Mata Hari! Marlene Dietrich! Lauren Bacall! Ava Gardener! Rita Hayworth!
When I think of these powerful femme fatales I am seized by visions of their luscious beauty, sexual prowess, and hypnotic power over every man who dared to gaze at them. With a sensual sway of the hips, a strategic bat of the eye or a suggestive pucker from pursed red lips, these women crystallized the image of the femme fatale, the most adored and feared female archetype in cinematic history.
And how did I feel about slipping into this dangerous and lascivious symbol of sexuality and feminine power?
Uncomfortable. Intimidated. Apprehensive. More so than slinking into the skintight red dress and five inch stilettos that our wardrobe stylist gently demanded I wear.
And, oh, that promiscuous, fitted dress! When I tried it on, no curve was concealed. No bulge or bump either. I felt totally exposed, despite its opaque fabric. “I’m…wearing this?” I asked, trembling. Kyle smiled at me. “Yes. You look great.”
I was terrified at first. But then, throughout the rehearsal and filming process, as I pushed myself to revel in the world of Selene – Stiletto’s ultra feminine dynamo – I started to experience a sense of empowerment, elegance, and confidence. Playing Selene, I began to appreciate the beauty and power of deliberate silence and the air of mystery it confers. Rather than working directly on projecting Selene’s sex appeal, I allowed it to organically evolve. Like Gaby Rodgers in Kiss Me Deadly and Marilyn Monroe in Niagara, I embraced the mystery.
As I developed Selene’s alluring nature and hunger for affection, I also recognized the pain and emptiness from which it sprang. Selene was always heartbreakingly alone, even when surrounded by her girls or in bed with Pete. This deep sense of isolation became the source of both her strength and her vulnerability.
By the time I was ready to play Selene, I was no longer terrified. I understood how much I had in common with my character, and all the other femme fatales who came before her. I could feel both empathy and compassion for Selene, rather than terror.
For these women, being sexy was only a perk and a ploy. Once I had the courage to look beyond Selene’s superficial exterior, I could see into her deepest, most hidden dreams. I hope the audience will, too.