No mystery why we've loved Kristin Scott Thomas for so long...

Kristin Scott Thomas's latest, wonderfully puzzling role is the perfect fit for this most enigmatic of actresses, says Kaleem Aftab

'Was it difficult to play an enigma wrapped up in a mystery?" posits Kristin Scott Thomas as we sit in the lavish surrounds of the Hotel Mandarin in Paris chatting about her role in The Woman in the Fifth. "It was an interesting challenge because it's true that this character doesn't make much sense as far as characters are concerned. It's just sort of layer after layer of fantasy; she's a mother, she's a muse, she's a sexual partner, an inspiration and a danger."

The actress could just as easily be describing herself rather than the ethereal character she plays in Pawel Pawlikowski's adaptation of the novel by Douglas Kennedy. The "Fifth" of the title refers both to the arrondissement and the fifth dimension, the mathematical construct of a hypothetical space. This double entendre is played within the plot's central conundrum, questioning how much of the action is real or taking place in the head of the American author played by Ethan Hawke.

The 51-year-old has always been the most intriguing and enigmatic of British actresses. Born in Cornwall, she's lived in Paris for more than 30 years and says, "I do consider myself as being French, I suppose." She was awarded the Légion d'Honneur, the highest civilian award in France in 2005.

Yet on screen, in her English-language roles at least, she seems to embody the classic English rose, not just because of her beauty and high cheekbones, but also because of the icy comport that has audiences convinced that the characters she plays are totally in control of their emotions. In French-speaking parts she often gets the opportunity to play more vulnerable and confused characters.

The Woman in the Fifth seems to be a middle ground between her French and English-speaking parts. Although it's set in Paris, it's a world full of non-French protagonists, a situation she can readily relate to in her own life. "Recently I've made a lot of new friends in Paris and they're all foreign and you create this other world. There are so many non-French people living in Paris now, no one can afford to live here anymore. So many of my English friends have little apartments, it seems like this land, swivelling, a plaque tournante."

She then pauses, wondering what the word for a plaque tournante is in English, highlighting how thinking in French comes most naturally to her. She then adds that Paris is, "Like a waiting room where people are waiting for something else to happen. Like in Casablanca."

One of her new non-French friends in Paris is the Polish-born director Pawlikowski. His debut feature, Last Resort, made him a director to watch and his career seemed set to enter the stratosphere when he moved to Britain and launched Emily Blunt's career with the hit film My Summer of Love in 2004. However, his career got sidelined when his wife died suddenly of an illness; part of his process of getting back on his feet was to move to Paris.

"I think there is something we kind of touched on in the film," she adds. "There is this expat thing, the estranged people; people are kind of on islands where they create their own little worlds. People aren't where they are meant to be – they're slightly rootless and they have made a life somewhere that is 90 per cent comfortable and sort of okay, yet there is also a pull to somewhere else. I can definitely relate to that."

Playing Margit, Thomas hosts lavish social events with the movers and shakers of Parisian life. Dressed today in a fabulous leopard-print dress, it's easy to imagine the actress hosting such lavish affairs herself. It's far harder to accept the fact that the eternally beautiful woman sitting with her right leg folded underneath her in a yoga-like pose is the divorced mother-of-three.

The actress has also got her fair share of English-language roles coming up. As Virginie Walters in Bel Ami she plays against type. Her character starts off as a Scott Thomas archetype, cold and ruthless, but then goes gaga over Robert Pattinson, behaving like a teenage fan of Twilight.

I ask if she wanted to play against type. "Not really; I wasn't aware of doing that," comes the initial reply. Yet she soon talks herself around to my way of thinking. "I know people think that I always play these characters who are in control and can chop someone's head off with a look. Maybe you are right in a way; that part was particularly enticing to me because she's a woman who loses all her dignity. But I also wanted to do the film because Nick Ormerod and Declan Donnellan were directing. I'd met Declan on many occasions and we'd tried to make theatre together, but it had never really worked out; so this was an opportunity."

She then reveals that she had agreed to star in an adaptation of Guy de Maupassant's Bel Ami years ago, when Vincent Cassel was cast in the lead role and she was to play the controlling female Madeleine Forestier. Coming full circle she ends by adding, "Piffle! I don't think the way that people see me in French film is so different to how they see me in English films. To do Pawel's film is great because I'm allowed to go to both places, which is exciting."

She is also in Salmon Fishing in the Yemen alongside Ewan McGregor and Emily Blunt. She plays a government spin-doctor who sees the opportunity to help a Saudi sheikh create a salmon farm in the desert as a perfect good news story for the government. "Everyone loves to hate a spin doctor," she states. "I read the book, but the screenplay departed a lot from it; most obviously, the character I play was a man in the book and was completely like Alastair Campbell. It's a real back-stabbing role."

As she chats about the different roles, she quips, "You can see how confusing it is for a person when you go from corseted nut to mysterious enigma to a nightmare panto bad person. The only thing I can remember about it are the hairstyles – and to make matters worse, two of the films were costumed by the same person. You see, actress, no brain. And every time it's the last time I'm making a film."


'The Woman in the Fifth' is released on 17 February. 'Bel Ami' is released on 9 March. 'Salmon Fishing in the Yemen' is released on 20 April

Mia Freedman, editorial director of the Mamamia website, reads out a tweet she was sent.
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Reach for the sky: there are around 250 new buildings of 20-plus storeys planned for London alone, some 80 per cent of them residential
Arts and Entertainment
Natural beauty: Aidan Turner stars in the new series of Poldark
Arts and Entertainment
Shining star: Maika Monroe, with Jake Weary, in ‘It Follows’
filmReview: The ingenious film will intrigue, puzzle and trouble audiences by turns
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift won Best International Solo Female (Getty)

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment

Oscars 2015 Mexican filmmaker uses speech to urge 'respect' for immigrants

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscar nominations are due to be announced today

Oscars 2015 Bringing you all the news from the 87th Academy Awards

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Lloyd-Hughes takes the leading role as Ralph Whelan in Channel 4's epic new 10-part drama, Indian Summers

TV Review

The intrigue deepens as we delve further but don't expect any answers just yet
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Segal and Cameron Diaz star in Sex Tape

Razzies 2015 Golden Raspberry Awards 'honours' Cameron Diaz and Kirk Cameron

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscars ceremony 2015 will take place at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles
Oscars 2015A quiz to whet your appetite for tonight’s 87th Academy Awards
Arts and Entertainment
Sigourney Weaver, as Ripley, in Alien; critics have branded the naming of action movie network Movies4Men as “offensive” and “demographic box-ticking gone mad”.
TVNaming of action movie network Movies4Men sparks outrage
Arts and Entertainment
Sleater Kinney perform at the 6 Music Festival at the O2 Academy, Newcastle
musicReview: 6 Music Festival
Arts and Entertainment
Sleater Kinney perform at the 6 Music Festival at the O2 Academy, Newcastle
musicReview: 6 Music Festival
Kristen Stewart reacts after receiving the Best Actress in a Supporting Role award for her role in 'Sils Maria' at the 40th annual Cesar awards
A lost Sherlock Holmes story has been unearthed
arts + ents Walter Elliot, an 80-year-old historian, found it in his attic,
Arts and Entertainment
Margot Robbie rose to fame starring alongside Leonardo DiCaprio in The Wolf of Wall Street

Film Hollywood's new leading lady talks about her Ramsay Street days

Arts and Entertainment
Right note: Sam Haywood with Simon Usborne page turning
musicSimon Usborne discovers it is under threat from the accursed iPad
Arts and Entertainment
A life-size sculpture by Nick Reynolds depicting singer Pete Doherty on a crucifix hangs in St Marylebone church
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Escalating tension: Tang Wei and Chris Hemsworth in ‘Blackhat’
filmReview: Chris Hemsworth stars as a convicted hacker in Blackhat
Arts and Entertainment

Oscar voter speaks out

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscars race for Best Picture will be the battle between Boyhood and Birdman

Arts and Entertainment
Anne Boleyn (Claire Foy), Thomas Cromwell (Mark Rylance)
tvReview: Wolf Hall
Arts and Entertainment
Tom Meighan of Kasabian collects the Best Album Award
Arts and Entertainment
Best supporting stylist: the late L’Wren Scott dressed Nicole Kidman in 1997
Arts and Entertainment
Dakota Johnson and Jamie Dornan as Anastasia Steele and Christian Grey in Fifty Shades of Grey


Arts and Entertainment
Mick Carter (Danny Dyer) and Peggy Mitchell (Barbara Windsor)
tv occurred in the crucial final scene
Arts and Entertainment
Glasgow wanted to demolish its Red Road flats last year
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

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

    HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

    Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

    Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
    How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

    Time to play God

    Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
    MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

    MacGyver returns, but with a difference

    Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
    Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

    Tunnel renaissance

    Why cities are hiding roads underground
    'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

    Boys to men

    The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
    Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

    Crufts 2015

    Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
    10 best projectors

    How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

    Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
    Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

    Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

    Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
    Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

    Monaco: the making of Wenger

    Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
    Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

    Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

    Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
    In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

    In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

    This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
    'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

    Homage or plagiarism?

    'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
    Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

    A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

    Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
    A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

    Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

    A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower