No matter how much preparation an interviewer does before meeting an actor or actress for the first time, they can never be ready if their subject has the inexplicable quality known as “it” - an aura, a presence, an invisible force that emanates from them and takes up all the air in the room.
Eva Green, 38, the sultry French actress with a British-edged accent to her English, who stars as the mysterious trapeze artist Colette in “Dumbo,” has “it.” When I entered the interview room in a Los Angeles hotel last week, she was wearing a white, low-cut, free-flowing, diaphanous dress, and she appeared to be floating across the floor. Turns out she was just walking, gracefully. Must have been my nerves, as I’d only known Green for her screen roles, among them the sexually charged Isabelle in “The Dreamers,” Bond girl Vesper Lynd in “Casino Royale,” the evil witch Angelique in “Dark Shadows,” and the sword-wielding, tempestuous military leader Artemisia in “300: Rise of an Empire.”
As she said, “Hello, I’m Eva” and offered her hand in greeting, two things happened: I momentarily lost the ability to breathe, then answered something like, “Nnng.” But I immediately regained my composure and said, “Mrrmph.”
Once seated across a small table from her, it was difficult to get past those large, pale blue eyes and the richly lipsticked smile, but she was so calm and casual, all went rather well.
Q. Your mother, Marlene Jobert, was a huge star in French cinema. Did she give you any advice or feedback?
A. Because my mom was quite famous, I felt it was a bit pretentious for me to say I wanted to be an actress, without having tried it. So I pretended I want to be a director. Then I said it was important for a director to direct actors, so I wanted to go to drama school first, for a little while. I went, I did a few scenes, and I really enjoyed it, so then I said I would like to do acting. My mother never really stopped me doing anything. But I was aware that it’s a cruel, tough business, with lots of competition.
Q. So, why did you want to do it?
A. I don’t know. I’m crazy. That’s for sure.
Q. You did quite a bit of stage work in France after drama school, and the rumor is that Bernardo Bertolucci saw you in one of those plays, then offered you your first film role in “The Dreamers.” Is that accurate?
A. No. I was in a play in the south of France, and I will admit that I was not happy onstage. It was very difficult and I was thinking maybe I shouldn’t be an actress anymore. But this casting director that I had met on other auditions contacted me, and she was like, “When you have your next day off, I want you to come back to Paris. I want Bernardo Bertolucci to see you.” And I was thinking, “Yeah, right, as if he’s going to take me.” I didn’t believe anything would work out. But I went to Paris, and the gods were with me, and he picked me.
Q. You were quoted in an interview saying that acting is a little like therapy for you. Could you explain that?
A. I’d say that acting helps me to channel some moods and energy and that it can feel really liberating. Sometimes when you have so many emotions, it’s kind of nice to really focus on another character and kind of give flesh to the other character. There’s something very satisfying to that; you feel like you’ve got blood in your veins and you feel very alive.
Q. Have you come close yet to playing the real you on screen?
A. There’s a real me in everything I do. It’s my own self, my instrument. Of course, I’m not going to cut off heads in real life, or be a witch. But it’s always your filter. If I played me, it would be a geeky, shy person.
Q. “Dumbo” is your third collaboration with Tim Burton, after “Dark Shadows” and “Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children.” Is your working relationship very different than with other directors?
A. I’ve always been a big fan of him. It turned out that he’s very shy, too. He’s not someone who meets lots of actors, and it’s funny because he always puts himself in their place. He knows that actors usually don’t like auditioning, so he doesn’t want to embarrass anybody. He’s almost more nervous than YOU are. And I think he trusts his instinct. He’s not a person who likes words a lot, he just has to see if he likes the vibe of you, basically. And you know that he’s on your side. Even on “Dark Shadows,” when he hardly knew me, I had some really strong ideas and I was thinking, “Should I say that? Should I suggest that to Mr. Tim Burton?” But he was always, “Yeah! Yeah! Sure! Let’s do it! Great!”
Q. One of the themes in “Dumbo” has to do with being an outsider, not being able to fit in. Have you ever had thoughts about that as an actor?
A. Everybody at some point has felt a bit strange and different, not just artists. “Dumbo” is such a wonderful movie because it has the message that it’s OK to be strange or different. It’s actually great! It makes you special, and we just have to embrace our uniqueness.
“Dumbo” opens on March 29.
Ed Symkus writes about movies for More Content Now. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.