You probably haven’t seen Astrid Bergès-Frisbey since she first made waves as the mermaid Syrena in 2011’s Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides. But the Paris-based actress has been keeping busy since, appearing in three foreign films—Juliette, La Fille du Puisatier and Sexo de Los Angeles, for those of you enterprising enough to search them out—since her breakout U.S. role. “I wasn’t really looking for American projects,” shrugs Frisbey, who’s the epitome of effortlessly chic French girl style in slouchy rolled-up jeans, a black lingerie-style top and Rupert Sanderson heels. It’s not that the actress was trying to stay under-the-radar, but it’s clear after even a few minutes of talking to her that she’s not cut out for run-of-the-mill roles. In I Origins, the spiritually-driven indie sci-fi film in which she stars alongside Michael Pitt and Brit Marling, you can technically say that she plays “the girlfriend.” But her role is far more substantial than that description suggests. As Sofi, the love interest of Dr. Ian Grey (Pitt), a molecular biologist researching an eye-brain connection that he thinks will prove, once and for all, that there was no divine hand at play in human evolution, she’s the heart and soul of the movie. While he’s all hard data and research, Sofi is built on intuition, gut-feelings and fate. Their characters’ conflict is the central debate of the movie: Can science and spirituality co-exist? From a suite at New York City’s Conrad hotel, Frisbey talked passionately about I Origins (which opens on Friday), and her long-term love of Chanel. So one thing’s settled, at least: a serious love of designer fashion and a serious love of cutting-edge film can peacefully co-exist!
Lucky: Sofi’s unique eyes are a key plot point in the movie. It turns out you have a rare genetic mutation called sectoral heterochromia, which makes the inner part of your irises brown and the outer part a greenish gray-blue. Do you think it was fate that you got this part?
Astrid Bergès-Frisbey: I only met the film’s director, Mike Cahill, on Skype before being cast, so he wasn’t able to see my eyes. But later when he asked me to send him a picture of my eyes, we realized that my eyes were very much like what was described in the script, so it was a happy accident.
Did you know immediately that you wanted the part of Sofi?
I was about to leave for holiday for a month and a half. I was obsessed with this road trip I had planned to Argentine and Chile, so at first I wasn’t even sure I was going to read the script. I told myself, ‘You won’t like it anyway, so just open it and start.’ After a few pages I was completely stuck on it. I could not take my eyes off of it and I was crying and laughing. It gave me goosebumps!
Did you have to abandon your vacation plans?
No. So I left for the middle of the desert. Before going, I asked, do you need me to send an audition tape? If you need anything, let me know. So 15 days later, I’m in South America and they asked for tape. I thought, I don’t think you understand where I am. I don’t know if Google Maps has even found this place. I had no Wi-Fi. I was in the middle of the f*****g desert! But I was desperate for the part, and he gave it to me. That he trusted me so much made me feel like I really needed to be worthy of his trust.
Are you more like Sofi, who believes in the spiritual realm, or Karen, Brit Marling’s character, who puts her faith in science?
I’m more of a science person. The subject I was best at in school was biology. I remember explaining to Michael how chromosomes work in terms of gender selection. But I have a little bit of both sides. Mike Cahill does too. I think it’s important to understand the concrete ways things work and to respect that. But some things shouldn’t be explained and you have to respect that, too. So that is where Sofi is coming from. She just believes in things that are not explainable. That is what makes the relationship between Ian and Sofi so passionate.
Do you think it was it love at first sight between them?
I think it’s more the feeling that that you know this person or that you have a moment of life to live with this person. It can happen with love stories or work stories or with friendships. It’s not exactly love at first sight and it’s not only for love. Also, I think Sofi’s role was to make Ian evolve. She opens the door that he’s been refusing to open, even hiding from. He’s so affected by her and her story influences so much of his life. She sees that he’s not only a scientist but that he’s a sensitive person, even if he tries to deny it.
You’ve got great personal style and are one of Chanel’s ambassadors. How were you first introduced to the brand?
I do have a very special relationship with them. When I was very young, pretty much a baby, my mom worked at Chanel. I was about four years old. So I always knew the brand. I remember the smell of the soap, the camellias, all the symbols associated with the brand. I remember the feeling of a tweed Chanel jacket because my mom used to wear one to work.
When did you start wearing Chanel yourself?
One of the first times I had to dress well for an event, I thought, what am I going to wear? I was told to pick a brand that meant something to me, so I thought of Chanel. I thought that they would never say yes because I was nobody, but they accepted me! I love Karl [Lagerfeld]. He has so much freedom. I am in awe of how he reinvents the brand season after season. It’s built on craftsmanship and history and savior faire. It’s amazing.
What is Karl like?
He’s so playful. He can talk about everything, I don’t know how many books he reads a week—it’s like he never sleeps! He has an opinion on everything going on in the world, politically and artistically. He’s so curious, that’s what’s beautiful about him. When you meet him you really feel that he’s pure. For me, Chanel just makes sense—like a story or a film. It’s part of my life.