During the Golden Age of cinema European actresses like Ingrid Bergman, Brigitte Bardot, Ursula Andress, Gina Lollobrigida and Sophia Loren had an exalted status in Hollywood. While they won awards for their work in European films, Hollywood wanted them for their glamour value (the notable exception being Ingrid Bergman who was critically acclaimed on both sides of the Atlantic). In the current globalized entertainment world, with easy access to content anytime/ anywhere, European actresses are not considered ‘exotic’ any more; they have to fight for English-language roles on the same level playing field as American and British actresses. In the past 15 years, we have had the likes of Penelope Cruz and Audrey Tautou who have achieved a great fame in English-language films; Ms Cruz in particular could be considered in the same league as those Golden Age actresses. As Cruz and Tautou move through the second decade of their international careers, there is a second wave successfully crossing over into mainstream Hollywood while still retaining their acting ‘street cred’ back home on the Continent. Here’s the first half of the list:-
Eva Green (35) was the first of this new wave to make her mark. The French-Swedish actress produced a memorable performance as Vesper Lynd in Daniel Craig’s 2006 Bond debut Casino Royale. I loved her verbaltête-à-tête with Daniel Craig in the train (below). Since then, she seems to have carved a niche for herself as a villain in fantasy/ supernatural films. In fact, she has stated in an interview: “At drama school I always picked the really evil roles. It’s a great way to deal with your everyday emotions”. She is certainly one of the few actresses who can ham it up so well as a villain; this is normally the territory of older male actors like Christoph Waltz or Ben Kingsley. She was portrayed different shades of evil in 300: Rise of an Empire, Dark Shadows and Sin City: A Dame to Kill For. Ms. Green will next be seen in the title role of Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, Tim Burton’s adaptation of a weird fantasy novel that made headlines in 2011 for its creative use of real vintage photographs as illustrations.
31-year-old Rebecca Ferguson was the surprise package of this summer’s Mission: Impossibe – Rogue Nation; her conflicted double agent Ilsa Faust (below right) had great chemistry with Tom Cruise and owned the screen when she was on it. Very reminiscent of her Swedish countrywoman Ingrid Bergman. She had already made an impression a couple of years ago with the well-received TV mini-series The White Queen (below left). More fame is assured in 2016 when she appears in the movie adaptation of bestseller The Girl on the Train, sharing the screen with a powerhouse ensemble cast including Emily Blunt and possibly Hollywood hunks Jared Leto and Chris Evans in the two male roles. There is also talk of her signing up for crime-drama The Snowman opposite Michael Fassbender. And she has another film in post-production called Florence Foster Jenkins, a biopic of a New York socialite who tried to become an opera singer in spite of having a terrible singing voice (the socialite is played by Meryl Streep). A very busy slate and guaranteed to make her a household name and potentially line up for acting awards in a couple of years’ time.
Noomi Rapace (35): The character, Lisbeth Salander became a global phenomenon overnight in 2008-09 with the English language translations of the Stieg Larsson’s Millennium novels. Actress Noomi Rapace (pronounced “rə-pahss”) had been acting in theatre and on TV in her native Sweden since her teenage years, but achieved a whole new level of fame and accolades for playing Salander in the 3 films released in 2009. This led inevitably to openings in Hollywood – she played a gypsy in Sherlock Holmes: Game of Shadows and then a major role as archeologist Dr. Elizabeth Shaw in Prometheus (below), the much-anticipated return by Ridley Scott to the Alien franchise. Having to share the screen with high profile co-stars like Robert Downey Jr., Jude Law, Michael Fassbender and Charlize Theron, I’m not sure how many people actually noticed her, although it would be difficult to forget the scene in Prometheus where she self-administers a cesarean-section! Ms. Rapace has since appeared in 4 more films, one of which is the excellent but little-seen Tom Hardy crime drama The Drop. But I feel that she has not really figured out how to pick great scripts or good parts for herself. In 2017, she will reprise the role of Dr. Shaw in Alien: Paradise Lost and there’s talk that she will play Enzo Ferrari’s wife (opposite Christian Bale) in the biopic titled Enzo Ferrari. Hopefully both these films will give her the spotlight she deserves.
In the next part of this post, I will list two French and one Danish actress who are making waves across the world.