In the new “Bourne”-style thriller Safe House, Ryan Reynolds plays a young CIA agent trying to prove himself by trying to turn in a criminal mastermind played by Denzel Washington. Along the way he begins to question whether he can trust anyone, and does what he can to protect his girlfriend.
She is played by 22-year-old French beauty Nora Arnezeder, who made a splash in the 2008 musical Paris 36. We had an exclusive 1-on-1 chat with Nora about her first major Hollywood role, her recent Sundance debut The Words, and her part in the remake of 1980’s slasher classic Maniac.
CS: Tell us about your character, Ana Moreau.
Nora Arnezeder: She’s a French girl working in the medical field. She’s the lover of Matt, Ryan Reynolds’ character. Her dream would be to go to Paris to live her love story with him. He tells her that he works for a clinic, but he works for the CIA and she’ll find out one day. That’s all it’s about is her love for him, and the trust will be totally out of their relations when he tells her he works for the CIA.
CS: You make a really good impression in this film. How do you make the most of a character who’s important but essentially on the periphery of the main story with Ryan and Denzel?
Arnezeder: I really talked with [director] Daniel [Espinosa] about her story, her background, where she used to live, her parents. Daniel made me visit the apartment of Ana, my character. He said I had to decide what’s inside her closet, what’s inside her fridge, I had to give a name to her parents, so he was working a lot with the Actor’s Studio method. It was a new thing for me to work with a director like that. We also talked about the love she had for him and the trust. She was not judging him, and even at the end when he tells her he works for the CIA she still wants to be with him but it’s too late.
CS: Is there a part of you that wanted to be in there driving the cars and choke-holding the bad guys?
Arnezeder: I’m sure if she had the possibility to do it she would totally do it. Also when he tells her to meet him at the train station she doesn’t ask any questions, she just does it. To do these things she really loves him and trusts him.
CS: That’s a great scene too because you look so disheveled and upset. There isn’t a lot of vanity, it’s just raw emotion.
Arnezeder: Even with the light, Daniel worked on a specific light for that scene. At the beginning my character is very light, and that scene is darker and rougher, you can see all the imperfections. You don’t lie.
CS: Yeah, there’s a lot of honesty to it. Now this is your first big-budget American production, how does it differ from something you would make in your native country like “Paris 36”?
Arnezeder: There’s not a big difference because in “Paris 36” I had a month and a half to work on my scenes, musical songs and dance. Daniel Espinosa made me come to South Africa. We shot it in Cape Town, and he wanted me to be there two weeks before the shoot to get prepared and ready, to get to know Ryan, of course, and to get to know my character right in the heart of the action.
CS: Were there more technicians and crew people than you were used to?
Arnezeder: Of course it was a big production, a Universal movie, but I didn’t get that feeling because we were like a big family and everyone was talking to everyone and happy to be on the project. I did a movie called “The Words” that was closing Sundance that was a very small, independent movie. The difference between them was on “The Words” we had no time. It was very quick, we had to do one scene in three shots. It’s a different way to work, it’s not better or worse, it’s just different.
CS: The role you have in “The Words” is a World War II flashback with Ben Barnes. What was your experience with him?
Arnezeder: He’s gonna be a superstar, I’m telling you. He’s from a different era. I was very impressed, and to work with amazing actors you become a better actress. That’ s a real chance. I’m very proud of “The Words” and all the cast. I think Lee Sternthal and Brian Klugman are like new directors and I really believe in them and they’re gonna rock everything. (laughs)
CS: Were you happy with the reception it got at Sundance?
Arnezeder: I was very happy. I heard there were standing ovations and that’s really cool.
CS: Is it a bit overwhelming to have both of these films dropping at the same time?
Arnezeder: Oh yeah, it’s very overwhelming. I’m so happy because the two of them are in my heart and had such a good life on set with everyone. I’m so lucky right now.
CS: You’ve taken the role of Anna in the “Maniac” remake. Have you seen the original?
Arnezeder: You know what, I’m gonna watch it. I didn’t want to watch it before I did this because the movie we shot with Elijah Wood is going to be a very different direction. I didn’t want to be stuck in the first version, you know what I mean? It’s going to be so different, shot in POV. Elijah Wood is something that is half-angel/half-devil, so you don’t expect him as a killer/maniac, but I’m telling you, he’s the man! He’s the man for that movie, it’s going to be fantastic. Also, I love Alexandre Aja [the screenwriter] and horror movies when they’re well made. Aja did all my favorite horror movies. Also, Franck Khalfoun is the director, very talented, very modern rock ‘n’ roll guy. It was so cool. We shot it in downtown L.A., and it’s kind of a psychological movie with a maniac. You’re inside the maniac, and it’s very interesting.
CS: I watched the original recently, and the main character as played by Joe Spinell was unbelievably scuzzy yet winds up going out with Anna (Caroline Munro), this drop-dead gorgeous woman. It was almost absurd how she would be at all interested in this freak. Is the relationship your character has with Elijah a little more plausible?
Arnezeder: They’re friends in the beginning, and he’s very intrigued by her work. She’s an artist, and that’s all I can say right now because [laughs] maybe the producers will say, “Ahh! You don’t have to say anything about the movie!” All I can say is it’s the horror movie genre but with many psychological sides. That’s what interested me in that project, because if you have a movie with only blood and screams it’s not interesting, I don’t like that.
CS: You did a musical already, but is there a Broadway musical that hasn’t been adapted yet that you’d be interested in doing as a movie?
Arnezeder: Have you seen “Chicago”? That’s one of my favorite musicals for sure. And maybe do a remake of “My Fair Lady,” who knows? I love all the movies of Jacques Demy, like “The Umbrellas of Cherbourg,” that’s fantastic. He did a movie with Catherine Deneuve called “Peau d’Âne” which is a musical about incest! (laughs) It was very modern for that period of time and very disturbing but very original and maybe to do a remake of that would be interesting.
Safe House opens in theaters on Friday, February 10.