French actress Bérénice Marlohe, who plays "Bond girl" Sévérine opposite Daniel Craig's 007 in the acclaimed new James Bond blockbuster "Skyfall," is having the last laugh on all the casting agents, producers and directors in Europe who wouldn't give her a job.
The statuesque Marlohe, whose sultry look brings to mind the legendary Italian beauty Claudia Cardinale, has struggled to find work since she became an actress eight years ago. Now 33, Marlohe was told time and again she didn't have what it takes to become a movie star.
Their reluctance wasn't just because of her Eurasian heritage — Marlohe's father is Cambodian, her mother French. "They would tell me you are too tall compared to the actors, which is not good for you or you have too much personality. The producers and director of a movie actually loved my work, but they told me it is not good to have too much presence compared to the main actress, so we will not hire you. I didn't agree with the system."
So a year before "Skyfall" went into production, she put together a reel of the TV roles she managed to secure in France and headed to Los Angeles, where she was welcomed with open arms. "I was so surprised people will give you a chance and consider your work and your potential here. This gives you a huge feeling of freedom," Marlohe said in an interview in Beverly Hills, a few days before "Skyfall's" release in the U.S.
"Skyfall" opened to huge international box office and rave reviews, including for Marlohe's performance as Sévérine, a dangerous, strong-willed woman who is connected to the film's villain Silva (Javier Bardem).
In a phone interview, Craig said Marlohe "brought a huge amount of depth to what is essentially a very small part. She gave her an awful lot of history in the way she played it. It makes it easy for me to act against and just much richer for an audience to watch."
Marlohe recalls being in Paris waiting to get her visa to go to the U.S. when a friend told her about upcoming auditions for "Skyfall." Though she had no idea what the film was about or who the Bond girl would be in the movie, she quickly pursued getting an interview.
"I really believe in signs," said Marlohe, who was a painter and pianist before turning to acting.
Because she had watched the Bond films on television since she was a child — she particularly enjoyed the villains played by Grace Jones and Christopher Walken in "A View to a Kill" — she felt "strongly connected to the Bond universe — you can feel a lot of freedom in creation [of a character] because it is a world between reality and imagination."
So she went online to look for contacts involved in the production, including finding the agent of the film's Oscar-winning director Sam Mendes ("American Beauty") on Facebook and casting director Debbie McWilliams' email address.
After two auditions — the second with Mendes, whom she describes as "good and brilliant" — she landed the role of Sévérine. During an encounter with her in a casino, Bond discovers Sévérine is a vulnerable and frightened woman with a lot of baggage. Naturally, they have a steamy clinch in the shower before a violent encounter with Silva.
"I based my inspiration on her on the Chimera," Marlohe said with a warm smile. "I wanted to have that dangerousness spreading through her, but at the same time I wanted to create a real human being with a range of emotions and the inner struggles we go through as human beings.
"What is very interesting about life is that we put a social mask on. We don't reveal what we feel most of the time. It was very interesting to have that in the character so people could identify with her."
The "Bond girl" is one of the key elements in the success of the iconic film franchise over its 50 years. But they have varied from more one-dimensional (if voluptuous) women to more fully realized characters in the recent incarnations of Bond, such as 2006's "Casino Royale.".
"The women themselves are real characters," said Steven Jay Rubin, the author of "The Complete James Bond Movie Encyclopedia. "Audiences today are not looking for the iconic cliché. They want real. Craig has gravitas and the women have to reflect that. You wouldn't put Daniel Craig with Jill St. John or Britt Ekland."
Marlohe now has agents in Los Angeles and plans to move here as soon as the publicity tour for "Skyfall" concludes . She's currently finishing her next film, Terrence Malick's new untitled movie shooting in Austin, Texas, with Natalie Portman and Christian Bale.
She can't reveal what the movie is about but gushed about working with the mysterious Malick. "He's wonderful," Marlohe noted. "He is a poet of the universe and a beautiful soul."