Loan Chabanol

The first time I see Loan Chabanol, she is covered in hay. Even for the most adventurous of French beauties, this might be a risky look. But, of course, the 31-year-old actress is being photographed wearing pieces from Chanel’s Western-inspired 2014 pre-fall collection, and Chabanol manages to make the surreal prospect of flouncing in a New York City hay pile seem like the best idea in the world. As it turns out, Chabanol is quite at home in high fashion. Discovered at the age of 16 while living in the South of France, Chabanol spent the next decade of her life working as an in-demand model, gracing the covers of magazines like Elle and Marie Claire while booking a slew of beauty campaigns. Despite her success, Chabanol never exactly considered modeling her ultimate calling. “My identity was never wrapped up in it,” she says. “I was so young when I started, I don’t think I even realized what was happening. I was kind of just going with the flow. ‘You want me to model? Okay.’ Everything that happened to me at that age felt like a surprise.”

In 2010, Chabanol took a break from modeling and decamped from Paris to New York to study acting at the famed Lee Strasberg Theatre & Film Institute, where she honed her skills playing thorny roles in student productions, such as Harper in Angels in America. Last month she made her first feature-film appearance in John Turturro’s Fading Gigolo, flirting in a scene opposite Woody Allen. “I had to remind myself that these are just human beings,” she says laughing. “I can’t think about the fact that this is Woody Allen across from me, otherwise I’d never be able to do my job!”

The coming year looks to be a big one for the actress, who can be seen playing James Franco’s paramour in Paul Haggis’s upcoming romantic drama, Third Person. Though the idea of a movie career thrilled Chabanol, she’s remarkably humble about what the future has in store. “I’m interested in creating things that really speak from my heart,” she says. “I never want to do things just because it’s good for my career or for money. My dreams are actually very small. Every day I look around and I’m surprised. I never could have expected any of this.”