Breakout performances, Lea Seydoux, and the curse of the ‘Bond girl’

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When I saw Abdellatif Kechiche’s wonderful, beautiful, emotional, groundbreaking film Blue is the Warmest Colour at BIFF last year, I said this of Lea Seydoux and Adele Exarchopoulos’s performances in my review :

“These are break out performances here, and even though it would be a miracle if they were recognised come awards season, I hope in years to come this leads to more roles as incredible as these that will allow them to be recognised”.

It can be difficult for women to progress past that breakout, whether because of perpetually unimaginative casting (Lupita Nyong’o hasn’t made another film since 12 Years a Slave also hit the big time last year) or downright stupidity, so I was darn hoping that someone would put these excellent actresses in another film that would be seen by a worldwide audience. You know, have it translate to an actual career. Weird that it’s such a precarious transition for women and not for men, eh?

Well, a couple of weeks ago, Seydoux was offered another film, and a pretty mainstream one too – the next James Bond. Bond films are on the up and up the past few years, since they took a 4 year break following the joke that was Die Another Day to reboot the franchise, only flubbing it with Quantum of Solace, which wasn’t really their fault (it was in the middle of the writers’ strike and Daniel Craig ended up having to help write the script). Sam Mendes is directing two more (when the excellent Skyfall came out I said that they should grab onto him and not let go), the series looks like it’s going to continue this hot streak it’s on.

But see, potential quality of the film isn’t why I’m concerned about it being Seydoux’s first film in the international sphere since Blue (unless you count a tiny part in The Grand Budapest Hotel). A role in a James Bond film ain’t nothing to sniff at – if you want a consistently iconic role for a woman, one that’s going to be seen by a lot of people, ‘Bond girl’ is near the top. Nope, my concern is about her career post-Bond. You see, the thing is, being a ‘Bond girl’ rarely translates to a good career, at least immediately. It doesn’t lead to strong, meaty roles that get glowing reviews, get you nominated at the Oscars, written into the Hollywood history books as a ‘great actor’. You may be an excellent actor, but you rarely get to show it. The figure of the ‘Bond girl’ – think how many there are, and think of the films they’ve done, the leading roles they’ve gotten since. Difficult, isn’t it?

Let’s consider some of the most recognisable, recent actors…

Naomie Harris and Berenice Marlohe, Skyfall 

According to Wikipedia, Harris isn’t a ‘Bond girl’. But for the purposes of this, she is. Since debuting as Eve Moneypenny in Skyfall, she hasn’t had a film released (apart from a supporting role in financial and critical disappointment Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom). On IMDB, her next film is listed as an Antoine Fuqua one that doesn’t yet have a release date, where it looks like she will have a supporting role. Beyond that, she has a role in John le Carre adaptation Our Kind of Traitor, to, tentatively, be released next year, and of course, Bond 24. Fellow Skyfall co-star Berenice Marlohe, on the other hand, has a role in Terrence Malick’s long-gestating Texas-set music drama and IFC Films release 5 to 7, tentatively this year.

Olga Kurylenkyo and Gemma Arterton, Quantum of Solace

Since making her international debut in 2008, Kurylenko hasn’t had a lead role, starring in mostly long-forgotten action films that failed at the box office and European historical epics that didn’t get released outside of their country of origin. The anomalies in her filmography are To the Wonder, which failed at the box office and got negative reviews, hastily released after The Tree of Life found widespread success in 2011 and launched the career of Jessica Chastain, another young actor; Seven Psychopaths, where she had a walk-on role; and, while it’s sci-fi, Oblivion, starring Tom Cruise, which performed well. Later this year she’s starring in the Russell Crowe starring Australian film The Water Diviner, an upcoming The Weinstein Company release, but who knows when that will be out. Co-star Gemma Arterton hasn’t fared much better, with a supporting role in The Boat That Rocked, actioners Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time and Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters and indies Tamara Drewe, Song for Marion, and Byzantium, all of which failed to break out.

Eva Green, Casino Royale

Green received a BAFTA Rising Star nomination for her role, and of the list so far, is arguably the most well-known, despite not having made a large number of films since. Making her film debut in Bertolucci’s The Dreamers, post-Bond, Green has taken largely bit parts in action or big-budget films that all performed to varying degress of success, including The Golden Compass, Sin City: A Dame to Kill For, Dark Shadows, and 300: Rise of An Empire, with some criticising her for always playing the same type of character. Her co-stars, Ivana Milicevic and Caterina Murino, have had nothing notable since.

Rosamund Pike and Halle Berry, Die Another Day

Once known as the poster child of the unsuccessful Bond Girl, starring in Catwoman immediately after her turn, in the past decade or so, Berry hasn’t returned to her post-Oscar glory. On the other hand, Pike, who was only 21 when she got the part, has been gaining a lot of attention lately, given one of the most sought-after female roles of the decade in a film that’s currently holding #1 around the world and will surely do well at the Oscars. However, it took her 12 years to get here, a place where, from now on, she’ll likely have the pick of some great roles, given the mainstream success she’s now achieved. For over a decade, she, by and large, didn’t have a lead role, playing varying degrees of the ‘love interest’, turning in excellent performances in films like An Education and Barney’s Version.

After Seydoux gave one of the best performances of 2013, it would be sad to see her suffer a same fate, slipping into an obscurity of bit parts after being given a role that should lead to great success. As Rosamund Pike said:

“It cemented a sort of patrician, frigid, English, standoffish cold image,” says Pike. “People think I lie about my age. I never had a chance to do those young roles.”

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