Why we should thank Eva Green for treating the rest of us like ‘peasants’
Films constantly fall apart at the last minute, often because of financial issues. Usually the cast and crew shrug, dust themselves off, and move onto other projects. However, in the case of the unmade environmentally themed sci-fi thriller A Patriot, what would have been a minor news item in the trade press has become a major story because of its star, Eva Green, and her WhatsApp messages, which have recently entered the public domain.
Not only did she describe the film’s producer Jake Seal as “a devious sociopath” and “pure vomit”, but she called the production manager Terry Bird “a f–cking moron”, and the proposed local crew were denigrated as “sh–ty peasant crew members from Hampshire”. Asking Dan Pringle, the film’s director, to fire both Seal and Bird, Green signed off her message “My name is Cruella”.
The court case has been front page news: proof that Green is the latest in a long, distinguished line of imperious divas who will not be talked down to or taken for granted. Asked about her description of her would-be colleagues as “weak and stupid”, Green blamed it on “my Frenchness coming out”, and, when asked about her remarks about “sh–ty peasants”, responded adamantly “I have nothing against peasants.” If this wasn’t clear enough, she then repeated it.
Spectators in court were also amused by the way that Green chose to clap occasionally to illustrate a point, while saying “boom boom”; this was also a feature of her messages, such as when she wrote “Charles needs it as well as he will then be able to respond boom boom and suggest the new idea.”
The case’s message disclosures – undoubtedly the most revealing for a major Hollywood star since Johnny Depp’s similarly jaw-dropping texts were made public during his various court cases with his ex-wife Amber Heard – will have crystallised the idea that Eva Green is just as flamboyant and otherworldly as many of the characters that she has played on screen. After all, she’s played witches, ancient Greek queens, duplicitous Bond girls and, almost inevitably, Morgan le Fay, King Arthur’s half-sister and nemesis.
There is not a light-hearted sidekick or docile romantic lead to be found in any of her filmography; it is no surprise that her next major role is as the dastardly Milady de Winter in a new French adaptation of The Three Musketeers.
Whatever happens with the case, it is unlikely to do Green’s career any serious reputational damage. Producers who hire her and audiences who flock to her films are expecting the French actress to be someone magnetic and fearsomely charismatic. It would have come as far more of a shock if, say, Olivia Colman had referred to “s____y peasants”, given that she has a public persona of being accessible and friendly; it should also be noted that there are very few male actors who could have got away with a similar utterance without being decried for snobbishness and rudeness. Imagine if Benedict Cumberbatch was caught saying the same thing: his A-list status would vanish overnight.
This is a reflection of what has happened to the industry. As the star system has collapsed – with only Tom Cruise left flying the flag for true A-list celebrity – then there has been greater pressure on well-paid performers to come across as matey and accessible, the sort of people you could imagine going for a chai latte between shooting scenes. This doesn’t preclude irritating faux-spats taking place between actors and their friends, but nonetheless the more eccentric figures of the past decades – the Jim Carreys and Mel Gibsons – who built their careers without attempting to be ingratiating have largely faded from view, to be replaced by more amenable performers.
And the business is horribly harsh on women, especially. Few can forget the notorious 2003 Meg Ryan-Michael Parkinson interview in which, obviously uncomfortable with Parkinson’s invasive questioning while promoting her film In the Cut, Ryan all but shut down the interview. She suggested to Parkinson that he “wrap it up” after the usually amicable chat show host, clearly irritated by his guest, started to ask increasingly personal questions, saying “you’re wary of journalists… you’re wary of me, you’re wary of being interviewed, I can see it in the way that you sit, in the way that you are.”
Although the film she was promoting, a Jane Campion-directed psychosexual thriller, was a deliberate change of pace from the romantic comedies with which Ryan had previously been associated, the image that she had cultivated – or to be exact, had been cultivated for her by publicity departments – of a glamorous, fun-loving and slightly ditzy woman was so damaged by her perceived hostility and frostiness that her career never recovered again.
Yet had Green and Ryan lived in former times in Hollywood, they may well have found that any expressions of bad temper or petulance would either have disappeared into studio black books – only to be used against them if a new contract had to be negotiated on unfavourable terms – or, alternatively, have come out in such exaggerated fashions that they would be celebrated for all eternity. One thinks of Faye Dunaway, who has been the subject of countless stories about haughty or demanding behaviour.
