adèle exarchopoulos has beautiful things to say about love
We chat to the French actor about gender expectations, and how to free the world from them.
It's not said enough: it's hard to be a woman. Wherever you're from, whoever you are. Sometimes we forget it, as if our gender matters only as much as the colour of our hair. Then women like Adèle Exarchopoulos burst into sight - a force of nature, brave and beautiful, humble and sexy - and you are suddenly reminded of your condition. Better, you become proud of it.
When i-D revealed to Adèle that this issue was about gender and sexuality, the 21-year-old actor said, with a laugh: "Putain, sex matters are always for me!" Two years ago, she acted in the feverish coming-of-age film Blue Is the Warmest Colour and nabbed the Palme d'Or, alongside co-star Léa Seydoux and director Abdelatif Kechiche. It was the first time in the history of the prestigious prize that a director was awarded with his actors. And along with Jane Campion, the girls are the only women to ever win it. The film tells the story of a young girl's emotional and sexual awakening, from her insignificant first kiss to her devastating first love. It's lurid, sexual, raw and magnificent. And it's really no coincidence that the heroine bears the first name of the actor. She is featured in every single shot, with incessant close-ups on her mouth full of pasta, her candid eyes or her running nose. The whole film is built like an ode to her staggering appeal, to the point that in France, it was even called La vie d'Adèle.
"That movie changed my life forever. There is a before and an after Adèle," she says. "Thank God I'm not exactly like her, but we do have a lot in common: we are both intense and passionate, and we try to follow our own path." Intense is something you need to be in order to act in a movie like that at the age of 19. It was not her first time (Adèle started acting when she was 13) but you have to have guts to work with such a demanding director and to shoot the now legendary (and very realistic and very long) sex scenes "to the point of total exhaustion" — "The only way is to let everything go and give all you have to the camera," she explains. Léa Seydoux blasted Kechiche's excessive working methods, but Adèle remained more nuanced. Respectful and maybe a little less experienced, she chose to look at the bright side of things: "Abdel pushed me towards a place I didn't even know I could go. I was scared that without him challenging me I'd never be able to act that well. I shouldn't say it, but I work better under pressure, when I'm anxious not to disappoint someone. I need to be caught, stimulated, whether it's gentle or wild. I need intensity, in silence or in noise."
Inevitably, people keep asking the actor to give her opinion on LGBT issues, especially as the film debuted just as marriage equality legislation passed in France. "I am really happy if my work can help. I still feel very moved when people come to me in the street to thank me. To me Blue fights for freedom. Yes, it's a love story between two women, but it's an encounter first. It's not about knowing whether Adèle is going to end up with a man or a woman. What matters is that she should evolve in a society where all kinds of love can happen, whenever, wherever."
Adèle describes herself as "unfiltered and instinctive" — a rough diamond that simply aspires to great things. And not only for herself: "I'm sick of endless debates on TV that only dwell on hatred. I was very lucky to be raised in a super tolerant family. We did not argue over stuff for hours, but we tried to love each other, to be good people. I believe that continually talking about conflicts exaggerates them." When Adèle refers to someone she admires, she takes her time and always tries to find the best words to describe them, be it a movie star, a French rapper, her parents and her two little brothers, a fashion icon or her "gang of girlfriends - my she-wolves". About Sean Penn, with whom she worked on new film The Last Face, shot in South Africa, she says: "He is generous and committed. There is this poetic mess inside of him, but he's super precise, like a boxer." About Nicolas Ghesquière, who has dressed her many times for the red carpet, she says: "He is open-minded, passionate and super modern. His work is full of possibilities for women. His girls are all heroines. And that's exactly what I love about fashion. It's like cinema, you can choose to be whoever you want."
What strikes the most is the way she systematically refers to women. On her Instagram, she praises, laughs and lives fully. A peaceful quote from Tupac or a picture of her "super sexy" girlfriends, Adèle has a lot of love to give. "I don't understand why it's sometimes so hard for girls to be kind to each other. There is nothing like female friendship. With your grandmother, best friend or sister, you can tackle subjects with as much lightness as depth. Honestly, what's better than a good conversation with another woman?" I remember being truly moved by the way the two actors of Blue seemed so close - giving interviews, walking the red carpets, posing for the Miu Miu ad campaign or hugging in a fashion shoot. They both looked incredibly beautiful and sexy, standing shoulder to shoulder, indestructible because they were there for each other. There it was, something I had not seen in a very long time: the incredible beauty of sisterhood. Adèle claims she is just an actor: "Cinema is an art where many different causes can be defended. I'm a blank page on which people can project things, I'm just a medium." Yet, as the conversation unfolds, Adèle, like any other artist (with an extra two hundred thousand followers) acknowledges that her voice does matter: "I don't want to be misunderstood and my message to the world is as simple as I am: I want people to care about each other. Boys, girls, dogs, whatever, let's remain united."
Text Tess Lochanski
Photography Angelo Pennetta
Styling Julia Sarr-Jamois
Hair Luke Hersheson at Art + Commerce
Make-up Miranda Joyce at Streeters using MAC
Nail technician Jenny Longworth at CLM using CND
Photography assistance Willow Williams, Liz Seabrook
Styling assistance Roberta Hollis, Bojana Kozarevic
Hair assistance Jordan Garrett.
Adèle wears all clothing and accessories Louis Vuitton