Léa & AdÃ¨le
for me, making this movie was about making a love story.Adéle exarchopoulos
For the past few months, news outlets, tabloids and Twitter feeds have been aflutter with a sexy, political, French melodrama—this time not involving any Sarkozys or Strauss-Kahns. Ever since Blue Is the Warmest Color, the riveting lesbian coming-of-age saga, nabbed the Palme d’Or at this year’s Cannes Film Festival in May, the actresses who play the film’s two onscreen lovers, Léa Seydoux and Adèle Exarchopoulos, have been embroiled in a crossfire with the movie’s director, Abdellatif Kechiche, that has upstaged it’s now notoriously steamy sex scenes (namely one clocking nearly seven minutes). Seydoux, the 28-year-old cult actress and current face of Prada Candy, and newcomer—ingénue Exarchopoulos, age 19, have blasted Kechiche’s tyrannical and traumatizing working methods, sentiments fortified by several of the crewmembers. Kechiche, in turn, has unleashed barbs regarding Seydoux‘s privileged upbringing as part of the Pathé and Gaumont film dynasties and has claimed that he no longer wants Blue to come out. Nevertheless, it arrives Stateside this fall.
Blue is based on the graphic novel Le Bleu Est Une Couleur Chaude by Julie Maroh, and its main character is a 15-year-old disquieted beauty, exquisitely rendered by Exarchopoulos, who has an erotic awakening upon crossing paths with Emma (played by Seydoux in the film), a confident, cobalt-haired college student studying art. Their lust at first sight evolves and unravels throughout a highly nuanced three hours, punctuated not only by ample girl-on-girl action but by a violent confrontation involving a literal bitch slap.
Along with Jane Campion, Seydoux and Exarchopoulos are the only women to have ever received the prestigious festival award, an honor they shared in a three-way win with Kechiche, who has reputation for socio-political cinema. As it turns out, the film debuted just as gay-marriage legislation passed in France, though its leading ladies say they are less concerned with activism than they are with acting.
Having tangoed with Quentin Tarantino (Inglourious Basterds), Woody Allen (Midnight in Paris), and in blockbusters (Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol and Robin Hood), Seydoux’s steady encroach on Hollywood continues apace with Wes Anderson’s upcoming The Grand Budapest Hôtel. She also has two French films on the horizon, starring opposite Vincent Cassel in a remake of Beauty and the Beast, and in Saint Laurent as late designer Yves’s longtime friend and muse Loulou de la Falaise. Exarchopoulos, meanwhile, is teaming up with Sara Forestier, another veteran Kechiche discovery, now making her directorial debut. Exarchopoulos will play a stutterer. But with her controversy-soaked breakout film now hitting theaters, she speaks freely on its pressure points—and her Blue co-star Seydoux doesn’t mince words either. I spoke to both separately on an October day in Paris. Their answers, joined by theme, are as follows.
ZOË WOLFF: Since Cannes, there has been a lot of controversy and press around your tensions with Kechiche. Where do things stand at the moment?
LÉA SEYDOUX: I think the movie has to come out now. I have stopped doing promotion but I already did a lot. We spoke out, and [Kechiche] was very upset about that because we said the truth. I was not talking about him, I was talking about the work and how difficult it was to work with him, and he spoke about the fact that I come from this family … That has nothing to do with the work, you know? And then he said that I was very difficult to work with.
WOLFF: It became personal.
SEYDOUX: Yeah, it became personal. I asked myself: What’s more serious? To do the things that he did on the film or to say the things we said? I don’t see why it’s a problem to be honest about the process.
WOLFF: I imagine Kechiche feels maligned. Do you regret doing the film?
SEYDOUX: No! Not at all. I wanted to do the film and I knew that’s the way he worked. I never said to him, “Don’t treat me that way,” or whatever. I didn’t say anything to him because I couldn’t say anything.
WOLFF: Why couldn’t you say anything?
