Blue is the Warmest Colour actresses on their lesbian sex scenes: 'We felt like prostitutes'

Lesbian romance Blue Is the Warmest Colour won the Palme d'Or. Now its lead actresses are the hottest property in film. Kaleem Aftab meets them

When it awarded the Palme d'Or to Blue Is the Warmest Colour, the Cannes Film Festival jury took the unusual step of sharing the prize between its director Abdellatif Kechiche, and its two principal actresses Léa Seydoux and Adèle Exarchopoulos. They happily posed for the cameras together when picking up the prize, but behind the scenes the three were at loggerheads. The actresses were apparently unhappy with the director's methods. And now Kechiche has said that his prize winner should not even be released. “The film is too sullied”, he told the French magazine Télérama. “The Palme d'Or win only gave me a brief moment of happiness. Since then I've felt humiliated, dishonoured, living with a curse...”

One thing is certain, ever since the Cannes premiere of Kechiche's loose adaptation of Julie Maroh's graphic novel about two young lovers, the actresses have been the most talked about couple in film. Not least because of a six-minute-sex scene, which left many critics wondering if the action was simulated or not. Off-screen, the actresses have clearly become firm friends. While waiting to interview Seydoux, 28 and Exarchopoulos, 19, I can see them locked arm-in-arm, sharing gossip and sniggering. They tell me that the acclaim for the film has calmed their nerves somewhat following a difficult and turbulent six-month shoot. Like David Fincher and Stanley Kubrick, Kechiche is a director who shoots hundreds of takes.

“In the scene where we meet for the first time, it lasts 20 seconds on screen,” says Seydoux. “We spent 10 hours working on this scene, I'm not joking. We did 100 takes, just of the moment that we crossed paths. In the end, I was just becoming crazy and just started looking at Adèle, bemused. And then he became crazy. He took the monitor, and was like, 'Oh my God! F*** it!' We just laughed.”

By now everyone who works with Kechiche – whose previous films include the excellent The Secret of the Grain – knows what to expect. “Sometimes [I hated him],” adds Seydoux, who was cast over a coffee with the director. “It was difficult and that is the way he is. When I decided to make the film, I knew that it was going to be hard. I think I wanted that. I wanted to see how it was to go this far.”

Those who have only seen Seydoux's turns in the American films Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol and Midnight in Paris are in for a great surprise, as she shows acting chops that were only briefly on display previously in Ursula Meier's Sister. In person, she is very shy, but there is no sign of that on screen, where she plays a powerful, blue-haired lesbian who becomes the object of affection for an innocent young student.

In real life, it's Exarchopoulos who is the more boisterous and outspoken. Having come out of nowhere, she is now being touted as an outside bet for an Oscar nomination. She had a minor role in Jane Birkin's Boxes, before gaining wider recognition in France in 2008 for Les Enfants de Timpelbach. None of the films where she has a prominent role have been widely released in the UK. She auditioned many times for this role, as the director tested out every budding actress in France.

Having won it, she inspired the French title of the film, La Vie d'Adèle: Chapitres 1 and 2. In the comic book, her character is called Clementine. “People were calling me by my real name when we were doing improvisations. So one day Abdellatif asked me if it would bother me to keep my own name for my character. In Arabic, Adèle means justice and there was a strong link with the character I play. So we just kept it.”

Lea Seydoux, right, and Adele Exarchopoulos in Blue is the Warmest Colour Seydoux, right, and Exarchopoulos in Blue is the Warmest Colour

The actresses didn't know each other before filming began. “The first time we filmed a sex scene, I was just laughing,” says Exarchopoulos. “I was supposed to touch myself and it was supposed to be my fantasy and then when I opened my eyes and saw her we laughed so much. We were embarrassed. And he shoots for such a long time, I was thinking, 'Man, you can stop there!'”

Was there anything that she refused to do? “Yes, cunnilingus!” Seydoux laughs. “We had fake pussies on. You have something to protect and tape it under. I don't make love on screen. We can fake these things, you can't fake feelings, but you can fake body language.” Did they ever worry they were merely playing out a male fantasy? “Yes. Of course it was kind of humiliating sometimes, I was feeling like a prostitute. Of course, he uses that sometimes. He was using three cameras, and when you have to fake your orgasm for six hours... I can't say that it was nothing. But for me it is more difficult to show my feelings than my body.”

It is this kind of statement that has left Kechiche fuming. He argues that it stops audiences going into the film with open hearts and that it paints a picture of him as a tyrant. “If Seydoux lived such a bad experience, why did she come to Cannes, try on robes and jewellery all day?” he said. “Is she an actress or an artist of the red carpet?”

