At one point in “Seberg,” the new film about actress/activist Jean Seberg, a journalist asks the young star why she thinks so many people became obsessed with her after seeing “Breathless.” For the film’s screenwriters, Joe Shrapnel and Anna Waterhouse, it stemmed from that classic French New Wave film but it became an obsession upon learning of Seberg’s involvement with the Black Panther Party and her subsequent investigation by the FBI. As Waterhouse observes in an exclusive new interview with Gold Derby, Seberg was “so quintessentially American and yet she fits into that cool Parisian world as well. She’s just got this energy which is very, very difficult to define.” Watch the video interview with Shrapnel and Waterhouse above.
The duo first thought about adapting Seberg’s story to the big screen 15 years ago, with the latter reading a magazine article about the star’s incredible life story. For Waterhouse it was about answering the question of how this “strangely undefinable actress” became a primary target of the FBI in their controversial COINTELPRO operation. Shrapnel had developed a fascination but admits he was in search of a proper story to tell with it, quipping he was “furious with envy” upon hearing Waterhouse’s angle on the story. This began their collaboration together, eventually marrying and writing such films together as “Frankie & Alice,” “Race” and “The Aftermath” before “Seberg.”
The screenwriting pair did not want to approach the film as a traditional cradle to grave biopic, choosing instead to focus on two very crucial years in Seberg’s life. “We feel you can’t rely heavily on the fact that it’s a real person just to sell the movie,” says Waterhouse. “You have to be rigorous about what story you’re telling, what’s the engine of the movie.” In addition to being a biopic of sorts, “Seberg” also operates as a political thriller, with Shrapnel and Waterhouse drawing inspiration from classic paranoia films from the ’70s like “The Conversation” and “Klute.” By mostly focusing on Seberg’s associations with the Black Panther Party and the investigation that would have her continuously looking over her shoulder, the duo was able to key into what made the actress tick. “You can extract a single drop of their DNA and you should be able to extrapolate the rest of them from it,” adds Shrapnel.
Shrapnel and Waterhouse were also executive producers on the film, which stars Kristen Stewart as Seberg, Jack O’Connell, Anthony Mackie, Vince Vaughn, Margaret Qualley and Zazie Beetz. The pair took special notice of Stewart’s performance and how she was able to bring their words to life. “She was somehow channeling Jean,” Shrapnel recalls. “It’s not a straight impersonation but it’s unmistakably her, not just the look but the energy. She found her inside herself.” Waterhouse commends Stewart for being “not like anything else” in the world of film today, not unlike Seberg in her day. “She’s so herself and she seems so comfortable as herself right now, and I think that all fed into her being able to just give herself to this.” The Amazon film was screened earlier this year at the Venice and Toronto film festivals and will be released in theaters on December 13.
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