Léa Seydoux has been a household name in France for over a decade now, ever since 2008’s La Belle Personne earned the then-23-year-old a César nomination (essentially the French equivalent of an Oscar) for Most Promising Actress. She lived up to that promise – but it took a few more years for English-speaking audiences to catch on. Now, as she prepares to reprise her role as Bond girl Madeleine Swann in the next 007 film, she’s become a major Hollywood player.
Born in Paris, the daughter of a businessman and a philanthropist, Léa Hélène Seydoux-Fornier de Clausonne – who wisely shortened her name to Léa Seydoux – started out in music videos and short films before landing her starring role as a beguiling schoolgirl in La Belle Personne. From there, she had small parts in two English-language blockbusters: Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol, in which she played cool assassin Sabine Moreau, and Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds (2009).
But it was in 2013, when she starred in the brilliant, beguiling Blue Is the Warmest Colour alongside Adèle Exarchopoulos, that Seydoux’s star ascended worldwide. Since then, she has appeared in Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014), Yorgos Lanthimos’s The Lobster (2015), Xavier Dolan’s It’s Only the End of the World (2016), and – of course – the 2015 James Bond film Spectre. It’s rare for a Bond girl to return for a second film, but Seydoux is a rare kind of actor. Here are her five most essential roles.
La Belle Personne (2008)
Director Christophe Honoré was inspired to make this film after then French president Nicolas Sarkozy mocked its source material, the 17th-century novel La Princesse de Clèves, declaring it irrelevant to modern life. Honoré transported his version into the modern day, casting the unknown Seydoux as a schoolgirl who embarks on an affair with her Italian teacher. Its title literally translates to The Beautiful Person, but there was far more to Seydoux’s Junie than that. Though the film was met with lukewarm reviews, her performance, described by New York Times critic AO Scott as one of “voluptuous sullenness”, stood out.
This sensitive, low-key portrayal of an impoverished brother and sister living on the outskirts of a Swiss ski resort was longlisted for the Best Foreign Language Oscar. As the (significantly) older sibling, Seydoux’s Louise should be the provider and nurturer of the two, but she is unemployed and perennially selfish, so the burden falls on 12-year-old Simon (Kacey Mottet Klein), who steals equipment from wealthy skiers. The film was lauded as an intimate exploration of class, and Seydoux finds the humanity in even the most flawed of characters.
The Lobster (2015)
If you know anything about Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos, who most recently found Oscars glory with The Favourite (2018), it will come as no surprise to learn that The Lobster is a tremendously offbeat black comedy. In a world in which single people must find a partner or be turned into an animal of their choosing, Seydoux is the ruthless leader of a group of underground rebels. She signed onto the film before she’d even read the script, having admired Lanthimos’s 2009 film Dogtooth. “I like working with directors who have their own universe,” she said at the time. “For me, cinema’s like a language – everyone has their own form of it.”
The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014)
Set in the fictional war-torn European country Zubrowka, The Grand Budapest Hotel is a star-studded ensemble comedy from the weird, whacky mind of Wes Anderson. Alongside the likes of Ralph Fiennes, Willem Dafoe, Bill Murray, Saoirse Ronan and Tilda Swinton, Seydoux plays a hotel maid, and makes the most of her scant scenes. Though the film was a critical and commercial success, fans of Seydoux will have been rightly hoping for a little more screen time.
Blue is the Warmest Colour (2013)
Both Seydoux, as blue-haired, bohemian art student Emma, and Adèle Exarchopoulos, as the shy schoolgirl who falls in love with her, are so convincing and compelling in their roles here that something unprecedented happened upon its release. When the film won the Palme d’Or at Cannes, the film festival’s jury – which included Steven Spielberg –insisted that the two stars receive the award alongside director Abdellatif Kechiche. The film has seen its fair share of controversy – Julie Maroh, who wrote the graphic novel on which it was based, criticised its “brutal and surgical display, exuberant and cold, of so-called lesbian sex, which turned into porn”. Seydoux, meanwhile, referred to Kechiche’s gruelling approach to filming the sex scenes, as “humiliating”, saying, “I was feeling like a prostitute. Of course, he uses that sometimes. He was using three cameras, and when you have to fake your orgasm for six hours... I can’t say that it was nothing.” But her performance in the film – subtle and serene one moment, furious and untethered the next – is undeniably brilliant.