Kechiche demanded a level of realism in every scene, clothed on or not. “I didn't use any tricks to make myself cry,” says Exarchopoulos. “Abdel would kill me, he hates fabrication. He wants us to really be smoking a joint and drinking beer. Sometimes too much. He wants to be close to the truth every time. We are drinking real wine. The man who plays the Emma's stepfather is one of the producers and he was so drunk in one scene. You just listened to his voice and you knew it wasn't useable – he was so drunk and saying things that weren't the subject of the film.”

And yet this is a film where it seems that the ends justified the means. “It's not because you do 300 takes you're a genius – that is just his method,” says Seydoux. “I, for example, don't like to do too many takes. If I do too many takes, I'm too self-conscious. I think I'm better in first scenes. With Abdellatif, I knew that he was going to film 100 takes. Sometimes I would come in and say, 'I don't give a shit' because I knew that he would get what he wanted. I think the result is what is important. I think it's a beautiful result and beautiful film, I want to do beautiful films and it's not about me.”

Despite this conciliatory statement from Seydoux, the war of words playing out in the media has demonstrated a breakdown in the relationship between actresses and director. In France, the film is subtitled “Chapters 1 and 2”. Seydoux claims not to know why and says that there will never be a second chapter. Still, her friendship with her co-star remains. “We have a very strong connection,” she says. “She has things that I really love. She's not looking at herself, she has a boyish side that I like and she is courageous and she is real. She is nature and beauty. I only have admiration for her.”

For her part, Exarchopoulos signs off by saying, “At the end of the film, I was very tired.”

'Blue Is the Warmest Colour' screens at the London Film Festival on 14 October (bfi.org.uk/lff) and goes on general release on 15 November

The actresses and director Kechiche pose with their Palme d'Or The actresses and director Kechiche pose with their Palme d'Or

Arts and Entertainment
Legendary charm: Clive Owen and Keira Knightley in 2004’s ‘King Arthur’
FilmGuy Ritchie is the latest filmmaker to tackle the legend
Arts and Entertainment
Corporate affair: The sitcom has become a satire of corporate culture in general

TV review

Broadcasting House was preparing for a visit from Prince Charles spoiler alert
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
tvReview: There are some impressive performances by Claire Skinner and Lorraine Ashbourne in Inside No. 9, Nana's Party spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Glastonbury's pyramid stage

Glastonbury Michael Eavis reveals final headline act 'most likely' British pair

Arts and Entertainment
Ewan McGregor looks set to play Lumiere in the Beauty and the Beast live action remake

Film Ewan McGregor joins star-studded Beauty and the Beast cast as Lumiere

Arts and Entertainment
Charlie feels the lack of food on The Island with Bear Grylls

TV

The Island with Bear Grylls under fire after male contestants kill and eat rare crocodile
Arts and Entertainment
Aaron Taylor-Johnson as Quicksilver and Elizabeth Olsen as Scarlet Witch, in a scene from Avengers: Age Of Ultron
filmReview: A great cast with truly spectacular special effects - but is Ultron a worthy adversaries for our superheroes? spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Ince performing in 2006
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
Beth (played by Jo Joyner) in BBC1's Ordinary Lies
tvReview: There’s bound to be a second series, but it needs to be braver spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Paul Hollywood and Mary Berry, the presenters of The Great Comic Relief Bake Off 2015

TV
Arts and Entertainment
A still from Harold Ramis' original Groundhog Day film, released in 1993

Theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Christopher Eccleston (centre) plays an ex-policeman in this cliché-riddled thriller

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey looks very serious as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones

TV This TV review contains spoilers
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Wiz Khalifa performs on stage during day one of the Wireless Festival at Perry Park in Birmingham

music
Arts and Entertainment
Festival-goers soak up the atmosphere at Glastonbury

music

Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars creator George Lucas

film

Arts and Entertainment

music

Arts and Entertainment
A shot from the forthcoming Fast and Furious 7

film

Arts and Entertainment
The new-look Top of the Pops could see Fearne Cotton returns as a host alongside Dermot O'Leary

TV

Arts and Entertainment
The leader of the Church of Scientology David Miscavige

TV

Arts and Entertainment
No half measures: ‘The Secret Life of the Pub’

Grace Dent on TV The Secret Life of the Pub is sexist, ageist and a breath of fresh air

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

    Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

    How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
    Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

    Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

    Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
    Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

    Aviation history is littered with grand failures

    But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
    Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

    Fortress Europe?

    Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
    Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

    Never mind what you're wearing

    It's what you're reclining on that matters
    General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

    Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

    The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
    Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

    Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

    Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
    Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

    Marginal Streets project documents voters

    Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
    Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

    The real-life kingdom of Westeros

    Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
    How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

    How to survive a Twitter mauling

    Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
    Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

    At dawn, the young remember the young

    A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

    Follow the money as never before

    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

    Samuel West interview

    The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
    General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence