Onscreen, in everything from “Blue is the Warmest Color” to “Spectre,” Lea Seydoux tends to be emotionally remote, sometimes icy. In person, even over the phone from Paris, the actress is giggly, even while rhapsodising about the depth of her craft. It’s a far cry from her glowering turn in the new French drama "Diary of a Chambermaid," which reunites her with her “Farewell, My Queen” director Benoit Jacquot.
Based on a 1900 novel by Octave Mirbeau — which has been famously filmed by both Jean Renoir (in 1946, with Paulette Goddard) and Luis Bunuel (in 1964, with Jean Moreau) — it stars Seydoux, 30, as a young women from Paris who finds herself in the countryside, working for a tyrannical Madame (Clotilde Mollet). Meanwhile she finds herself increasingly drawn to a severe colleague (Vincent Lindon), who has at least a couple dark secrets.
Benoit Jacquot is one of many singular filmmakers you’ve worked with. It seems directors are key for you.
I like to work with directors who have their own language. I like when it’s special, when it’s an adventure. I want to feel things when I play. I want to experience myself in a way.
What about Jacquot’s films speak to you?
What I like about him is his subtlety. He’s very smart, very intelligent. It’s very easy working with him. I feel I’m understood with him. I feel like he likes the way I express things, the way I play, the way I act. It’s nice to have someone who’s sensitive about the way you express yourself. He’s almost like a father. I feel very comfortable with him.
You’ve spoken about how you liked that Sidonie, the character you played in “Farewell, My Queen,” seemed opaque, because you could create her from scratch. Celestine in “Chambermaid” isn’t that vacant, but she sometimes does things that seem surprising, even shocking.
I think with both characters I’ve played for [Jacquot], there’s something mysterious. You want to know their secrets. It also gives you the freedom to be them, because nothing is too defined. It’s more about what’s not said than what’s said. You have to guess, in a way — guess their attitudes and feelings. For me and for the spectators, you can imagine what you want, in a way. It’s very French, really. [Laughs]