It was hardly a typical introduction for a would-be Hollywood superstar, but the first time most of us laid eyes on Léa Seydoux, her hair was cropped and dyed blue and she was playing a lesbian art student with a taste for Sartre and strawberry milk.
Unexpectedly, that French-language indie film, Blue Is the Warmest Color, became a global hit. (Maybe it had something to do with the seven-minute sex scene, which the New York Times deemed “longer and more literal than anything you are likely to encounter outside of pornography.”) In any case, Seydoux was soon the hottest French export since Champagne. And a few more art films later, she has landed the female lead in this November’s Spectre. Technically, she’s a “Bond girl”—a charter member of that lithe, busty cinematic sisterhood (often named with extremely heavy-handed innuendo) who turn up as eye candy in the long-running spy franchise, relegated to playing second fiddle to 007. Or they used to be.
First off, we’re not supposed to call them Bond girls anymore. As director Sam Mendes made clear when he introduced Seydoux’s and her costar Monica Bellucci’s characters to the public, these are very much Bond women.
Indeed, Seydoux’s character, Dr. Madeleine Swann, is more or less a thorough reinvention of the role. “She’s not a generic Bond girl,” Seydoux says. “She’s complex and equal. She’s more of an intellectual. It’s the first time you see a woman in front of him with that power.”
“What we especially love about Léa is that you always feel her soul coming through,” says Barbara Broccoli, who produced the movie with Michael G. Wilson.
Seydoux, 30, certainly looks the part. She radiates quintessential French-girl cool, with tousled hair; soft, pouting lips; and an arresting gaze that’s equal parts sultry and intimidating. But when she cracks a smile, she reveals a disarming gap-toothed grin—a seeming imperfection that only serves to make her more irresistible.
I like a man who can respect a woman.
Seydoux’s previous performances indicate that she has the je ne sais quoi to steer the role into new territory. She had bit parts in Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris and Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds, making a memorable impression in each. She’s also no stranger to the action blockbuster, having offered a deliciously evil turn as an assassin in Mission: Impossible—Ghost Protocol. And, of course, there was Blue Is the Warmest Color. The film, which contained some of the most erotic cinematic moments of all time, was not without controversy. Seydoux and her costar, Adèle Exarchopoulos, criticized director Abdellatif Kechiche for his demanding style of filmmaking—which required both women to commit a grueling 10 days of production for the sex scene alone. Although Seydoux subsequently has said that filming the infamous scene made her feel “humiliated” and “like a prostitute,” she now insists she has no regrets. “It was difficult at times,” she tells Maxim, “because we were in France, and it’s not really protective of actors. I don’t think something like this could happen in America.
“I’m very proud of the film,” Seydoux adds. “I suffered, but it was also my choice to make it.”
Seydoux grew up around the entertainment business—her mother, Valérie Schlumberger, was an actress until she pivoted into philanthropy, and her grandfather, Jérôme Seydoux, is the co-chairman of Pathé, France’s largest production and distribution company. Léa trained as a vocalist and aspired to sing classical opera until she befriended an actor who inspired her to change paths. “He was amazing,” she recalls. “He was so free.” She also credits her frequent traveling—to Senegal, where her mother worked and lived, and America, where she attended summer camp to learn English—with forcing her to adapt and helping her hone her role-play skills.
Seydoux’s globetrotting also led her to her boyfriend, a young producer she met in Venice. The most important trait she looks for in a guy? “I like a man who can respect a woman,” she shares. “When he’s real attentive, I think that is very manly. To respect a woman is divine.”
Despite her powerful on-screen presence, Seydoux insists she’s incredibly shy. Before taking on a new project, she says, “I’m always scared, because I don’t know if I’m going to be able to do it.” She certainly hides it well. Watch the Gallic beauty in any movie or look up her nude photo shoots for American Apparel and Lui, and she projects nothing but steely confidence. It’s this quality that makes her so captivating. Despite her youth, she is timeless, emanating an intoxicating air of mystery and erotic power that bring to mind the larger-than-life silver-screen sirens of Old Hollywood.
As for what’s next, Seydoux was recently offered the female lead, Bella Donna Boudreaux, opposite Channing Tatum in the X-Men spin-off Gambit. The indie darling we got acquainted with via subtitled imports is officially in the tentpole big leagues. Such films require a special ability to hold the audience’s attention while sharing the screen with high-budget effects sequences and big-ticket explosions—perfect vehicles for Seydoux. We can’t take our eyes off her.