007

Léa Seydoux Reflects on Her Part in Daniel Craig’s Progressive Bond Era

The No Time To Die star, who made history as the first Bond Girl since the Casino Royale reboot to appear in more than one installment, has quite the busy season ahead of her.

by Carrie Wittmer

lea seydoux against a wall
Photograph by Juergen Teller for W Magazine, February 2014. Styled by Poppy Kain.

When audiences see No Time To Die in theaters on October 8, it will be clear to them that the film is a culmination of Daniel Craig’s James Bond era. That’s because in the Bond films that star Craig as the fictional British Secret Service agent, the women are fully drawn characters, rather than simple pawns or sexual objects. The villains are not cartoonish men with shark teeth or racist caricatures, either. Instead, the women and the villains both mirror the series protagonist: they are damaged and emotional with a dark past, and markedly more progressive in Craig’s era of Bond. “I was happy about the emotional aspect of the character this time,” Léa Seydoux, who played Bond Girl Dr. Madeleine Swann in the 2015 film Spectre and will return for No Time To Die, said to W over Zoom.

When Craig made his James Bond debut in the 2006 film Casino Royale, it was nothing short of a cultural reset. The actor’s performance rejected the toxic masculinity that sometimes defined Bond in previous iterations, portraying him as more sensitive, vulnerable, impulsive, and sad. That film revealed its Bond Girl, Vesper Lynd (Eva Green), to be a foreign liaison agent who is resistant to Bond’s broody charm, and placed her at the center of the story. She ultimately falls for Bond, betrays him, and dies, but Bond’s connection to Vesper carries not only Casino Royale, but also his arc throughout the entire series of films in which Craig stars. At the time, Green, with her timeless look and striking green eyes, was more of an art-house mainstay than a big-budget action romantic interest, but she set a tone for the distinctive women of Craig’s Bond era, especially Seydoux’s Madeleine Swann. Craig set the bar for Bond—and for any action film released after Casino Royale—really high. “I feel that with Daniel Craig's era, it has become deeper and more complex and more interesting,” Seydoux said.

The actress joined the Bond universe in 2015’s Spectre as Madeleine Swann, a psychologist and daughter of Mr. White, one of Bond’s enemies. Like Vesper, she initially resists Bond though eventually succumbs to a romance with him, riding off together in an Aston Martin at the end of the film. Her appearance in the 25th Bond movie also makes history, as she is now the first Bond Girl since the Casino Royale reboot to appear in more than one installment (Eunice Gayson’s Sylvia Trench, who appeared in Dr. No in 1962 and From Russia with Love in 1963, was intended to be Bond’s girlfriend, though they got rid of the character after her second appearance).

Seydoux says that what makes Madeleine a unique Bond Girl is that she's “a normal woman, if I can call her normal.” Well, to be fair, she’s not exactly normal, since her father is a killer and she is in love with a killer, but she's relatable. “We have access to her vulnerability and that is something new, because usually the Bond girls were objectified and sexualized. Bond girls were not very vulnerable and this time it's just...they are more real, in a way. They are just more human.”

Courtesy of MGM

No Time To Die picks up with the very-in-love Bond and Madeleine vacationing together in peace. That does not last long, of course, because this is a blockbuster movie after all, so the couple is separated, though they always remain in each other’s thoughts. According to Seydoux, Madeleine and Bond are drawn to each other because they’re both orphans who understand each other’s pain. The actress herself is drawn to deep, emotional characters, which is what made a role in Craig’s Bond era appealing to her as an actress. Madeleine is, as Seydoux put it, “damaged and wounded,” and Craig’s Bond made her more interested in the films.

“He allowed the actresses to be more interesting,” Seydoux said. “When you play a part, you always act with your own emotions and with who you are. I think that Daniel, when he created this character, he gave James Bond some of his qualities and defaults but he really incarnated the character. There was [an] incarnation. And so for that reason, I think that if the film is deep, in a way, with important matters or the subjects that are underneath the film, it's because of him.”

Courtesy of MGM

The actress also told W that No Time To Die director Cary Fukanaga eliminated the male gaze in the film, going so far as to say Fukunaga’s perspective is “the opposite.” Seydoux recalled a specific scene at the beginning of the film in which Bond and Madeleine are in bed. She wears a T-shirt, and Craig is shirtless. “I love the fact that in the film, I don't have the sexy scene in a bathing suit or like in a sexy dress,” she said. It is true that Seydoux never dons a skimpy costume in No Time To Die—her wardrobe is feminine yet practical, along with that of her co-stars Naomie Harris (Moneypenny) and Lashana Lynch (Nomi). Ana de Armas (Paloma) is the only woman in the film who wears a costume anything close to revealing: a dark blue gown with a plunging neckline and high slits. It’s revealing and sexy, but it’s built for practicality in her fight scenes, and the character has no sexual chemistry with Bond. In other words, her outfit is strictly professional.

When Seydoux says that No Time To Die is the “opposite” of the male gaze, it’s because Fukanaga provides the film with a female one. While just about every Bond film before No Time To Die focuses on and objectifies female bodies, Fukanaga celebrates Bond’s. There’s a particularly striking scene that opens with Bond lounging on a sailboat, his crotch in the center of the shot. He is wearing a very small bathing suit, his body glistening under the Caribbean sun. As Bond leaves the boat and walks down the dock, the camera focuses on Craig’s torso and backside. This moment certainly makes No Time To Die stand out from the rest of the 007 cinematic canon.

Throughout her entire career, Seydoux has balanced taking parts in big budget Hollywood films with roles in French cinema. Since receiving her first César Award nomination, for her performance in 2008’s The Beautiful Person, Seydoux has gone on to appear in many films including Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds, Farewell, My Queen, Mission: Impossible—Ghost Protocol, and Blue Is the Warmest Color, the latter of which won her, the director and her co-star the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival, and earned Seydoux a fourth César nomination. She’s managed to become a household name in both worlds, partially due to the fact that she has always worked in multiple languages. “I love to act in English,” she said. “It's something that I really like, and I like to be outside my comfort zone.”

The actress believes what is different in Hollywood films is the “envergure (a French word which translates to “span”), while French productions are more intimate. French cinema, Seydoux said, is more focused on an artist’s vision than the audience’s satisfaction like Hollywood. “It’s very different and at the same time, the same thing,” she told W. “It always feels the same. Like when you're in front of the camera, it's just you in front of the camera. I can feel that in Hollywood, they want to please the audience and in France they don't really care about pleasing the audience.”

Seydoux has a busy season ahead of her, thanks in part to the various delays caused by the pandemic (No Time To Die’s original release date was April 10, 2020, and was rescheduled on more than one occasion). One might think she would have no no time to promote all of these projects, because in addition to No Time To Die, Seydoux has major roles in five upcoming films: Wes Anderson’s The French Dispatch in theaters October 22, Bruno Dumont’s France (currently making the festival rounds), Ildikó Enyedi’s The Story of My Wife, and Arnaud Desplechin’s Deception. But for Seydoux, sometimes having five major film projects coming out at the same time is just par for the course in her profession. “For me,” she said, “cinema is just a way to educate myself.”