It’s no secret that Lucky loves French-girl style—it’s chic, glamorous and always effortless. So it’s easy to see why we’re currently smitten with model-turned-actress Loan Chabanol, who stars in Third Person, a new film in theaters now by Paul Haggis (of Crash and Million Dollar Baby fame), alongside Olivia Wilde, Liam Neeson and Adrien Brody. Chabanol plays the girlfriend of James Franco’s character, who is embroiled in a heartwrenching custody dispute with his soap star ex, played by Mila Kunis.
Third Person is only Chabanol’s second film, but her warmth, empathy and striking beauty (a mixture of Vietnamese, German, and Italian genes) jumps off the screen. I sat down with Chabanol to discuss the film, her special relationship with Chanel and what it was like working with James Franco.
Lucky: Your storyline in the film is separate from the other parts of the plot. How did you feel when you saw everything woven together?
Loan Chabanol: It’s really hard to look at me as a "character." I was able, I think, on the second time to be able to step out and see her. It was a very quiet character, so it was very challenging for me. But she was a key in the story as well because she was able to trigger certain truths in other people. She was very compassionate and understood straight away what other people were feeling—she’s like a wallflower.
This is only your second film. How do you deal with nerves?
I was really nervous and anxious. But when they say "action," I’m so into the scene and the work that I forget I’m working with Mila [Kunis], or before when I shot with Woody Allen—that was my first film! I was terrified! But it’s when they say "cut" that you’re like “Hold on, let me sit down for a minute, I’m just going to be back here.” I’m just really lucky, I know that. People gave me my shot and my chance to do my job. And I really love doing this and I love playing people who are not me and learning from them. I love being able to feel what you feel and hold your hand—it was a great feeling.
You and co-star James Franco are both artists in addition to actors. Did you connect over that?
Yes, very much so. I like the way James creates art and wants to say things, and brings a lot of controversy. He does so many things and I don’t think I’m capable of that, to be honest, but I got very inspired by him. When I met James I told him about how I am fascinated by silent films, Charlie Chaplan and all that and I actually made a short film of myself as a silent character. He said, “I’m making a a silent film on Buster Keaton and Fatty Arbuckle, do you want to be a part of it?” and offered me the role of Buster Keaton. He played Charlie Chaplin. It was a lot of fun and he’s very patient. I loved working with him.
Tell me about your style in the film.
Sam is an artist and she’s dating an artist too, and I felt like they met at some kind of art scene. So when we worked with the stylist to pick different pieces, it was kind of a little rock n’ roll and sensual. I won’t say sexy, I would say sensual. And I cut my hair short for it because we talked about it with Paul and he said, “I think she has really short hair,” and I said, “I think she has it too.”
Did you have any apprehensions about cutting your hair so short?
I have no problem—I could shave my head! I don’t really care about the way I look. I mean, I do care—I just have no problem, I have no ego. I trust the people I work with, especially Paul. I’m totally open. I would do anything for the character, especially when you love the character. If you feel like you can love them with no judgement, then you can play them.
What do you like to wear off-camera?
I like to have the cool sexy androgynous look, with like a men’s jacket, pants and high heels. I’m not so much about the whole thing, I’m about details. I like to do my nails or my lips but with a simple look. I’m an artist as well, so on the weekend I’m in my baggy trashed jeans. You know, I have my hat—a little bit boyish. But I like to be classy too, sometimes. I’ve been working with Chanel…
When did that relationship begin?
That began before the premiere for Fading Gigolo. My publicist said “They saw you in the film and they’d be really happy to meet with you.” And it is really a thrill and honestly, for me, that was my dream. I was really surprised—I had to ask my publicist twice, “Are you sure?” It’s such a great team, I’ve worked with them here in New York and in Paris. They’re dressing me tonight for the premiere! I’m so lucky and blessed and excited.
Describe the process of getting dressed with Chanel for an event.
Usually, I come in and they have a selection for me. If there’s something I like, or want to go in another direction, they have things to propose to me. But usually I know—I just know it. It feels like a second skin. For any woman, when you try something on, it has to feel like a second skin so you don’t have any problems when you move. And when I feel that, I know that’s the dress or that’s the outfit. With Chanel it feels a lot like a second skin. I feel at home.
I’ve been working with Chanel with makeup as well. I love the eyeshadows—they’re all I wear now. I love the earth tones because they’re everyday basics but you can also use them at night. And their lipstick—they have a lot of nudes that define your lips really well without having color. I carry one with me all the time, even on the plane.
You are involved in so many different things—acting, painting, illustration. What attracts you to a project?
It’s like what I said about Chanel and a second skin. You need to feel like you can do it, but at the same time, I like projects that are a little terrifying. If you have fear, you should go for it, because the more you go, the more you learn and the less you have fear and the more you can do. It’s not always a success, but that’s really the way I roll and try to do things. And I think that’s why I am here today. I quit modeling and I had a good career, but I was never a star. A lot of girls stay and just do that, but there’s so much more in the world.
Check out Third Person, in theaters now.