Most notoriously, she was rumoured to have thrown a cup of urine in the face of director Roman Polanski on the set of Chinatown when Polanski denied her a bathroom break during shooting; a story that she has described as “absolutely ridiculous” and not even deserving “the dignity of a response”. And it was perhaps karma that she played another actress with a reputation for imperiousness, the legendary Joan Crawford, in the notorious biopic Mommie Dearest.
It was little wonder that, when Crawford starred opposite her rival Bette Davis (who described Dunaway, coincidentally enough, as “the worst person in Hollywood” in 1988) in the 1962 horror film What Ever Happened To Baby Jane?, the two women – both notoriously uncompromising and difficult to work with – vied with one another for supremacy, both on and off-screen. Davis had the best of it, not only being nominated for an Oscar for her performance (Crawford, who had antagonised most of the members of the Academy by then, was snubbed) but also got the last word after its release. Prevailed upon by her co-star to watch the film, Crawford anxiously asked Davis what she thought of it. Her fellow diva replied, imperiously. “You were so right, Joan. The picture is good. And I was terrific.” She then hung up, savouring the last word.
Davis and Crawford were notoriously difficult to work with. The director of What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?, Robert Aldrich, tactfully said “If the shoe fits, wear it, and I am very fond of Miss Crawford”, after firing her from the follow-up film, Hush Hush Sweet Charlotte on the grounds that she had feigned mental illness to disrupt production. Crawford bore a considerable grudge against Aldrich, saying of him “He is a man who loves evil, horrendous, vile things”, but the director’s career continued to go from strength to strength, while Crawford’s declined into obscurity. She died in 1977, and Davis outlived her for another 12 years.
However, Crawford’s great rival remained a diva right up until the end: she walked off the set of her final film, 1989’s Wicked Stepmother, in a fit of rage at what she saw as an inadequate script and a lack of respect for her grande dame status. The production was informed that she had a dental emergency, and she never returned to set. She appears in the finished picture for a mere 11 minutes, but every moment of those radiates the star quality that she demonstrated throughout her life, on and off set alike.
There are countless more examples of this kind of behaviour. One thinks of Elizabeth Taylor, blithely disrupting the production of Cleopatra – at enormous expense – so that she could pursue her love affair with Richard Burton: something that so dominated the film’s publicity and reception that the film itself became something of an afterthought.
Or Barbra Streisand, whose dedication to control over her films has meant that it is not uncommon for her to star in, write, direct and produce a picture, to say nothing of singing any songs that appear in it. Some people might regard the resulting products as exercises in egomania, but as Streisand shrugged of the men that she has dealt with in the movie business: “They weren’t used to someone like me – who had opinions, by the way.”
Streisand is an interesting figure because she has one foot in the film industry and one in the music business, and cinema, for all its excesses, has never begun to compare to rock stardom for the sheer eye-popping debauchery of its narcotic-soaked stars. The nature of film as an essentially collaborative process has meant that actors, however egomaniacal they are, can be replaced far more easily than a lead singer or guitarist, and the projects continue.
Although Johnny Depp’s apparent confusion as to whether he is an actor or rock star has meant that his own purported excesses seem to belong to another era of Hollywood, the business is now a tamer, less exciting one, with yes-men and social media-trained actors dominating it.
Therefore, we should all be grateful to Green and her behaviour. Movie stars should have an otherworldly charisma that puts them in an altogether different sphere to you and I. When we pay our £10 to go and see a great actor or actress at the cinema, we are not just putting down our money to be entertained for a couple of hours, but to spend time in the presence of a deity, an aloof and superhuman figure who only deigns to associate with mere mortals via the medium of the silver screen.
This was something that Davis, Crawford, Taylor and their ilk in the Golden Age of Hollywood always understood. But it has been more or less lost in contemporary cinema, with its less charismatic and mysterious performers. Green has reminded us, with her fiery – and, as she might say, decidedly French – spirit, that she is a true icon of cinema, showing a passion and individuality sorely lacking from so much of her colleagues’ work and lives. Whatever the outcome of the case is, she has already won.