Born in Algeria, raised in France and honed to lethal sharpness on stadium stages, the actress, dancer and erstwhile licker of Tom Cruise’s face takes on her edgiest project yet
Q1: With Kingsman: The Secret Service, The Mummy and Atomic Blonde, you’ve earned a reputation for playing characters that are sexy and deadly in equal measure. Do you enjoy taking on seductive roles?
BOUTELLA: I feel great about it. We all have sexuality. I recognize traits in myself and I use them for the characters. I wouldn’t do penetrative sex; I think that would be a bit too much. But at the same time, other people have done it — like in the Gaspar Noé movie Love, they had real sex. If people want to explore having sex for real, I’m not judging it. I don’t mind proximity or intimacy. Even licking Tom Cruise’s face in The Mummy was fun. He kept saying to the makeup artist, “Make sure to clean my face. It’s fake dirt and fake sweat, so make sure it’s clean for Sofia!” It was so sweet. We laughed a lot during that scene.
Q2: When Atomic Blonde came out last year, the media made a big deal about your sex scenes with Charlize Theron. Did that bother you?
BOUTELLA: It was not annoying, but why is it such a big deal to see people having sex? You see people kill each other on-screen all the time. That’s not a big deal; they’re just movies. People are giving Noé shit for having so much sex in his films. Why put so much energy into that? What’s wrong with sex?
Q3: Noé also sequenced what is probably cinema’s longest and most brutal rape scene, in his 2002 film Irréversible. Now you’re starring in his new film, Climax. Were you nervous about working with him?
BOUTELLA: He didn’t glorify rape. It’s controversial, but he’s still very talented. I love that movie. It’s a hard watch, but you know what? It makes you feel something. I was nervous to work with him, but not because of that; I was terrified of not understanding the character I was playing. I studied him before Climax. I spoke with him about the recurring themes of violence, sex and drugs. He said that he’s fascinated with people using drugs. In Climax, I play a choreographer, and we’re spiked with large amounts of LSD. First of all, I was turned off because I did not want to dance; I hadn’t done it in five years. And I’ve never done LSD.
Q4: Was it exciting to research mind-altering drugs?
BOUTELLA: Have you heard about Flakka? It’s the worst fucking drug. According to the nurses I talked to, it’s more fatal than heroin. I watched these videos: This guy was high, killed someone and was eating the person’s face. It was the scariest thing I’d ever seen. I did Climax without drinking or indulging in any substances at all. I didn’t want to alter my state of mind. I could never try meth or anything, because I would love that shit.
Q5: You’ve mentioned being hyperactive. Do you still struggle with ADHD?
BOUTELLA: Yes, but I’m good at hiding it. I have trouble focusing. I think if I’d grown up here, I would have been diagnosed. When I was a kid, my grandmother would put all the porcelain vases away because I was a tornado. I was exhausting for everybody, even myself. My teachers always told my mom I wasn’t paying attention. It was hard for me to listen to the same person talk for hours on end. I still catch myself thinking about something else. If I’m reading a book, which I love to do, it’s really hard. I will back up and read a line, then read it again, even if it takes me longer. I always think, What’s going on with me? But I have a lot of energy!
Q6: Were you a troublemaker growing up?
BOUTELLA: I went through a phase. It was never anything dangerous. When I was a kid in Algeria, we were not poor, but I wore the same clothes all the time. I had a few outfits and one pair of shoes. When I moved to France, I realized I was not cool, and kids made fun of me for it. From 10 to 15 years old, I was picked on. They made fun of my lips because they were big. The kids would pucker their lips and make fun of how I spoke. It wasn’t a great feeling. Then I went straight into dancing and the arts; that’s what made me feel good. You can be valued because you’re talented, and you’re respected no matter what. I felt like I fit in there. It saved my life.
Q7: Was your parents’ divorce difficult for you?
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