If you’re looking for a vamp, a sorceress or a sex bomb for your latest blockbuster, you call Eva Green. But away from the spotlight she’s misunderstood, finds Richard Godwin
When I arrive to have tea with Eva Green at Sketch, she has already taken command of a plush velvet sofa. One hopes to retain a certain cool when meeting an actress, particularly a French one, particularly one so devastating, and yet, I can’t help noticing, the only chair I can politely take is no higher than a badger. ‘It’s like Alice in Wonderland,’ she laughs, clearly happy to play the spectral queen as I perch at her feet. Or perhaps it’s simply the spell Eva Green casts?
Dressed all in black, dyed hair falling over her grey eyes in black strands (she’s a natural blonde), she appears to recede into the shadows. However, what at first seems like Gothic hauteur turns out to be something a little more delicate. She speaks in a soft staccato, with the barest breath of French accent. Occasionally, her voice fades out altogether, as if she is discreetly turning down the volume, but she is also quick to laugh. ‘A friend was telling me recently that people are scared of me,’ she says. ‘That’s the image I give, I guess. When they know me, they see it’s kind of a shyness thing. I don’t know why they’re scared. Is it my hair? The fact I don’t talk much?’
There’s also the full-blooded performances she gives in her films. Her first screen role, in Bernardo Bertolucci’s The Dreamers in 2003, required her to spend most of the film with no clothes on (‘She’s so beautiful, it’s indecent,’ purred the director; her parents couldn’t watch the final film). Soon after that, she appeared in Kingdom of Heaven, playing Sibylla of Jerusalem, opposite Orlando Bloom, before bringing real emotion to Casino Royale, with Daniel Craig.
Her combination of demure grace and explosive sexuality has seen her fronting campaigns for Lancôme and Dior, where she found a kindred spirit in John Galliano. (‘He’s always been very generous, very kind. Extremely shy. He seems very cold, but it’s an armour.’) Still, she has little interest in fashion, always wearing black, accomplishing six months’ worth of clothes shopping in Topshop in half an hour.
More recently, Green, now 31, has brought the Gothic to the ill-fated The Golden Compass (as a witch) and the mini-series Camelot (as a sorceress) and, earlier this year, to Tim Burton’s Dark Shadows (a witch again). Green was widely praised for bringing gravity and fervour to a campy romp. ‘For me, it’s like a normal role. It’s drama. It’s a very intense character, not a light character,’ she laughs, acknowledging that she plays no other kind. She is currently training for Battle of Artemisia, a prequel to the classical action movie 300. ‘I took it because I had never been in that kind of film; now I’m training like a man. I was dreading training, thinking it was going to be like the army.’ Fortunately her trainer is going easy on her. ‘I don’t need somebody telling me I’m not that good,’ she whispers. ‘I’m doing that to myself already.’
Green speaks warmly of the time she spent filming Dark Shadows. She is fond of Johnny Depp, whom she describes as ‘very in touch with the child within himself’, but most of all she liked being part of an ensemble, feeling protected and respected. ‘That’s what I loved about Tim, he was amazingly open. He manages to create a lot of intimacy on set. It’s very artistic, not a product.’ What’s more, it was shot in Pinewood Studios, only half an hour from her home in Primrose Hill. ‘I didn’t have to go to America!’ she says with a sigh of relief. ‘I feel myself more human in Europe,’ she says in a rare French turn of phrase.
She grew up in Paris with her twin sister Joy, who has retained her original blonde hair, married an Italian count and spends a lot of time horse-riding. Their Swedish father Walter was a dentist, but found time as a youth to appear in Robert Bresson’s classic Au Hasard Balthazar (he hated it). Their mother, Marlène Jobert, was a star of the nouvelle vague, working with Jean-Luc Godard and Claude Chabrol before giving it up to become a children’s author when her daughters were born. ‘For me, it’s like another woman,’ Green says when I ask how she was influenced by her mother’s career. ‘When I see her in those movies, she’s very light. She was much more instinctive, not thinking so much as she does now.’
Jobert has expressed a hope that her daughter will make the occasional French movie. ‘I’ve been sent many French scripts, but I don’t fall in love with any of them,’ Green says. She says she would like to work with the Dardenne brothers, or Jacques Audiard (the director of A Prophet). ‘But they might have this image of me being too sophisticated or something. I want to do something raw and unexpected!’
With France for the moment, and America, seemingly hors de question, that leaves Britain, her adopted homeland. She repeatedly stresses that her life as a single girl in London is boring, though she says she is a fan of the restaurant St John (‘I go there almost every weekend’) and of London cabs (‘They always know where they’re going. In Paris, they don’t even say hello’). And the role she was most satisfied with was in Cracks, a low-budget English film in which she played a deliciously creepy teacher at a remote boarding school. ‘For me, England is very different from America. It’s more intimate,’ she says.
She keeps returning to the word ‘intimate’ — that and ‘human’ seem to be high compliments in an alienating industry. ‘It is mad. And it’s more and more about money, I find. When people were doing movies in more modest times, it was really about art — maybe more than ten years ago it was a bit more human. Now… they’re less brave.’ She tells me that it was never her dream to enter the movie industry in the first place, and trained as a stage actress. “I was lucky enough to be able to do some plays and when I got the call about The Dreamers, I thought: “Yeah, Bertolucci, as if he’s going to pick me…” I was very lucky but there’s a lot of luck in this business. It’s 99 per cent luck.’
Perhaps her largest stroke of bad luck was her experience with Lars von Trier. The controversial Danish director was in discussions with her about playing the lead in his film Antichrist — ‘We all have a masochistic side,’ she laughs. Green got on with von Trier, she says, ‘but then we started talking about nudity and sex and so on. It got a bit too far.’ (At one point, Charlotte Gainsbourg’s character performs a horrific procedure on herself with a pair of scissors.) ‘It was my dream to work with him, but it’s a shame it was on that film that it nearly happened. I’m sure I would have been trashed doing that film,’ she says, acknowledging her own self-consciousness. She seems torn between wanting to bare her claws and retreating back into her shell.
I wonder, given her classical training, if she is ever tempted to go back to theatre? (I begin to feel a little like a careers adviser at this point; a careers adviser in a very silly chair.) I could imagine her in Ibsen or Racine, I tell her. ‘I wish I was brave enough to do theatre,’ she sighs. ‘It’s very exhausting and so stressful. You have all these butterflies you want to kill; every night, every night… I’m not brave enough to go there. Maybe with years, but I feel as if I’m becoming less and less confident.’ She laughs sadly. ‘We’ll see, we’ll see, we’ll see…’ she fades out. This seems a surprising confession. ‘Maybe other areas I’ve got more confidence, but it’s just such a weird business. People are always judging you. It’s a hard thing to not suffer. It’s hard. Everybody thinks it’s glamorous and you’re very lucky. But it’s not a very safe, comfortable job. It’s paradoxical.’
What is it that she finds so hard about it? ‘It’s just this business. Sometimes people put you in a box; they lack imagination for everything. You always have to prove yourself, which is good, because you don’t have to take anything for granted, but sometimes, you just want to give up and live your life more fully. It can make you sick and tired.’ Oh Eva! I hope somewhere, a kindly director is taking note.
Photographs by Kayt Jones
Styling by Nathalie Riddle
Hair by Ben Skervin at themagnetagency.com.
Make-up by Kate Lee for Chanel at starworksartists.com.
Shot on location in the Gable Lombard Penthouse Suite and Roof Terrace at the Hollywood Roosevelt — a Thompson Hotel (thompsonhotels.com)