Don’t be fooled by her habit of baring all – the former Bond girl Eva Green is an unexpectedly self-conscious siren. Nisha Lilia Diu meets the star of Tim Burton’s new vampire comedy, Dark Shadows.
By Nisha Lilia Diu
What would you buy Tim Burton for his birthday?
He clearly has all the dark garments and violet-tinted specs a man could need, and the director of Corpse Bride and Edward Scissorhands doesn’t seem the type to make use of a tie.
‘I got him a rainbow beetle,’ says Eva Green, Burton’s leading lady in his new vampire comedy, Dark Shadows. A beetle. Of course.
‘There’s this shop in New York I go to, it has bones and fossils and insects that are like works of art. I have a few on my wall. Some people collect butterflies – I love beetles.’ Did Burton like his beetle? ‘He loved it.’
Eva Green, 31, is a woman of possibly more gothic tastes than her director. It’s as apparent in her acting roles – she’s played several witches, power-hungry princesses and killers of various descriptions – as her dress.
On a day warm enough to have most of the British population booking pedicures and reaching for their flip-flops, Green is veritably encased in clothing.
She approaches me in the restaurant of a London hotel looking as if she’s just got off a motorcycle circa the winter of 1980:
Dark aviators, black leather biker jacket jangling with zips and chains, military boots and black skinny jeans. Her hair, too, is black – the flat, light-sucking colour of coal dust.
Green declines to sit down. She looks panicked. I’ve chosen a quiet corner but she’s worried about ‘people listening’.
She flicks her eyes to a pair of businessmen a few tables away and suggests we move to the lounge, which is deserted, apologising repeatedly for being ‘self-conscious’.
Her voice, already whispery, drops to a barely audible pitch whenever anyone enters the room.
This is the woman who is completely naked throughout the bulk of her debut film, Bernardo Bertolucci’s The Dreamers.
She disrobes within the first 90 seconds of Perfect Sense (in the company of Ewan McGregor), has a vigorous sex scene in the opening episode of Camelot (a sexed-up mini-series about the Arthurian legend from the makers of The Tudors).
And another with Orlando Bloom in Ridley Scott’s Kingdom of Heaven. In fact, somewhat ironically, virtually the only role in which Green doesn’t take her clothes off is that of the Bond girl Vesper Lynd in Casino Royale.
The producers wanted her to, of course, but she didn’t feel the story justified it.
And anyway, as she has pointed out in a previous interview, ‘Daniel Craig is the Bond girl, not me [in that film]. He’s the one who comes out of the sea with his top off.’
True as this may be, there’s no denying Eva Green’s magnetic beauty. In person she is slight with enormous, darting eyes.
But on screen she has a lush physicality that projects intense erotic power. Unsurprisingly, Lancôme, Emporio Armani and Christian Dior have all sought to capture it by having her model for them.
While shooting the advert for the fragrance Midnight Poison – in which she swings from a chandelier dripping in sapphires and blue organza – she became friendly with Dior’s former creative director, John Galliano. (He later lent her pieces from the Dior archive to wear in the film Cracks.)
She came to his defence when he was fired for making anti-Semitic comments during a drunken rant in a Paris bar, describing him as ‘very vulnerable’ and ‘shy’.
‘Oh, yeah, he is,’ she says today. ‘He’s like a little bird: gentle, fragile.’
Yet he’s so outlandish in his dress. ‘Lots of shy people dress a bit too much. It’s just kind of an armour. People say the same thing about me.’
Green’s red-carpet choices are certainly theatrical. She has a particular fondness for trains, heavy embellishment and wild hairdos. The back-combed style she sported when collecting her Bafta award in 2007 was, in her own words, ‘quite The Cure’.
‘I recognise myself in [Galliano] sometimes,’ she goes on. ‘People think I’m so strong,’ she pumps her fist, ‘but I’m very shy.’
Green’s accent is a beguiling combination of cut-glass English, transatlantic twang and Gallic emphases (ancestors comes out ‘an-ces-tors’).
Although she’s lived in London for the past seven years she grew up in Paris, the daughter of a French mother and Swedish father (her surname is pronounced ‘Gren’).
Talking doesn’t seem to come easily to her.
Long, awkward silences precede her answers and she has a habit of trailing off mid-sentence. Often she takes a deep breath before speaking and her hands whirl in front of her as though physically drawing the words out.
When she does make it to the end of a train of thought she concludes with a little pause followed by, ‘yeah,’ spoken in the tone of a verbal shrug, as though to dismiss all she’s just said.
Her agent warned her against doing The Dreamers, fearing she was too fragile for such an explicit piece, and it’s easy to see why. (Bertolucci, for his part, commented that the 22-year-old was ‘so beautiful, it’s indecent’.)
The film chronicles the sexual mind-games played by a trio of teenagers during the Paris riots of 1968. Her mother, the actress Marlène Jobert, who worked with Jean-Luc Godard and Claude Chabrol, also had reservations.
