In May 2013, at Cannes, French-Tunisian director Abdellatif Kechiche accepted the Palme d’Or for Blue Is the Warmest Colour. Oddly, he was not alone on stage: the jury invited the film’s two stars, Adèle Exarchopoulos and Léa Seydoux, to share the award with him. Anyone who sees the film will understand why. Exarchopoulos’ performance, in particular, has a rare conviction and naturalness: it takes a great deal less to make a star. She has duly found herself the face of a Miu Miu campaign and in headlines from Europe to Hollywood. On a hot evening in Brazil, she talked to Luísa Graça about the demands of the role, the ups and downs of sudden success and what she hopes to do next.
Luísa Graça When I first saw Blue Is the Warmest Colour, I was impressed by how brave you were to play such a flesh-and-bone character. Were you ever hesitant about taking on the role?
Adèle Exarchopoulos Hesitant? Never! Abdellatif is the best director in France today, and
I felt this was a great opportunity. I love the fact that he makes films based on women. His shots are all about skin and flesh, and yet his portrayal of women is never sexist.
LG Yes, there are lots of runny nose, sleeping and eating shots of you, not just sexy sex scenes.
AE Exactly, I did a lot of those scenes. It was really important to see my character’s daily life, to get a glimpse of her interior world. These moments are important for the audience to connect with Adèle and understand who she is, especially because she seems out of place on so many occasions during the movie.
LG But then there are also the sex scenes.
AE There had to be, yes. It was a very intrusive way of filming. But even when I came to know about the sex scenes, I was willing to do whatever Abdel told me, as long as I could understand the purpose of what he wanted. Of course, I felt very vulnerable and it was weird and uncomfortable at times, especially because it was a very long shoot, but I never hesitated. The first scene I did with Léa was a sex scene. It was unusual to be introduced to someone naked, as you can imagine. We built a really natural, solid friendship and complicity, though, which made it all a lot easier.
LG Which was the most challenging scene for you to do?
AE Shooting with 20 kids was hard, because it’s difficult to be authoritarian when they’re so cute! But the break-up scene was definitely the most challenging. We shot it fully from the beginning to the end so many times – it was exhausting. It was as if, after so many takes, I was in some kind of odd state; I had abandoned my notions of self completely. And I knew Léa was going to slap me in the face and tell me to go away, but I was supposed to play innocent, which was tricky and very emotionally demanding. But, you know, I was given a chance to surprise myself and to learn, and that’s all you can hope for as an actress. I am a new face, nobody knew me before this. Abdel took the risk of casting me and I feel very lucky.
LG Besides your name, which characteristics do you and your character share?
AE I’m instinctive and spontaneous like her. We both follow our hearts. I hate it when people teach me things, but I like it when they transmit things to me, and I think there’s a huge difference between these ways of “teaching”, so we’re also alike in that way. She can sacrifice so much for someone – I’m not so tolerant. She may be lost or confused but, still, she gives everything.
LG What has it been like for you, coming of age?
AE I’m learning a lot! I was 18 when I shot this movie. I was very young, and still am – I just turned 20. This transition from adolescence to adulthood is a very interesting process of self-discovery. It’s when we begin to learn what we like, what we don’t like, what is love, what is friendship, and we try to deal with our urgent desires for all these different things. I feel I’m learning how to evaluate things better. The importance of choices, how to understand what I want. But it’s crazy how things change so quickly during these years. To feel yourself change can be very confusing and bittersweet.
LG This year you got to travel the world promoting the movie, you received awards and nominations and became a star at Cannes. How daunting has it been to go through all these things in such a short space of time?
AE It’s been a strange but very exciting ride. I had never been to New York before, and just this year I went there four times. To come out of the shadows and into the light so quickly is a little daunting: dealing with interviews and press can be harsh. Sometimes I can’t even explain myself properly, but I still have to speak to people calmly and with maturity. And to see yourself as a representation of yourself is kind of bizarre. I’m so young, sometimes I’m not even able to realise what’s really going on. But the coolest thing when you have such joy and surprise in your life is to share it with the people you love. And I have the chance to see some beautiful places.
LG How much do you care about fashion?
AE I love to see the wonderful things designers create to cover women’s skin. Obviously I love skin but, as contradictory as it is, I love the way clothes can make me feel more confident and free. It’s nice to see how the way we dress transforms the way we feel, and the way we feel transforms the way we get dressed. My style depends mostly on my state of mind.
LG Have you been getting free clothes?
AE Sometimes! Last year I went to Léa’s place and I was impressed by the amount of stuff she gets as gifts. I was like: “Do they really send you all this? Is it all free?”, and she kept telling me it would happen to me eventually. And I thought: “Are you kidding me? Chanel would never send me shoes for no reason.” But this year, there were days when people knocked at my door at 10 in the morning with gift boxes addressed to me, and I was like: “What? Seriously?” That’s pretty much amazing.
LG What do you hope for in your career at this point?
AE I hope to make good choices – this is crucial for me. To work with a great director. I hope to be part of stories I care about and work with people I admire. Judd Apatow, hopefully – I would really love that! I want to be able to love the movies I’ll do and appreciate the experiences I’ll have. To me, it’s very important that I take risks and feel free. §