Eva Green, who has the pale complexion, black hair, and haunted eyes of a goth princess, would prefer not to be thought of as a supernatural creature with evil powers and the ability to conjure the dead. “People have this image of me as being otherworldly,” said the actress on an unseasonably cold and stormy day in late spring. Green, 36, had just flown to New York from Paris, where she was born and raised. Although she was warm and forthcoming and appeared down-to-earth in jeans and a white button-down shirt, it was hard not to think of her as the characters she plays. There’s the psychologically scarred Vanessa Ives in the Showtime series Penny Dreadful, who speaks Verbis Diablo and is caught up in a fraught romance with a werewolf in 19th-century London. And then there is the title role in Tim Burton’s Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, out in September. Green is perfectly cast as the time-traveling, pipe-smoking orphanage director who can transform into a falcon and is the caretaker of boys and girls with extraordinary gifts. “Miss Peregrine is like a dark Mary Poppins,” Green said. “She has the ability to manipulate time and uses her powers to protect the children. Miss Peregrine will kill for them.” Green smiled in a slightly wicked, knowing way. “And she does! Which was fun.”
Green’s enthusiasm for the strange, coupled with an odd shyness, intrigued Burton, who met her five years ago, when he cast her in Dark Shadows as Angelique Bouchard, a stunning, seductive witch. In one particularly memorable scene, she and Johnny Depp bounce off the walls as they alternate between kissing and trying to murder each other. “It was Eva’s idea to wear bright red underwear,” Burton told me, calling from London, where he was finishing editing Miss Peregrine’s Home… “Eva was not instantly knowable. There was something private and mysterious about her, and that’s not common in this day and age. People think she’s ‘dark,’ but she’s more interesting than that. People assume I’m dark too, but I’m really not. Is it just because I wear dark clothing? Do people want me to be in a white suit, like Mr. Roarke from Fantasy Island?! Eva faces the same dilemma. We share a complicated way of looking at things. We both have an interest in the unusual.”
As a child, it was Green’s dream to work with Burton. Despite being introverted, she always wanted to act. Her father, Walter Green, is a dentist, and her mother, Marlène Jobert, had a very successful acting career—starring in Jean-Luc Godard’s Masculin Féminin as well as other nouvelle vague classics. Jobert stopped working to raise Eva and her fraternal twin sister, Joy. “I was not popular in school,” Green recalled. “I was a real geek, hugging the walls. I blushed whenever the teacher would ask me a question. I was paralyzed.” Among her teenage crushes were Jack Nicholson in The Shining and Marlon Brando in Last Tango in Paris. “I love Nicholson when he goes crazy with the ax!” she said, laughing at the memory. “And when I was 15, I had an enormous poster of Last Tango in Paris on my wall. I was obsessed with the director, Bernardo Bertolucci.”
Green studied drama in high school and in 2003, having performed in several French theater productions and been nominated for a Molière Award, she made her film debut, rather fortuitously, in Bertolucci’s The Dreamers. Set against a backdrop of the 1968 Paris student riots, the movie follows a pair of semi-incestuous twins (a brother and sister) who are enthralled by movies and invite an American boy to stay with them in their sprawling apartment while their parents are away. For much of the film, Green is gloriously naked, which seemed to start a trend in her career. “It is very paradoxical,” she told me. “I am so shy, and, at the same time, I kind of expose myself literally to thousands of people. I don’t really understand why I do that. I need to go through therapy!”
After The Dreamers, Green was consistently cast as a tough, smart—sexy—woman of mystery. Even in Casino Royale (2006), in which she plays the Bond Girl Vesper Lynd, she comes across as secretive and complex. “At first, when they approached me, I thought it would be me wearing a bikini and being beautiful, so I said I wouldn’t audition. Then they sent me the script, and I saw that Bond was falling in love with my character—that she was sensitive and full of secrets. I could understand that.” Green paused. “And in Casino Royale, I had to die. I die in a lot of movies. I don’t know why—it’s one of the unusual things about my career. I guess it’s a big rehearsal for the inevitable.”
For Casino Royale, Green perfected her English, which she speaks with a faint British accent. Soon after, she began getting roles in big Hollywood productions like the sequel to 300 (in which she has another noteworthy sex/fight scene, and appears mostly topless) and Sin City: A Dame to Kill For (in which her nudity is a weapon she uses to seduce and kill). Then there is the nightmare-inducing Penny Dreadful. Green, who was nominated for a Golden Globe for her work on the series, swears that she is not psychologically burdened by that role. “It’s very freeing to be possessed,” she said, sounding cheerful. “I find playing Vanessa to be like taking a drug. Sometimes exhausting, but also jubilating.”
Becoming a falcon for Burton was also liberating in its own way. Miss Peregrine’s Home… is based on the best-selling young adult novel by Ransom Riggs. The peculiar children all have special talents—for instance, one can control fire, another has incredible physical strength. “People want the kids to have superpowers, but these are kids who have afflictions,” Burton said. “That’s why I loved the book. These kids feel different rather than ‘super,’ and the movie speaks to that difference.”
While Burton remained largely faithful to the plot, he did not adhere to Riggs’s rather geriatric depiction of Miss Peregrine. Instead, he imagined her as a strange beauty—he imagined her as Eva. “You know, Mary Poppins is fucking weird,” Burton said. “And Miss Peregrine is the weirdest version of that weird character. There was only one person I could see in that role.”
Hair by Shay Ashual at Art Partner; makeup by Dick Page for Shiseido at Jed Root; manicure by Naomi Yasuda for Dior at Streeters. Set design by Andrea Stanley at Streeters.
Produced by Red Hook Labs; Executive Producer: Simon Malivindi; Line Producer: Helena Martel Seward; Digital Technicians: Niccolo Pacilli, Jeronimo de Moraes; Photography Assistants: Sinclair Jaspard Mandy, Pawel Woznicki, Kevin Jude; Fashion Assistants: Dena Giannini, Ryann Foulke, Lauren Bensky; Hair Assistant: Taichi Saito; Makeup Assistant: Gina Daddona; Production Assistants: Kevin Doherty, Miles Soboleski, Marcos Fecchino, Kevin Warner.