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Stretch viscose dress with metal studs (Louis Vuitton)
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Leather cropped jacket, silk viscose dress, and leather canvas boots (Louis Vuitton)
Stretch viscose dress with metal studs (Louis Vuitton)
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REBEL HEART: Adèle Exarchopoulos
Preface by Kee | Photos by Juergen Teller
19.02.2016

Remember that lesbian love story – particularly that 10-minute sex scene – everyone told you to make time for back in 2013? Then, you did, perhaps more times than you should’ve, and it was great, and not the softcore porn you secretly hoped it’d be. Well, one half of that award-winning billing has returned to the big screen with a string of complex characters – a rebel youth in Paris, a detainee, and a political journalist, just to name a few. You will find yourself making time for those flicks too.

 

A couple of years have elapsed since the hype and controversy surrounding the film with the oddly-lengthy lesbian sex scene. Adèle Exarchopoulos must be tired about discussing Blue is the Warmest Colour, the 2013 Abdellatif Kechiche-directed love story between two young women that earned the then-19-year-old a Palme d’Or – the first time in Cannes Film Festival history that the lead actors won the top prize along with the director. She must also be tired about addressing all the mud-slinging after all the accolades were dished out to the critically-acclaimed three-hour drama (the graphic novel’s author criticised the unrealistic depiction of lesbian sexuality portrayed; the film’s crew lambasted the poor working conditions on set; and the actors openly admitted that that they would never work with Kechiche again). But if you know Exarchopoulos, she has no time for ill feelings and bad vibes… so let us leave it at that (she’s on good terms with everyone, by the way). Exarchopoulos might not be a household name today like her Blue is the Warmest Colour co-star and fellow Parisian Léa Seydoux – you might recall her as the latest Bond girl – but it is easy to forget that she just clocked her 22nd year on this planet. Between the sudden slew of awards and the next big post-Blue film role (we have our hopes pinned on the Sean Penn-directed The Last Face), Exarchopoulos has found solace in an unlikely medium: high fashion. Designers want to put beautifully crafted clothes on this starlet for obvious reasons and while she might never know why, it doesn’t bother her at all. If only she knows how darn good she looks in them. 

 

MANIFESTO: Travel is part of your daily life as an actress. Do you enjoy it? Do you travel during time off or do you prefer to stay at home?

 

ADÈLE EXARCHOPOULOS: Acting provides the opportunity to travel and the fact that we don’t get to choose the location really pushes us to discover countries that we wouldn’t necessarily choose to visit ourselves. It’s nourishing and I take it as an opportunity. I love to travel, whether it’s on holiday or for a shoot. There’s no such thing as a perfect trip, but it’s the spontaneity of travel that excites me; the destination and travelling with the people I love are often the only part of the trip I will plan.

 

M: What is it that you like about Nicolas Ghesquière’s work? Were you familiar with it before he took on a central role in the [Louis Vuitton] house?

 

AE: I was already familiar with Nicolas’ work at Balenciaga, but I found myself even more drawn to his work once he started working at Vuitton. I like the fact that Nicolas creates modern, intelligent heroines with a wild, poetic side.

 

M: What was it like doing a shoot with Juergen Teller in Palm Springs? Do you have any anecdotes to share?

 

AE: Juergen Teller is a master in his field and we bonded very quickly because we like to improvise in the same way. I love his work because it is an equal mix of eccentricity and modesty and he always works in a way that is both simple and amusing. When you do a photo shoot with Juergen you can become another person; nothing is written in stone, nothing is imposed. It’s simply a matter of going along with him and laughing with him. His work is really special to me! The whole shoot could be an anecdote in itself because nothing about it was conventional. We would wander around Bob Hope’s house (where the fashion shoot took place) and when an idea occurred to us, we would try it out. We respected the poetry of the fashion show and we captured this spirit in the photo shoot.

 

M: What is your relationship with fashion? Does it interest you? What is your guilty pleasure (bags, shoes, jewellery...)?

 

AE: My relationship with fashion began late, because as a child I valued comfort over luxury and I experimented with anything and everything before working out what really suited me! Having access to fashion shows, to the ateliers and artisans and having the opportunity to wear their creations is thanks to my job. That was the moment when I became properly aware of fashion as art and that I began to take pleasure in adapting it for myself.

 

M: How would you describe your style?

 

AE: I don’t have a particular style because without rules fashion allows you to travel across different times and emotions. My style is constantly changing.

 

M: How did you negotiate the change in your life after the success of Blue is the Warmest Colour – the ecstatic response at Cannes, the César Award, and the controversy?

 

AE: I didn’t really get to negotiate the change that the enormous and unexpected success of Blue is the Warmest Colour brought. It was a very fast journey from darkness to light and sometimes you say to yourself that perhaps it was almost too fast... you question yourself, you have doubts: Am I capable of playing the roles I’m now being offered? But then you quickly understand that the work is the thing that’s got to last. And the rest – the media, my image – I treat it like a game... a game where I simply remain true to myself.

 

M: Have you had moments of doubt?

 

AE: Obviously, after such a change you go through moments of doubt, as in all professions I suppose. But challenging oneself has to be constructive. And I am always trying to use my doubt in a positive way as it is present come what may.

 

M: In real terms, what has changed since then in your daily life?

 

AE: Nothing about my daily life has changed except that I have more opportunities to travel, I’m invited to more events and I have access to other areas of art such as fashion.

 

M: How were you chosen by Sean Penn for The Last Face? How did you react?

 

AE: Sean Penn invited me to have a drink with him, he talked about the script and he offered me the role. I honestly couldn’t believe it! He’s such a great actor, director and as a human being he’s incredibly poetic, touching and extremely funny too!

 

M: How did the filming go in South Africa with huge stars such as Charlize Theron and Javier Bardem? And, of course, being directed by Penn?

 

AE: Being in this film, in Cape Town, surrounded by actors who have inspired me in so many films, was like being in a daydream. I observed and I tried to learn as much as I could. There was much to enjoy, but I’ll admit that it was intimidating at times too. Working with Americans is very different: everything is organised and precise, which leaves lots of freedom during takes. Sean is the kind of director who encourages lots of freedom. He works closely with his actors and is at their disposal, in the same way we are to our characters and their history.

 

M: For the role you played – that of a French volunteer in a refugee camp – you were sent to do a placement in Sean Penn’s NGO in Haiti. What did you learn from this experience?

 

AE: I had the chance to join Sean’s foundation in Haiti, living with other volunteers from all around the world and participating in their daily lives. On a human level, it was an incredible experience and I learnt so much, above all to simply listen to the person in front of you. In today’s world, there is such a strong tendency to talk about what divides us that we sometimes forget we can come together, help each other, listen to each other. I learnt some technical skills – vaccinations, first aid – by observing them and I attended operations, births. The people who work for the NGO push themselves as hard as humanly possible and the fundamental trait they all share is kindness. I came away feeling I’d learned so much.

 

M: Are you tempted by a Hollywood career analogous to Marion Cotillard or Léa Seydoux?

 

AE: I think Hollywood is tempting to all actors, with its modern methods of working and, above all, the directors who work there: Martin Scorsese, Tim Roth, Quentin Tarantino, Baz Luhrmann, Michael Cimino and Jonas Åkerlund... but I’m drawn to all kinds of cinema.

 

M: You are represented by Creative Artists Agency in Hollywood. Have you already signed up for projects in the US?

 

AE: The Sean Penn film is my first American project. It is being released imminently.

 

M: The Anarchists was shown at the last Cannes festival and marked your first return there since Blue is the Warmest Colour won the Palme d’Or. How did you feel?

 

AE: Returning to the Cannes film festival with The Anarchists was strange because when I was there with Blue is the Warmest Colour, a film of which I was so proud and with the role of the heroine written so magnificently, journalists kept asking me about the future, my plans, the changes in my life and the roles I’d been offered, when I just wanted to live in the moment. And last year, I was only asked questions about my first visit to Cannes, rather than anyone being interested in what I had to say about The Anarchists. It’s a film of which I am equally proud and it boasts a team of actors, who for me represent the resurgence of French cinema.

 

M: How did you approach the role of the Communard, a character who was very free and rebellious?

 

AE: To play this character I had to immerse myself in the period of anarchy after the Commune. It was an era of controversies, political movements, passion and complexities. I learnt the extent to which the anarchists were like hippies; it was all about coming together, sharing, adapting, the desire for peace and independence, for respect and progress. The subject of the film also deals with people’s different motivations within the political movements, how each person is bound to the cause for different reasons, but above all how each person has their own level of engagement. My character wants to be a free woman and has questions that resonate with their modernity. She is a woman who gets involved with the anarchist movement and seeks to have her own family.

 

M: You are very active on Instagram and yet in interviews you refuse to talk about your private life. Do you think it’s possible to do both?

 

AE: Social networks allow us to manage our image and to share what we want with those who follow us. It is up to us to understand our own limits, to know what we wish to share. While we have a choice, there is a difference between being asked to defend a film and constantly being asked questions about one’s personal life. It’s a real shame.

 

M: You have been to the Met Ball twice. Are such events the stuff of a young girl’s dreams?

 

AE: The Met Ball is an incredibly exciting event, a fashion show of incredible creations, a mix of artists, a magical concert and a really great party.

 

M: What are you reading at the moment? What is the last book that blew you away?

 

AE: Last book I read is about the life of photographer Sebastião Salgado.

 

M: Can you tell us about your childhood, in Clichy first of all and then in the 18th district of Paris? What drove you to become an actress? Were your parents supportive from the outset?

 

AE: I grew up in the north of Paris. I regularly attended improvisation classes to pass the time and to have fun. Then one day a casting director turned up and called me for a casting. I failed, but I wasn’t bothered. I didn’t even know how a film was made, but I knew that I liked acting. One thing led to another and before I knew it, I had an agent. That’s how everything began.

 

M: Down by Love, directed by Pierre Godeau and co-starring Guillaume Gallienne, is a drama in which you play a prisoner. Are you intrigued by prison life?

 

AE: I love Pierre Godeau’s film! We filmed in La Santé prison and spent four months improvising in Fleury-Mérogis Prison so that we could witness prison life first hand.

 

M: Who are your cinematic heroes? Who inspires you?

 

AE: My cinematic heroes are: Gena Rowlands, Robert De Niro, Jim Carrey, Jack Nicholson.

 

M: How do you find a way into your characters?

 

AE: I don’t have a method for familiarising myself with my characters. It all depends on their history, their past and their present. I don’t have a particular method, I walk around the character, I take nourishment from their words, their situation, their demons, their environment. That can happen physically, by letting go, jumping into another time, words, anything and everything. In America, the culture of coaching is present. Not here. And I hope that it will change, as working with a coach can be extremely beneficial.

 

M: What do you look for in a project?

 

AE: I look for something new, a character to fight for, some mystery, an adventure that I want to immerse myself in.

 

M: What do you want for the future?

 

AE: To work and have surprises.

 

M: You are known for speaking your mind. Do you think you will be able to hold onto this, in spite of your success?

 

AE: I am often reminded about the fact that I speak my mind. I don’t pay any attention to it; I am who I am. Like everyone.

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