Léa Seydoux in ‘Spectre’ (MGM/Sony)
With 2012’s Skyfall and this week’s Spectre, director Sam Mendes and star Daniel Craig worked to create a new James Bond, turning an immortal, sex-crazed Teflon tuxedo into a bleeding, bruised middle-aged man on a mission. And for this latest 007 film, Mendes and his writers also sought to create a similarly complex Bond Girl — a tough task, given that Bond’s leading ladies have traditionally been highly expendable. Luckily, they found a perfect partner in French actress Léa Seydoux.
Warning: Minor spoilers for Spectre below:
The 30-year-old French actress, who broke out in 2013 with the critically acclaimed relationship drama Blue is the Warmest Color, plays Dr. Madeleine Swann, a physician with a link to Bond’s troubled last few years — and who’s running from her own dark past. But unlike other Bond accomplices, Swann doesn’t fall easily for the super-spy’s legendary charms.
“She’s his equal,” Seydoux told Yahoo Movies this week, “because she doesn’t need him. She saves him.”
Swann turns out to be the estranged daughter of the assassin Mr. White, the top villain in Casino Royale (2006) and its sequel, Quantum of Solace (2008). The character, played by Jesper Christensen, shows up again in SPECTRE — part of Mendes’ effort to tie all the Craig-era films together — and gives Bond some important information, in exchange for a promise that Bond will keep Swann safe. She’s uninterested in Bond’s offer at first, but a potent mix of emotional loyalty and imminent danger eventually changes her mind.
“What I like about Madeline is she’s not like, ‘The Action Girl,’“ Seydoux said. "She’s a doctor, she has a job, but she knows this world because her father is an assassin. But she doesn’t want to be a part of it. She finally makes the choice to be part of the journey, because she wants to know what happened to her father. I liked that she makes decisions. I didn’t feel like I was in a Bond film.”
For the first 20 installments of the Bond franchise, the super-smooth secret agent largely treated women like his Aston Martins, enjoying the ride and then acquiring a sparkling new model in the next film. That was a tradition that Seydoux was excited to break, though she also looked to a recent Bond Girl for inspiration in building the Swann character.
“[I loved] the relationship he had with Vesper Lynd, Eva Green’s character in Casino Royale, because Bond has feelings for a woman, and [there’s] a love story in the film,” she said. “It was an action film, but it was romantic.”
Vesper didn’t not survive that film, but her ghost haunts the subsequent sequels; Swann, however, makes it through Spectre alive, and while nothing’s been decided about the next Bond installment — including whether or not Craig will even return — Seydoux says she “would love to” continue Swann’s arc into Bond 25.
Before Bond, Seydoux took part in another big action franchise, starring with Tom Cruise in Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol. Given her feelings on the new, very human Bond, her secret agent preference should be obvious.
“I think that Ethan Hunt doesn’t have all the faults that James has,” she said. “James Bond is a misogynist and womanizer, and you never see Ethan Hunt having sex. It’s more of a cultural thing. What we like about James Bond is also the fact is that he’s imperfect.”
She does more than star in spy movies, of course: Subsequent roles in Midnight in Paris and The Grand Budapest Hotel, not to mention the controversial turn in Blue have led to a bevy of opportunities in Hollywood. Seydoux is starring in wunderkind Canadian director Xavier Dolan’s new French-language film It’s Only the End of the World, and she’s also got prime parts in the Cannes-approved satire The Lobster, alongside Colin Farrell and Rachel Weisz, and is slated to star as Bella Donna Boudreaux in Channing Tatum’s upcoming comic-book flick Gambit, though that film is in limbo (Seydoux couldn’t comment about its status).
In fact, she’s quite eager to dive into more commercial Hollywood roles, which may come as a surprise given her lineage: Her grandfather is the chairman of Pathé, on of France’s biggest film companies, while her grand uncle is the head of Gaumont, an even older and more prestigious French film studio.
“I think that here in America and England, compared to France, they have more imagination,” she said. “ You’re not labeled in America. In France, if you play one kind of role, you always do the same kind of role. So that’s why I really like to work here.”
After Spectre, she should have even more opportunities to do just that.
Watch the trailer for ‘Spectre’ below: