Rising French Talent Lou De Laâge Is Not Afraid to Get Her Hands Dirty

by Elodie Tacnet

“At some point as an adult, you have to make choices."
Most tribes define what it is to be a man through active rites of passage. Virility equals strength, courage, even temper. One becomes a man thanks to his actions. Yet a woman enters womanhood passively, unwillingly. Even puberty can be considered traumatic when explained, gruesomely, by Simone de Beauvoir in the first chapter of The Second Sex—detailing the biological consequences of what it entails to be a woman; what hormones do to a body and a mind. Others like punk writer and director Virginie Despentes, speak to a sort of victimization far beyond puberty. “King Kong Theory” is about the accepting fatalism that some women embody regards rape; like this is something to be expected in one’s lifetime.

In her latest film, The Innocents, French director Anne Fontaine (also featured in this issue) explores the various journeys into womanhood of Mathilde Beaulieu, a Red Cross doctor—played with nuance by Lou de Laâge—and the sisters of a Polish convent whose pregnancies she helps deliver. “She is a very charismatic young actress,” the director relates of de Laâge, “It was really the first part she’s had playing a young woman. Before she’s only played a teenager in France.”

De Laâge grew up in Bordeaux with a burning desire for the stage since the age of six. She always felt that anyone from the audience could step up during a play and join the characters. By middle school, she was attending a theatre program at school and took off for Paris as soon as she got her high school diploma. Nothing really paved her way for the big screen. It happened by accident when she signed with a Next Models to  help finance her theatre school.

What de Laâge loves most about theatre is the rehearsal process: “There’s room for exploration with the rest of the cast, room for error as well in order to find the right alchemy for each scene,” she says.

After playing a manipulative teenager in Mélanie Laurent’s Breathe in 2014, she was offered to embark with Fontaine on a filming experience that resembled what she cherishes most with the theatre: de Laâge rehearsed with the Polish cast in the convent—an ideal opportunity for her to build a daily routine for Mathilde, a young and independent doctor born into a communist environment. “I found myself in the same situation as my character: I was parachuted into a group of women with whom I could not communicate,” she recalls. De Laâge had prior experience getting lost in translation with the director of L’Attesa (2015), Piero Messina, who only speaks Italian. De Laâge appreciates the raw form communication takes in a working environment; there is no place for varnish.

With Anne Fontaine, de Lâage found a perfect conductor: one who is gentle yet goes straight to the point and who wants to tell other women’s stories. War and rape is just background in The Innocents. The reconstruction of these sisters is what the film dives into. It showcases a range of paths into womanhood, not only for the nuns as they get in touch with a side of their souls they had given to Jesus forever, but also for Mathilde as she is forced to emancipate from her education by having her atheism challenged.

Recently, it seems she’s been a magnet for complicated, spiritual parts; this fall she is preparing to get back on stage for an adaptation of James Frey’s The Final Testament of the Holy Bible written and directed by Mélanie Laurent. “At some point as an adult, you have to make choices,” says the actress, musing upon the rite of passage into adulthood. “What you keep from your education, the family values you adapt to yourself, and those you import from the outside world.”

Photographers: Melanie Lyon + Ramon Escobosa for Walter Schupfer.

Stylist: Storny + Misericordia.

Talent: Lou De Laâge for Next Management, Paris.

Hair And Makeup: Laure Dansou for Walter Schupfer.

Location: Le Marché Noir.

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