‘She was scared for me because of the myth of Maria Schneider being traumatised shooting Last Tango in Paris.’
Schneider suffered from breakdowns and drug addiction after completing Bertolucci’s most notorious film, later checking into an Italian psychiatric hospital and blaming Bertolucci for her condition.
‘My mother was worried that Bernardo was a weird dictator. But he’s not at all. He’s like a daddy.’
The childless Bertolucci invited the young cast of The Dreamers to his Paris apartment during the shoot where ‘he talked about music and cinema. He’s very wise, very generous.’
What was her actual father’s reaction to the film? ‘My father? Oh, nothing.’ She laughs. ‘My father and sister said absolutely nothing. They pretend it didn’t happen. It’s like I did a porn movie for them.’ Her mother is a little more accepting.
The scandal the film’s nudity created still makes her angry. ‘That’s the only thing that people talked about. I was thinking about it just two days ago, actually. How come you can kill people on film but you cannot have sex?’
She and her non-identical twin sister, Joy, are ‘very, very different’, she says. Joy is married to an Italian count and lives ‘between Normandy and Tuscany. It’s a nice life.’
They are close now but had ‘a lot of conflict’ as teenagers. ‘She’s much more down to earth than me,’ says Green. While Joy was hanging out with friends and dating boys Eva was busy with her homework.
‘I was very studious, too much. I would never go out at weekends. I was very serious. You should have seen me in class – I was blushing and sweating every time the teacher asked me something.’
Has she grown less shy with time? ‘No,’ she answers, without a moment’s hesitation.
But there are glimpses of dry humour, too. At one point her phone sounds. ‘It’s the alarm clock,’ she says, raising an eyebrow at it in mild surprise. ‘That’s interesting.’
She gives me the premise for Dark Shadows:
Her character is spurned by an aristocratic Johnny Depp so, being a witch, ‘she turns him into a vampire and locks him in a coffin for a few centuries so he can have a think’.
When he wakes up it’s 1972 and his descendants, a bunch of drawling hippies, have let the family pile fall to ruin. Michelle Pfeiffer and Helena Bonham Carter also star in this camp sci-fi melodrama.
It’s based on a bizarre soap opera on television in America for five years in the late 1960s. ‘I think,’ Burton has said of the series, ‘you could say it was actually awful.’
In the film adaptation Depp cries blood, fights the television and utters things like, ‘You may strategically take your wonderful lips and kiss my posterior repeatedly,’ to Green, his platinum-haired nemesis.
For her part she alternates between aggressive attempts to seduce him and murderous attacks (including trying to crush him with a mirror ball). ‘She’s quite full-on,’ says Green. ‘But, you know, it’s love.’
Love, in Green’s opinion, is ‘exhausting. I don’t like flirting and when I love someone I always give everything, maybe too much. And then you have to work at it all the time.
‘I mean, the first months are always great but afterwards it becomes hard work. It’s not as passionate and crazy.’
Green has had at least two long-term relationships (with the actors Yann Claassen and Marton Csokas) but she is currently single.
‘I think I wouldn’t be able to live with somebody now,’ she says. ‘I’ve decided. I think it’s nice to be independent and have your own space.’
Like Burton and Bonham Carter (who live in adjacent, interconnected houses)? ‘Yeah. Ideal. You have your own living-room, you can have it black with pink; you can have whatever you want.
‘The routine is kind of scary for me. It’s nice to remain – not mysterious – but not to share everything. I think that’s dangerous.’
She checks herself. ‘Of course a lot of people do share everything and they’re very happy. It depends on the person.’
When she was at school she would watch her classmates flirting ‘and I felt as if they were playing at being couples, playing at being in love. I wanted the real thing. I was maybe a bit pretentious,’ she allows with a wry smile.
She once commented that she ‘felt like she was 1,000’. What did she mean by that? ‘I’ve never been young,’ she says. ‘Sometimes I’m young when I’m drunk but I think too much.
‘I feel as if I’m floating, sort of daydreaming, not living my life fully. I wish I could be more’ – she clicks her fingers – ‘what’s that book? The Power of Now. I should read that.’
Something makes me ask her if she ever dances. ‘No!’ She bursts out laughing. ‘I never went clubbing. Ever. You can’t talk, it’s so loud. Men get to you and it’s like, “I don’t know you.” No. No.’ She shudders at the thought.
Green often uses the word ‘ballsy’ to describe her acting roles and admits their appeal is their contrast from her timidity in real life.
She loves her character in Dark Shadows because, she says, ‘she is cuckoo’. And she is soon to start filming 300: Battle of Artemesia, a prequel to the Gerard Butler film of 2006, in which she plays the ruthless goddess of the title.
In our hour together I notice that Green is either intensely involved in our conversation, pressing her fingers to her lips in concentration, or disengaged, bored.
I think she is a true Romantic, in many ways, living life as a restless quest for pure, unfiltered passions. A dreamer, after all.