How to Play Shailene Woodley’s Alcoholic Mom, A Chat With Eva Green

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“I’m very shy and awkward, so playing all these characters and taking on these different roles from myself makes me feel alive and gives me blood,” Eva Green tells me when I ask about the mysterious and darkly seductive roles she’s known for in contrast to the person she is off-screen. “I’m breathing and alive when I’m acting, and I’m confident when I’m acting—I’m not always in real life.” But for the alluring French actress, her intense sensuality and cunning intellect have made her one of Hollywood’s most sought after women, from her breakout role in Bernardo Bertolucci’s The Dreamers and her turn as a bond girl in Casino Royale to starring on Showtime’s Penny Dreadful and her latest role in Gregg Araki’s White Bird in a Blizzard.

Starring Green alongside Shailene Woodley, Araki’s film (King of Teenage Doom) takes us back to the late 1980‘s to tell his dark suburban dream, based on Laura Kasischke’s novel of the same title. In White Bird, we follow Kat (Woodley), a 17-year-old girl whose emotionally unstable mother, Eve (Green), vanishes mysteriously one afternoon. Caught up in her newfound sexuality and exploration of desire and emotion, Kat represses the confusion and anger of her mother’s haunting disappearance, as her father (played by Christopher Meloni) continues on with his life in the shadow of Eve’s absence.But as the story unravels, we’re given insight into Eve’s life, with surreal flashbacks and snow-covered dreams, revealing the natural of Kat’s uneasy relationship with her mother and how deeply miserable Eve was in her caged-in life as a homemaker.

And although she is but a mere decade older than Woodley in real life, Green manages to elevate her Mommie Dearest-esque character to someone untethered by time, a ghost haunting their lives. Wonderfully theatrical while not going entirely over the top, Green plays up the ugliness of Eve’s alcoholism and anger to age herself, adding a sense of hyper-melodrama akin to one of Fassbinder’s women on the verge. So with White Bird in a Blizzard now out on VOD and in theaters next week, I stole some time with Green to chat about her fears about playing Shailene’s mother, her ability to make herself invisible, and acting inside a dream.

As a new actor to the world of Gregg Araki, how did you become involved in the film?

I remember I was in Bulgaria doing the 300 film and my agent was like, “My god, you need to look at this I’m sure you’re going to love this.” And then I just really loved the story, and it was so unusual and frustrated and it had such a great conflict with the daughter. I was very moved by it, so I said yes straight away!

Had you been a fan of his past films?

Yeah, I remember I saw Mysterious Skin in the cinema when it came it. It was dreamlike and very tormented. There’s something in his films that are a bit David Lynch in a way. Seeing the film in the cinema I remember it was like a dream and fucked up and I loved that very much. His other films are all teenage trashy bonkers funny and this one, White Bird, I find more grown up. It’s in another category of its own. 

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How was the experience of turning in this character and playing a woman who was written significantly older than you? Did you read the book to get of the feeling of who she was?

When I found out my daughter would be played by Shailene, I was like, oh my god! It’s a bit unbelievable; we look more like sisters. But Gregg was like, don’t worry, it’s a bit surreal and you’ll have another hairdo. I was worried that it would not be believable, so I loved her journey. You see her young in her 20s and then it ages me. But I tried to portray that aging more in her character. She’s an alcoholic and her body changes and her voice changes, so it was a challenge.

She only exists in these surreal memories and in flashbacks, so in a way she felt ageless.

Yes, yes.

tumblr_nauvdx0VjB1ts6gi0o4_500There’s something about your character that also felt out of time and very rooted in melodrama, like she belonged to films of the past, in opposition the natural cool of the teens.

It’s true. She’s kind of a mixture of a lot of women. She could have been a movie star but she didn’t fulfill her dreams and got trapped like a bird in a cage. Sometimes it felt like, am I going completely over the top, a complete alcoholic kind of thing, but Gregg allowed me to go there because it was a dream. You have all these teenagers and they’re cool and I had the excuse of being in a dream.

You’ve worked with a lot of great directors, but what was the experience like working with Gregg Araki?

In the beginning it was a struggle to find the money for the film and then the actors. But it’s nice that this film was made all with heart, and Gregg is very open and he’s so passionate. He’s like a child on set, with this passion and he’s so loving. He’s really all about who these characters are and the story. It’s all fun. There’s no judgement or games or bullshit. It’s pure joy and we all loved it.

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How was Shailene as a co-star and daughter?

I was intimidated at first. I thought, oh god am I going to measure up? Is this going to believable? But Shailene was so great and she calmed me down and made me feel confident. She was very supportive. She’s very wise and very mature, an old soul. And she’s also very aware of the world and extremely bright and amazing.

Looking back on the roles you’ve played, there’s been a lot of characters that fall into the darker, more dramatic realm. Do you tend to gravitate towards these roles or do you find that people approach you for them because that’s how they perceive you as an actor?

You take what you find, but I am always looking for something that’s complex and something that’s interesting. I also don’t want people to put me in a box of one character also. So I always hope people have enough imagination. But I am always drawn to something complicated. It’s jubilating in a strange way, but you also have to be careful. 

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Do you find that you’re a much different person off-screen and not the mysterious woman we often see you play?

Oh, yeah. No one ever really recognizes me really. I take the tube all the time and it’s fine. I can make myself invisible, I have that power. I’m also very shy and feel so awkward that playing all these characters and taking on these different roles from myself makes me feel alive and gives me blood. I’m breathing and alive when I’m acting and I’m confident when I’m acting. I’m not always in real life, but I would like to be. So I think I’m very different for sure.

What are you working on now?

I’m going to Ireland to shoot the second season of Penny Dreadful. I get to play a very gifted and fabulous character. It’s an interesting character and one of the most interesting I’ve gotten to play. She’s in the dark but she’s fighting to get to the light and she goes through such an amazing, rich journey.