and work through their scenes much more than is typical in filmmaking. “In this crazy business you don’t really have much rehearsal time, but we were lucky and had a couple of rehearsals before shooting, which allowed us to get the tone of the script, which was quite particular. So David Mackenzie, the director, helped us to find it,” she says.
“Ewan is a very humble and charming human being—a gentleman. He is not afraid to show his guts or his emotions as a man” she says of her co-star. “He is very instinctive and a beautiful actor.”
Inspired to act after seeing Isabelle Adjani in Francois Truffaut’s 1975 classic “L’Histoire d’Adele H,” Ms. Green went to an English-speaking school in Paris and studied acting at the Saint Paul drama school there. Born in Paris to a Swedish dentist father and a French-Algerian mother, Marlène Jobert, who was a well-known actress in France, Ms. Green says she was fearful of only getting roles because of her mother. She was on the verge of giving up when, at 22, she was offered her first film role in Bernado Bertolucci’s 2003 “The Dreamers,” an erotic tale of youthful sexual discovery set against the backdrop of the 1968 Paris riots. “I was doing a play that I hated and wanted to stop acting when a casting director called and asked me whether I was free on Sunday to attend a casting with Bertolucci,” she says. “I couldn’t believe it. My immediate thought was complete disbelief, but the gods were really with me that day because I got the part.”
The explicit sex scenes and full-frontal nudity in “The Dreamers” raised some eyebrows. Some of the love scenes with Mr. McGregor in “Perfect Sense” are also quite graphic. “It is awful,” Ms. Green says about filming the sex scenes. “I hate nudity. There are usually about 20 people in the room. It is not like having sex with your boyfriend. However, if it is not gratuitous or pornographic and to do with love, then I will do it for the movie. It is always very stressful. I usually can’t sleep the night before filming.”
Ms. Green, who divides her time between her parents’ home in Paris and her own in London, has been very selective in her nine-year acting career, juggling more artistic work along with big-budget films. “Bond was a big machine and gave me a middle name, which has allowed me to do independent films,” she says, adding that her career choices have a lot to do with who is directing a film. She says one of the reasons she was interested in making “Perfect Sense” was the opportunity to work with David Mackenzie (“Hallam Foe,” “Young Adam” and “Asylum”). “I really enjoyed working with Eva, and I think she is a really interesting and original actress,” says Mr. Mackenzie. “It’s obvious she has great intelligence and great beauty, but there’s an otherworldliness to her that gives her something unique.”
As part of her research for the film, the director sent Ms. Green to an epidemiological center in Glasgow to spend some time in the lab. “Everyone was in their own world. Swine flu was going on, so I was in the thick of it—just like in the movie,” she says. “What was really interesting was that most of them had a really wry sense of humor, which I thought may be because they are dealing with death and disease every day.”
That humor seemed to carry over to the shoot, where edible props—insatiable hunger is one of the epidemic’s symptoms—were in abundance. “It was very funny, as the production had a bucket next to all of the actors so that we could eat things and then spit them out,” she says. “I remember eating lipstick, flowers and toothpaste—it was fun.” It wasn’t so much fun imagining loosing her senses, and she refers to the imaginary loss of her eyesight and hearing as “harrowing.”
Ms. Green’s next role sees her back in more quirky territory, playing a jilted witch who locks up her unrequited love, played by Johnny Depp, in a box and casts horrible spells on him in Tim Burton’s gothic tale, “Dark Shadows.” She describes her screen relationship with Mr. Depp as “electric.”
And when filming for “Dark Shadows” ends, what’s next on her agenda? “A nice long holiday, preferably in the sun.” The perfect counterpoint for dark tales.