Beauty follows Roxane Mesquida. Take her career, for instance. Discovered by a director in the small coastal town of Le Pradet in southeastern France, Mesquida—then at the cusp of her adolescence—got her start in acting by chance, when Manuel Pradal spotted her walking one day. From this happenstance meeting came Marie Baie des Anges, the director’s 1997 coming-of-age drama (an official Toronto International Film Festival selection) and the lead off to a career that would see Mesquida as beauty’s muse.
After her debut performance, the young actress caught the eye of French auteur, Catherine Breillat, with whom she would go on to make three films, Fat Girl (2001), winner of the Gold Hugo for Best Film at the Chicago International Film Festival; Sex Is Comedy (2002) and the Cannes Palme d’Or nominated drama, The Last Mistress (2007).
Mesquida’s time with Breillat established her as an international film festival staple, while the critical praise garnered by the films saw Mesquida crowned arthouse-cinema darling. Similar to the actress’s collaborations with Breillat, the bulk of her body of work suggests that she gravitates towards complex and dark characters, stripped of artifice. Of her approach to such roles, Mesquida says, “I try to be as sincere and unfiltered as possible, using certain parts of my personality more than others, depending on the character I play.”
In North America, ascension for the actress came by means somewhat counter to her fame in Europe; here, it was pop culture that put Mesquida on audiences’ radars. First came Rubber: A quirky horror thriller with Mesquida in the lead, the film became an instant cult classic after premiering at the Cannes Film Festival in 2010. That same festival, the actress walked the red carpet for the world premiere of Kaboom. Directed by iconoclastic independent filmmaker, Gregg Araki, the film—winner of the Cannes Queer Palm—saw the actress share the screen with her British indie-queen counterpart, Juno Temple. But, it was not until Mesquida was cast as a scheming royal in the television phenomenon, Gossip Girl, that her star got the “pop” (as in pop culture fix) it needed to catapult beyond the festival sphere and hit the bright lights of Hollywood.
Joining fashion “it girls” Blake Lively and Leighton Meester on the hit CW series was not as far outside of the actress’s wheelhouse as one might guess, based off the arthouse leanings of her reel. On the contrary, playing the part of a well-heeled jetsetter is hardly far-fetched fiction for Mesquida, who is signed with international modeling powerhouse IMG and holds court at Paris Fashion Week as a front row fixture. Like we said…beauty’s muse.
Currently the face of Laura Mercier Cosmetics, Mesquida embodies the timeless elegance associated with the brand, while augmenting its beauty campaigns with the same mysterious allure that charges her electrifying screen performances. Part femme fatale, part woodland pixie, it’s easy to understand why critics should draw comparison between the actress and iconic screen star Romy Schneider—one of Mesquida personal idols—both radiate the magnetism of a sphinx.
Most recently, the actress’s screen performances include a role as a disillusioned pop singer in director Philippe Grandrieux’s Malgré la nuit (Despite the Night), last screened at the Melbourne International Film Festival in August. Building up status as a sleeper hit, the niche psycho-drama is garnering critical praise for Grandrieux’s auteur touches that, together with the cast’s performances, culminate in a haunting and provocative experimental film that renders audiences captivated by the probing existential ponderings, injected into the central character’s—Lenz played by Kristian Marr—search for his true love. “Film festivals are an amazing thing,” gushes the actress, when asked about the film’s festival run. “Small movies can still exist because of them. Being able to travel around the world to speak about Malgré la nuit was a real blessing.”
Equal parts beauty and intelligence (did we mention she was an associate producer on Night Moves, starring Dakota Fanning, Jesse Eisenberg and Peter Sarsgaard or that she’s a multilinguist with a thing for studying foreign languages?), Mesquida is a woman who elevates a conversation.
Below, the busy actress takes a break from filming—she recently wrapped a project in Chicago entitled Mercury in Retrograde directed by up-and-coming filmmaker, Michael Glover Smith—to talk acting, beauty secrets and transatlantic living.
We’ve been hearing good things about your film Malgré la nuit. The plot of the film is quite dark; as an actress, did you feel like the film demanded more from you emotionally because of the storyline?
I’ve always been attracted to difficult and dark cinema. I need the challenge, I think.
What’s your character Lena like? Did you relate to parts of her personality?
Lena is a singer, who also has problems with her father. I had to learn to sing for the movie and, to be absolutely honest, it was the most difficult thing I have ever done for a film. It just felt so intimate and… strangely… much more baring than being naked in front of a camera.
Like you felt more exposed?
The way I see it is, your body is just your outer shell, but singing is like revealing the inside of your soul.
Aside from learning to sing, how did you research for the part… how did you get into character?
I rarely research for the parts I play. Unless it’s a character based on a real person, I don’t really believe in research, to be totally honest. Lena is extremely jealous because she’s losing the man she loves… I know the feeling of loving someone, who is slowly slipping away from you; so, for the film, I tried to go back to who I was when I felt that way in the past.
It must have been hard to go back to that place in your head.
Acting has always been a therapeutic experience for me.
How would you describe her relationship with Lenz? What role does she play in his life?
It’s difficult to speak about it without spoiling the end of the film. I’ll just say, she’s bad news because she’s ready to do anything to keep Lenz.
