Bérénice Marlohe is big news. As enigmatic, sexy Severine in the newest Bond installment, the French-Cambodian actress has won hearts all over the world as well as here in Cambodia. In the week that Skyfall opened in the Kingdom, David Boyle talked fame, Daniel Craig and Khmer heritage with the lady herself.
Skyfall premiered in Cambodia on Monday and there is quite a lot of excitement here to have someone of Khmer heritage in such a major film. What do you make of that kind of adoration and how do you engage with the fan community here?
Well, I am very proud to be half Asian and to have Cambodian blood, and I’m so happy that I managed also to bring that to the screen. We Asian people are not too often on the big screen and in big movies. I like that I am able to bring that to the big screen for Cambodia.
How are you handling the sudden rise to fame?
Actually I tried to work in France for almost 10 years as an actress so it seemed to people that it was so quick because they didn’t know who I was before.
I sent my reels to everyone I could find on the internet that were watching for the movie and I did three auditions [for the Skyfall team] and the exposure came suddenly because it’s a big movie.
I am very happy about that exposure, but I never wanted to become famous because with becoming famous you don’t have the freedom that you had before but I’m thinking about ways and people to work with to use this celebrity thing and my origins to gather the attention of the world to Cambodia.
Let’s talk about your heritage, because from what I have read, the information seems quite scarce. Have you been to Cambodia before?
I have been to Cambodia once, three years ago, and I was so happy, because I was raised in Paris in a European way, and I always felt like something was part of me that I didn’t know.
The more I grew up, the more I felt connected to my Asian origins. It was so important to me to actually put my foot on the land of my ancestors; so that [visit] was a very important moment in my life.
Do you speak Khmer?
Art Te [no]. (laughing) I know nyam baay [eat food], O Khun Chhran [thank you very much] (laughing). I know chap chap [quick, quick] (laughing).
Growing up in France, how aware of your origins were you? Did you have Khmer friends?
I was raised in the European way, but I had my Aunt and my cousins. I was hearing them speak Cambodian, and so I felt always very proud and connected with my Asian blood. So while I was raised in an occidental way, there was a strong feeling of belonging at the same time: of connection with my Asian roots.
Do you know Angelina Jolie? Have you hung out? She does a lot of work here.
No, I haven’t met Angelina Jolie, but I would be very interested in meeting her, because she seems to be a great human being [who is] involved in some beautiful causes. I know one of her children is Cambodian and, yes, I would love to get to meet her and talk to her about her work also as an ambassador. And I know she has particular tenderness for Cambodia, so that makes a common interest between me and her.
Cambodia’s currently in a period of mourning for King Father Norodom Sihanouk. What was your reaction when you heard the news of his passing?
I feel like this is a moment in history where a lot of important things are happening and this is why I feel like me becoming, lets say, having the chance to become a voice because of my actress stature, I feel like this is a moment for me to use that and to gather the attention of the world as much as I can for Cambodia.
How do you propose going about that?
I’m talking to an organisation in London to find ways to gather the attention of the media, because it is so new to me. I want to gather with people that know their business and can help me in the best way, so I’m working on that when I have time in between interviews.
It’s a very busy schedule, so I’m trying to find the best way to be efficient and clever [with my time].
What’s the next big project you have in the pipeline?
I am working on the next Terrance Mallick (Days of Heaven, The Thin Red Line) film. I saw Tree of Life and saw what a beautiful filmmaker he is. So I did an audition when I was filming Skyfall.
I went to LA when I had a few free days and I did an audition for him. So I’m working on his next movie, but we don’t know what will be the title of the movie, it’s very secretive.
What made you decide to become an actress?
Well at first, I wanted to be a painter and a musician. So why did I start acting? Because an agent discovered me and so unfortunately she didn’t have any auditions but at least she put me on the road of acting, and by doing that little by little, I started to really like acting, because it’s very connected with your life as a human being.
You get to know yourself better and better in order to be an actress and use your experience as a human being on set. It is all about creation and art.
Do you prefer the new rough and sinister Bond or his previous, more… gentlemanly, versions?
I really love Daniel Craig as a James Bond, because he brings complexity as an actor … and as a result, you have a James Bond that is strong but at the same time vulnerable.
I really love that. He’s more, how can I say, human, than the previous ones and most of all I got to know him and he really is a beautiful human being, I couldn’t think about another Bond other than Daniel.
Did you two spend time together off set?
No, we didn’t have time.
In terms of Hollywood, I assume you have just moved there recently. Have you built up a network of friends, or are you still a very private person?
Well, it comes naturally with the work. It’s like when you walk into your job, you get to meet your new colleagues and it becomes natural. I’m not thinking about making connections; it’s just natural like in life – meeting people or not.
I am just trying to do my work the best that I can and I hope that it will go on like that but you are never sure of anything and I know that because I’ve struggling for ten years almost, you know, as an actress so I never know so my priority also is to hopefully go on with my acting career which I take very seriously.
If you are working with Terrance Mallick it sounds like you’re definitely doing that. Yes, it’s a good direction, I’m so happy because I get to meet very beautiful souls and clever human beings. I’m very happy.
To contact the reporter on this story: David Boyle at [email protected]