SEYDOUX: Because he’s also a producer. He has all the power on the film.
i’m like, okay, no problem. i can go far. in france, there is an expression: ‘n’a pas froid aux yeux.’ ‘i’m not cold in my eyes.’ Léa seydoux
WOLFF: So it felt exploitative on some level? I suppose you had the choice of walking away.
SEYDOUX: Yes, it was. I wanted to do the film because I was just thinking about the piece of art that the film could be, and I wanted to be part of this film. But to be part of this film I had to accept his process.
WOLFF: Adèle, do you regret saying that Kechiche was “horrible” to work with?
ADÈLE EXARCHOPOULOS: No, it’s not that it was horrible. Journalists don’t always understand what you mean. We just told the truth, and he doesn’t support that. [as if addressing Kechiche] I mean, what did you expect? It was not cruel; it was not Apocalypse Now , six months, drugs in the jungle. It was just emotionally hard because you were just pushing us to the biggest emotions. You don’t like fabrication and artifice, you don’t want makeup or hair; you just want truth, you know? [re-addressing Wolff] Sometimes it’s hard, when you are a young woman, to give all of yourself. What really shocks me is not the controversy, it’s that he can’t say for one second, “Maybe I was too hard.” Never. I think he’s too proud to accept it. It’s like it doesn’t touch him.
WOLFF: The film is completely authentic and gut wrenching, so I can see how the trauma you experienced on set was ultimately worth it.
EXARCHOPOULOS: I’m really proud of this movie, and I learned a lot on this shoot. It was full of rich emotions and learning and sharing, even if sometimes it was hard. I think when I have something to say, it will be in private now—because I can see what happens when you just talk.
WOLFF: Was there a particular scene that was hardest to shoot? The fight scene? The sex scenes?
SEYDOUX: Everything was challenging. Every scene took several days and sometimes one week and sometimes even more—for one scene. Can you imagine? For example, on the film I’m shooting now [Bertrand Bonello’s Saint Laurent], yesterday we did two very big scenes and one little scene. With Kechiche it was one week, every day the same thing, the same thing. You become crazy.
WOLFF: You shot that fight scene many times, and you had to hit Adèle in each take. Was it difficult for you to hit her?
SEYDOUX: Of course it was difficult to hit her.
WOLFF: Adèle, was it painful when Léa hit you?
EXARCHOPOULOS: No, it was not the physical part that was hard, it was the emotional. For me, all the scenes were a challenge because I had to show the evolution of my character. Maybe the fight scene was the hardest because I had to be innocent at the beginning of the scene, but I already knew in my head that at the end [Seydoux’s character] was gonna put me away.
WOLFF: The film’s graphic sex scenes have caused quite a stir. Were those scenes the first ones you shot? Basically you two barely knew each other and all of sudden you’re going down on each other?
EXARCHOPOULOS: We started filming with a sex scene. But it helped. I mean, there was no convention when, you know, you just say, “Hello, I’m Adèle,” “I’m Léa”—and you are naked. [Wolff laughs]
SEYDOUX: The fact that we didn’t know each other was not a big deal for me. It was difficult because, same as with the other scenes, we had to do it many, many times and there’s a moment … I don’t know, like, it breaks your nerves.
WOLFF: Especially when you’re creating such an intimacy.
EXARCHOPOULOS: For me, the food scenes were a lot more difficult than the sex scenes. Because we had to eat, like, 20 times. It was kind of traumatic to eat so many sandwiches at eight in the morning.
WOLFF: And pasta and oysters. There was a lot of consumption in the movie in general and some pretty overt food—sex metaphors. I was kind of amused by that.
SEYDOUX: I didn’t have a choice, you know? It’s part of the film, but I don’t think the sex scenes are the most interesting part of the film.
WOLFF: Audiences at Cannes referred to the 20-minute sex scene, when in fact it is only seven minutes. Do you think the scene is gratuitously long or verging on pornographic?
we started filming with a sex scene. but it helped. i mean, there was no convention when, you know, you just say, ‘Hello, I’m Adèle,’ ‘I’m Léa’—and you are naked.Adèle Exarchopoulos
SEYDOUX: I’m not a huge fan of sex in films.
EXARCHOPOULOS: I don’t like watching the sex scenes in the film, but it’s really personal, and I have the impression that everyone sees my faults. A woman asked this question in the States at a Q&A: What were the gifts of this character and what did you lose? I told her a part of my intimacy. But I chose this. I accept that they are a part of the movie. Of course, maybe two minutes shorter would be smoother, but it depends. Some people love the scene because they’ve never seen anything like this and because it’s more—
WOLFF: It’s very provocative.
EXARCHOPOULOS: It’s more realistic than, you know, three bounces [making pumping motions imitating sex] and then that’s all. [Wolff laughs] I don’t think that they are pornographic. I think that they are really explicit—explicit and long.
WOLFF: They feel very real in that sense. Is there a scene about intimacy in another film that you really connect with as a woman?
SEYDOUX: There’s a film that I love. Lust, Caution  from Ang Lee. The sex scenes are amazing. It’s very intense and very erotic.
WOLFF: What exactly do you love about it?
SEYDOUX: I don’t know, the animality.
EXARCHOPOULOS: I can’t forget the [peepshow booth] scene in Paris, Texas  where [Harry Dean Stanton] says to [Nastassja Kinski] something like, “I’m just a client, and I have to tell you a love story.” And he is speaking about them. And she recognizes his voice, but she can’t see him, but he can see her. This scene is amazing.
WOLFF: Let’s talk about the prosthetic vaginas you wear in this film. I read that a makeup artist drove from Paris to set every day to apply them. How exactly were they made?
SEYDOUX: It’s like when they create wrinkles on the skin to make you look older.
WOLFF: Like in Benjamin Button  …
SEYDOUX: Yeah, the same kind of thing. SFX. We had to do a mold of our real vaginas. They used glue and hair.
WOLFF: How long did it take to apply them?
SEYDOUX: An hour and a half, sometimes two hours.
WOLFF: Wow. What was going through your mind? Were you reading a book, writing e-mails?
SEYDOUX: It’s like the ob-gyn. We felt embarrassed at first, and then we were, like, talking with [the makeup artists].
WOLFF: So you two were sitting next to each other?
EXARCHOPOULOS: We were speaking and texting. Of course, the first time is really not cool because no one wants to do this. But after, you are really free. You can make every movement. We knew that it would seem so real that people would be like [gasping], “Did they sleep together or not?”
WOLFF: Could you still feel each other through the prosthetics?
EXARCHOPOULOS: Yeah, because you are naked, even if it’s like a second skin.
WOLFF: You see a lot of action but you don’t actually see that much detail up close.
SEYDOUX: No. There’s a moment, very briefly, when you see them.
WOLFF: And what did it taste like, plastic?
SEYDOUX: Yeah. But I mean, even if it was a protection—it’s the same thing for all [sex] scenes. Even when you kiss somebody, you breathe his smell or his breath or whatever. I could feel Adèle’s skin. When you see it on screen, it’s very intense, but when we shot it, it was not that complicated. What was complicated was to do it again, again, and again. That was difficult because there’s a moment when you feel humiliated. There’s a moment you feel like it’s too much. Of course you can spend a few hours on it, but it was not a few hours, it was a few days.
EXARCHOPOULOS: It was weird, but hopefully we like each other and trust each other so it was simpler to be with a woman who I consider like my sister. I knew Léa like I knew no one. Our relationship was so intense, and we had to give everything-body, soul, everything. Sometimes it was hard because there are people around you, you are naked, you don’t have choreography, and you don’t know what the limits of all of this are.
this film is very modern. it’s not militant but it’s engaged. it should be normal to tell a story about two women. Léa Seydoux
WOLFF: Historically, in cinema, a lot of great performances have come from famously torturous experiences for actresses. Tippi Hedren with Hitchcock, Shelley Duvall with Kubrick.
SEYDOUX: I don’t have any problems with a director who wants to do a lot of takes. If somebody respects me, it’s fine.
WOLFF: But you didn’t feel respected by Kechiche?
WOLFF: Was he saying mean things?
EXARCHOPOULOS: He wasn’t like, “Hey, bitches, we’re going to be making this and this.” It was not like Hitchcock, where he considers his actresses objects. It was deeper. In every shoot, there was a kind of manipulation. It’s like addiction, you know? I want something from you, you want something from me.
SEYDOUX: The whole process was difficult, but hopefully, the result is very good, worth it. I knew he was a great director. Even when I was shooting the film I knew that it was going to be something. I really wanted to work with him because I wanted to be part of his cinema. I like when a director is pushing me to be better and to give the best, but this was not the case. The problem on this film was not the difficulty of the process. It was something else. [points to her head]
EXARCHOPOULOS: He was, like, coming into your head, and it was like an angel and a devil because you don’t want to disappoint him because he’s like a kind of spiritual father. We all loved each other at the beginning. We were so close. The three of us spoke about life, really personal things. And sometimes it was hard, but we were excusing him, like you excuse your father when he’s really yelling at you or when he prevents you from something. You’re like, okay, it’s for the movie, it’s for him. And I think Léa realized that she’s really a good actress and she can make it without all this pressure. And me too, in a way.
WOLFF: Do you believe in suffering for your art?
SEYDOUX: No! I’m suffering in my life. It’s enough suffering, you know? I’m an actress. I just want to work and I hope a director can help me to be the best I can. I don’t mind if a director is tough on me. I’ve done films with tough directors.
EXARCHOPOULOS: It’s a hard question because I think it’s true that all the geniuses—Kubrick, Coppola for Apocalypse Now, Hitchcock, and Picasso—find something in the pain. There is something that naturally comes true in the pain. Sometimes when you’re exploiting your morals, there are dark things you realize. But I think respect is so important.
WOLFF: Is there somewhere you draw the line? Imagine what Hitchcock did to Hedren, having birds pecking at you and shitting on you?
SEYDOUX: I wouldn’t mind having birds shitting on me, if the director tells me before that we need it for the scene—that I’ll be scared but that we need something very real. I’m like, okay, no problem. I can go far. In France there’s an expression: “N’a pas froid aux yeux.” “I’m not cold in my eyes.”
I knew Léa like I knew no one. Our relationship was so intense, and we had to give everything—body, soul, everything. Adèle Exarchopoulos
EXARCHOPOULOS: I think I will never have sex just for a movie. It’s odd at 19 not to really know your limits and really know what’s making you suffer and what’s good for you. Sometimes when you do a hard scene, afterwards you feel good.
WOLFF: When you won the award at Cannes, it was practically simultaneous to gay marriage winning approval in France after a lengthy battle. Do you think the film is ultimately a political statement?
EXARCHOPOULOS: No, I really don’t. It was the most beautiful coincidence. During the shoot, we were never talking about homosexuality, militancy. I’m engaged about things, I vote. But for me, making this movie was about making a love story. My challenge was to make people forget that we are two women, not like, “Hey, look—it’s two lesbians. It could be cool.”
SEYDOUX: Yeah, it’s a very good coincidence and I think the coincidence took place because this film is very modern. It’s not militant but it’s engaged. It should be normal to tell a story about two women.
WOLFF: Was that something that attracted you to the film?
SEYDOUX: Yes. I wanted to play a lesbian.
SEYDOUX: I think it’s interesting. It’s an interesting character to explore, and to be more the man in a way.
WOLFF: Yeah, your character is more typically male in the dynamic. Do you think audiences will see you as lesbian icons?
SEYDOUX: I don’t know. Why not? I don’t have any problem with that.
WOLFF: But you’ve both made it clear publicly that you have boyfriends. Are you trying to broadcast that you’re straight?
EXARCHOPOULOS: I kissed my boyfriend on camera [at Cannes] because when you feel happiness, you want to share it with people you love. That’s not, like, “Hey, I’m not gay.”
SEYDOUX: I have no problem with homosexuality, so if I were a lesbian, that wouldn’t be a problem. I think Kechiche wanted to cast straight actresses maybe because it was too easy to film a real lesbian story. He likes fiction.
WOLFF: What do you make of Maroh describing the film’s sex scenes as “brutal and surgical,” “so-called lesbian sex,” “porn,” and “ridiculous”?
EXARCHOPOULOS: I don’t agree with this. You have the right to say, “In this scene, the actresses are bad.” But you can’t say, “This is not what people do. This is not like people making love.” Oh, do you know how people have sex? People have sex so differently. It’s so personal to give yourself to someone; there must be people who like it with a monkey, with video, with ten people, with just one person. Fuck, there are so many things. So I think it was kind of easy for Maroh to say lesbians don’t make love like this. But this is not lesbian. It’s the first time for Adèle. She’s not making love like a lesbian, she’s just making love like a human being who is learning everything and who is so in love and obsessed with this woman.
SEYDOUX: The film is not about homosexuality. It was not a social statement in the graphic novel. Because Kechiche is kind of obsessed with social positions, it has become a social film in a way. Adèle comes from a more popular background—
WOLFF: It’s more about class issues, you think?
SEYDOUX: Yeah. Adèle lives in a little town in the north of France, a very poor town. We worked there. It’s a very sad town, and everybody is alcoholic and obese. I’m more the bourgeois.
The whole process was difficult, but hopefully, the result is very good . . . Even when I was shooting the film I knew that it was going to be something. Léa seydoux
WOLFF: Do you think Kechiche cast you because of your family pedigree?
SEYDOUX: Totally. I didn’t realize it at the time. I don’t want to play a bourgeois because I am a bourgeois, you know? I want to be able to play characters that are far from me.
WOLFF: Has coming from a film industry family influenced your career?
SEYDOUX: No, I don’t think so. I mean, I grew up in a family where culture existed. I know it’s a privilege to have books in your home, and when I was a kid, my father went to museums, and I was able to travel. And that gives you a better view on the world.
WOLFF: Adèle, was your family cultured?
EXARCHOPOULOS: Oh, no. My dad is a guitar player, and my mother is a nurse. But there was a kind of culture. My mother reads a lot, my father liked listening to rock music.
WOLFF: Like what?
EXARCHOPOULOS: Guns N’ Roses, Rolling Stones, Lenny Kravitz. And my father bought a lot of DVDs because he didn’t have time to go to the cinema: kids’ movies, psychological movies, blood movies. It was a pleasure to just watch them.
WOLFF: Léa, you worked with Wes Anderson on the upcoming The Grand Budapest Hôtel and on the Prada Candy ads, which are pretty comedic. What’s it like working with him?
SEYDOUX: With Wes, it was very nice because he doesn’t say anything at the beginning, and he does a lot of takes as well, so you do a little n’importe quoi, you know? How do you say in English?
WOLFF: A little nothing?
SEYDOUX: No, you do what you feel like. And then he cleans everything. At the beginning it’s a little bit of a mess, and then he makes it cleaner and cleaner. His direction, his mise-en-scène, is very proper.
WOLFF: Is it funny on his set?
SEYDOUX: Yeah, very funny. And you can feel a great sense of humor in his films as well. It’s extremely subtle.
WOLFF: What about Woody Allen—is he funny on set?
SEYDOUX: Yeah, he has this tricky eye.
WOLFF: What does that mean?
SEYDOUX: You know, tricky eyes? Like, you can feel all his smartness in his eyes. It’s so brilliant. He’s observing.
WOLFF: With his tricky eye.
SEYDOUX: He’s an observer and he doesn’t say anything, and I think that’s the way he directs. But all his actors are always incredible in his films. They are always so right.
ZOEÌ? WOLFF IS AN EDITOR, WRITER, AND DIGITAL CONTENT CREATOR BASED IN LONDON.