Presenting two full-length feature films at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, French singer slash actress Soko may just be one of the busiest women in the South of France. The all-around creative plays the lead in both films titled The Dancer and The Stopover, respectively—a role that she’s not unfamiliar with given her César-nominated performance in 2012’s Augustine in which she plays a patient paralyzed with hysteria. Both scripted in French, the films are dramatically different in content and aesthetic, but similar in their projection of the passion, grit, and determination at the center of their female lead. Soko explains that there aren’t a lot of strong female characters for the taking. “It feels good to be part of two projects that have women who have a lot to say,” she told me during a long distance phone call from Cannes. “I don’t actively pursue acting, so I only take on roles that already feel like they’re mine. I’m a naturally intense person, so I need to be able to put my whole heart into everything that I do.”
The Dancer has garnered the most attention initially, thanks in part to buzzy supporting actress Lily-Rose Depp. Soko’s role in the film was specifically written for her by director Stephanie Di Gusto over a three-year period and the actress was persuaded to take it on after she finished recording her second studio album, My Dreams Dictate My Reality (more on that here). Based on true life events, it tells the story of Loie Fuller, a legendary performer and pioneer of modern dance who lived in the late 1800s to 1928. Known for a specific dance called “The Serpentine” (click here to watch it on YouTube), Fuller was eventually overshadowed, and more or less forgotten about, when a young Isadora Duncan (played by Depp), shot up to fame. “I could personally relate to Loie in so many ways,” says Soko. “Just like her, I have such big dreams in my life, that sometimes everything else suffers.” Included in this suffering was Soko’s body, which underwent an intense period of physical training in order to recreate “The Serpentine” in an authentic way. “I was so sore I couldn’t walk, I couldn’t touch my feet,” she says. “But when I did the dance, I felt like I was truly in Loie and the magic of her was so light that none of the physical pain mattered.”
Soko’s second film, The Stopover, was also grueling, but not only physically. The film, written and directed by sisters Delphine and Muriel Coulin, depicts two best friends who join the army and are allowed three days of “decompression” in a luxury resort in Cyprus following a deployment in Afghanistan. Faced with the internalization of warfare violence and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, the film tells a story of female soldiers who are surrounded by men and the effect that violence has on their femininity—an interesting concept for Soko, who identifies as a pacifist. “I’m so vulnerable and completely against violence,” she explains. “You can tell that my character Marine has a soft spot, but she’s had to toughen up in order to cope with her surroundings. She is so afraid of appearing to be a woman, because that instantly equates to being weak and emotional. I was in physical training and I gained a lot of weight for the role, because I felt that the character needed to feel grounded. I often have a hard time shedding my character after we wrap filming, but with Marine, I couldn’t wait to drop her baggage and stop living in a world that’s filled with such hardship and misogyny. It was a story that needed to be told, but a life that’s so at odds with the world in which I live.”
After the Cannes debuts, both films will be under lock and key in the United States until their general release in September and Soko is unsure if she’ll take on another role in-between now and then. With a repertoire of only French-speaking films, she’s also unsure if she’ll ever take on a role in English, but relents that if the right one comes along she could, perhaps, be persuaded. “Nothing that’s written in English has appealed to me yet, but I’m not ruling it out entirely,” she says. “I go through a lot of physical ache when I’m in a film and I’m not going to fight to play some cliché brunette or French girl just for the sake of it. Both of these films were so special, that the next thing I commit to has to be incredible.”
For now, the actress’ main priority is to get back to music. “I just found the title for my third album, so I’ve begun to envision it as a whole and am starting to feel ready to record it,” she says to end our conversation. She can’t say much yet, other than one tip-off: the lyrics have a lot to do with her heart and her innermost deepest feelings.
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