French Cinema: Profile of Actress Virginie Efira

French Cinema: Profile of Actress Virginie Efira

A talent show host turned darling of arthouse, Virginie Efira is French (and Belgian) cinema’s unlikely success story

No one would have bet on Virginie E ra becoming the face of arthouse – not even her. Yet, in less than a decade, the prime-time queen has not only pulled off the tricky transition from television pin-up to darling of the silver screen but made César history with a double-whammy Best Actress/Best Supporting Actress nomination.

A children’s TV presenter in her native Brussels (she is now a naturalised French citizen) with a “burning desire to make the big time”, she called it quits on her budding career to try her luck in France – a gamble that almost immediately paid off. Scouted by producers after auditioning to be a weather girl on channel M6, she fronted a string of Top of the Pops-style shows and gag-reel programmes, quickly winning over audiences with her infectiously sparkly personality and baby-doll charm. In 2006, she became prime-time royalty as the new host of Nouvelle Star, the channel’s flagship talent show pulling in France’s highest ratings.

Keen to flex her acting muscle, she bowed out after four series. But
her career switch proved an uphill battle. Struggling to shake off her TV vamp persona and wrestling with her own feelings of inadequacy – she recently confessed to suffering from imposter syndrome – she struck a middle-ground, playing a heightened version of herself in Off Prime, a scripted ‘mockumentary’ series following the would-be comédienne on her quest to movie stardom.

Undeterred by its lukewarm reception and swift cancellation, she ploughed on, carving quite the sideline as a voice actress, dubbing animation films, and eventually appearing in a string of light-hearted rom coms. Chronically typecast as ditzy blondes and one-note belles, and in danger of being pigeonholed once more, the dauntless actress bowled everyone a wrong ‘un in 2016, shedding her bombshell image for good as Victoria, a borderline sex-addicted lawyer and all-round trainwreck in Justine Triet’s eponymous film. A runaway success and unlikely awards favourite, the dramedy earned Efira a Best Actress nomination, propelling her to the big leagues.

Her turn as church mouse Rebecca in Paul Verhoeven’s Golden Globe-winning Elle the same year sealed her status as one of France’s most versatile, and underrated, actresses. And the dynamo of auteur cinema has been on a roll ever since – defying the odds to clinch a double nomination in both the Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress categories for Un Amour Impossible (pictured) and Le Grand Bain respectively at the César awards this year.

She may have come back empty-handed this time but, with three César nods under her belt in just two years and four movies set to be released right on schedule for the 2020 awards season (chief among them Verhoeven’s hotly-anticipated Benedetta), we’re betting all our chips on Efira.

10-Second CV: A screen star’s life in one take

Name: Virginie Efira

Born: May 5, 1977 in Brussels

Early career: After a brief stint as a children’s TV presenter in her native Belgium, she tried her luck in France, enjoying overnight fame as M6’s prime-time queen.

I know the face… She starred as devout Catholic Rebecca opposite Isabelle Huppert in Paul Verhoeven’s award-winning and hugely divisive “rape comedy” Elle.

Where will we see her next? Un Amour Impossible, in which she plays a lovesick single mother caught-up in a toxic romance, is set to be released overseas later this year. She is poised to take on the role of Benedetta Carlini, a real-life 17th-century nun accused of homosexuality and imprisoned for 35 years in Verhoeven’s upcoming biopic. The director reportedly wrote the film with her in mind.

C’est pas vrai! She applied to be a French national in order to vote in her adopted country and had to take a language test – despite being a native speaker! She is a keen poker player.

From France Today magazine

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