Being a French film, do you feel like audiences in France connect more readily with the story and the sentiment behind it, or do you think it’s universally relatable.
I think it’s absolutely relatable. Everyone knows what a love story is, but Philippe Grandrieux is very unique in his way of telling stories. I knew his work, and I was a huge fan of his, so when he asked me to be in it, I accepted before reading the script! I did the same with Gregg Araki. Working with them is not about the story, it’s about how they tell it.
Can we expect Malgré la nuit to come to Netflix or iTunes after it’s done its festival run?
That would be amazing! Philippe Grandrieux makes extremely artistic movies… hard to watch at times.
On that note, any shows you are binge watching on Netflix these days?
I love Documentary Now! and can’t wait [until] the new season, [it’s] coming out soon! And Jim Jefferies: Freedumb. He’s probably one of my favourite comedians.
With so many foreign films on Netflix, do you feel like they’ve helped popularize and mainstream more foreign films and shows?
Probably! I’m a huge cinephile and Netflix, or especially Hulu and its Criterion section, help me stay up to date!
What’s one French film that you think all our North American readers should watch immediately if they haven’t already?
It’s hard to say because I think one’s taste is very personal and intimate. Or, sometimes you don’t like a film simply because you watched it when you were too young, or not well-versed enough in a certain genre to fully appreciate it. With all of that out of the way, I would probably say: À nos amours. For me, Maurice Pialat was one of the most amazing directors. His films changed my life and the way I watch and discuss cinema.
It’s hard to talk about film without thinking of the red carpet, so let’s move on to fashion! How would you describe your red carpet style?
I have no idea! It depends on the occasion and, most importantly, my mood!
Which do you spend more time getting dressed for, a movie premiere or a Paris Fashion Week show?
Probably the same amount. It’s so stressful! Red carpets make me very anxious. Photographers taking hundreds of close-ups on different parts of your body with an ugly light. And then, to make it even worse, you get to see all the horrible comments people post afterwards! Thank god I don’t have paparazzi waiting outside of my house. Honestly, I don’t know how big celebrities manage to live with that.
It seems so stressful! Do you think everyone is hyper conscious about what they’re wearing at Paris Fashion Week? Between all the cameras, celebrities, models and top designers, it must be hard not to obsess over what to wear to shows.
I never cared about what I “have to” wear. Nor do I care what other people think about how I am dressed. That’s why I moved to the U.S. (Laughing.)
That’s a good way to be! It seems you’re a regular at Paris Fashion Week? Do you have a favourite show, one that you never miss?
My absolute favourites are Valentino and Miu Miu. I dream of getting married in one of those white and golden embroidered Valentino dresses.
What about fall trends, which ones will you be trying this season?
I don’t even know what the new trends are! [Laughing.] I see a lot of people wearing chokers, so I guess it’s a trend… I feel like if you try to follow the trends, you’re always going to be behind. Might as well start it by wearing something no one wears. There are certain artists, like Young Thug for example, who I admire for breaking the mold and challenging people’s concepts about fashion.
What about your beauty look, do you like to try out new trends each season?
I didn’t know there were trends for makeup! I like the “no makeup” [and] “no filter” trend… if that’s a trend. For an event, I tend to like the cat eye… I guess that’s my French side coming out!
As the face of Laura Mercier, you must be privy to some juicy beauty secrets. What’s one tip you’ve learned that you still value and use today?
To me, the most important thing is to have perfect skin. I used to wear foundation all the time, and I would break out. I hated it! Now I only use concealer when absolutely necessary, and it makes a huge difference!
Growing up, did family members pass down any beauty secrets to you?
My mom tells me every day… yes, still to this day… to drink a lot of water and to eat a minimum of 10 different fruits and veggies each day!
A smart diet goes a long way! Do you miss your family and France when living in L.A.? Did you find it hard to adjust to the move?
I’ve been living in L.A. for seven years already, [and] of course I miss my family, but I [am] fortunate enough to still be able to visit France for work about three times a year. I feel like I see them all the time! Not to mention the greatness of FaceTime! Because of that, I don’t really feel like moving back to Paris. I love my life in L.A. and recently became a U.S. citizen.
That’s exciting! When you do visit home, what do you like to do?
I try to visit my family in the South of France at least twice a year, and I like doing nothing there. [Laughing.] Being with my family is the most relaxing thing for me. They are amazing people and they love me for who I am, so I can just be myself.
This summer, was it difficult hearing about everything that was going on in France politically with the terror attacks, while being far away in L.A.?
I was actually in the South of France during what happened in Nice. It’s terrifying, and it’s been difficult for quite a while now. France is not the same and it hurts. What happened in Paris was extremely traumatizing for me, my friends and co-workers in the city.
What about American politics, have you gotten into the elections at all? A lot of drama this time around!
I’m extremely interested! I hurried to get my citizenship to be able to vote in November!
That’s commitment! Any election predictions?
I’ll just say, I hope we make the right choice, so that the rest of the world doesn’t make fun of us for four years!
Styling by Jessie Cohan | Makeup by Uzo at Tracey Mattingly using NARS Cosmetics | Hair by Chad Wood at The Wall Group using OUAI haircare and Oribe