Born in Paris with a Professor of English as a father, Ludivine Sagnier (whose first name means “Divine Light”), has been acting since the age of ten — though it wasn’t until she became the muse of filmmaker François Ozon that audiences began to take note. Swimming Pool (2003), an international hit for Ozon, was a movie in which Sagnier spent most of her screen time half-naked, pursuing athletic sexual congress with anyone that cared for a dip.
Now 30, married and with two young daughters, Sagnier has become something of Gallic national treasure. She can shortly be seen in the double bill Mesrine: Killer Instinct/Mesrine: Public Enemy No. 1, detailing the incredible true story of Jacques Mesrine — gangster, womaniser, jailbreaker and fugitive, who remains something of a cult figure across the Channel. As Sylvia Jeanjacquot to Vincent Cassel’s title character, Sagnier plays the prostitute turned lover, who was with Mesrine right up to his messy end.
What is it with French actresses? There’s a sort of “je ne sais quois”, a sexiness about them.
It’s very difficult to define. Something that is ‘impalpable’. It’s true that French women have an aura. Marion Cotillard or Eva Green, for example. French actresses, they have it (she clicks her fingers). I don’t know what, but they have it. There’s vulnerability. In Hollywood vulnerability is viewed as a failure, whereas in France it is seen as strength.
How much did you know about Jacques Mesrine beforehand?
Well, to be honest, I was never really bothered with the crime pages. But when I was asked to read for the part for Sylvia I started to interest myself. The thing is I was born in ‘79, the year he got shot, so to me he was like a historic person. I had a box of documentation and I started to enquire, like a private detective, particularly online. Plus Sylvia had written her own biography, which was very revealing. So I used those things and also my imagination.
Did you meet her?
No, because she didn’t want to. She’s completely overwhelmed by this tragedy… and she wanted to be paid.
She spent four years in prison and was quite badly injured in the assassination.
She lost her eye, her arm and her poodle. The dog saved her.
It’s another film in which you play someone fatally attracted to an unsuitable older man. In The Girl Cut In Two…
It gets worse!
… your sunny TV weather girl cops off with someone old enough to be her grandfather.
Usually the broken hearts are much more interesting and daring than strong women who understand everything. Maybe it’s that my life is so normal and balanced that I try to get myself endangered.
You’re still happy to do nudity...
You know being naked onscreen seems to be so easy but it’s such a challenge. In Mesrine I have some love scenes with Vincent. It wasn’t that easy at all, especially because there were so many heterosexual males on set and they were like ‘’Okay!’ (she mimics the eager rubbing of hands). I have to be tough. It’s really intimidating.
After Swimming Pool, you were hailed as “the new Bardot”...
Clichés are a tool to communicate, but when I’m compared to Brigitte Bardot I’m flattered because she was an actress that really broke the rules. She was a rebel. In that way I feel close to her.
Why did you chose not to walk through the doors that began opening up for you in LA?
For me, being ambitious means also wanting happiness… I love the United States, but the competition is so intense. I remember going to castings and the other actresses watching me with so much hate. In French we have a saying. ‘You have to sweep in front of your own doorstep first.’
It’ll be a while before your daughters can watch any of your films.
My eldest daughter watched Peter Pan (Sagnier played a mute Tinkerbell in the 2003 remake) and she watched Eight Women, but she doesn’t understand it. The other day she says at school in front of the teacher, ‘You know my mum she killed her father’. Hahaha. So yeah, nudity, of course she’s too young to see that, but you know I don’t feel ashamed. When she’s old enough she can say how my mum was so sexy, hahaha, because it’s never in a way that I regret.
Mesrine: Killer Instinct is out on 7 August. The follow-up, Mesrine: Public Enemy No. 1 is out on 28 August.
To see the trailer, click here