Sofia Boutella is a name you’ll want to remember; a podcast for food nerds; this fall’s must-read.
Boutella actually spent at her Los Angeles base in the past two years was a two-week period last December. (Honestly, the Algerian calls it home because it’s the only place she’s ever “picked the furniture” for.) This suitcase-centric existence means that she has gotten really good at creating “home” wherever she finds herself, be it Budapest, Vancouver, London or any of the other far-flung locales her increasingly demanding film career takes her. “I bring my ukulele,” the 35-year-old responds h
unexpectedly when we ask whether she packs anything in particular to make the rooms feel less anonymous. (We were thinking more along the lines of favourite pillows and candles that smell like her boyfriend’s cologne.) “It just helps me check out; it takes my mind off things,” she explains. Boutella, who’s calling us from L.A. between meetings, used to pick up plants for her hotel rooms. She stopped doing that after getting too attached to five particular potted numbers shortly before she went off to film last year’s Star Trek: Beyond. “I named them all!” she says. “I gave them to a friend to look after, but I felt emotional when I left them behind.” Now that she’ll be in one place for a while (at least until she heads out on the publicity whirlwind for two huge summer films—more on that later), she’s thinking about whether it’s kinder to take her green babies back or just move on. “They’re well taken care of,” she ponders. “A part of me thinks sometimes it’s okay to leave things behind, you know?” And she’s not just referring to plants. Before becoming an actress, you had a really successful career as a hip-hop dancer working with people like Michael Jackson and Rihanna and starring in ads for Nike. Does it feel like that was a different person? “It does. I had a transition that made it feel like two different lives. When I stopped dancing, I didn’t work—I didn’t have a paycheque for two years. It was rough. There were times when I wondered what I was doing and times when it made complete sense. But I just kept believing in my dream.” Why did you quit dance? “I’ve been dancing since I was five. I did some acting in Paris when I was 17, but at the age of 20 I felt like I hadn’t finished what I started as a dancer, so I focused on that. I’m glad I did because I had amazing years dancing with people like Madonna. I studied at [acting studio] Stella Adler [in L.A.], and little by little I realized I was re-engaging with that. Part of me wondered if I was hiding behind the fact that I was a successful dancer, and it raised a question in my heart. It took about three years before I was able to make a decision. But it wasn’t a practical decision, like ‘I’m older so I have to think about my body and how you age in the [dance] profession.’” So it wasn’t an injury or anything like that? “No. I just genuinely love acting, and I’d started wondering if I was doing the right thing after a while.” It seems like the roles you’ve had, like 2014’s action thriller Kingsman:TheSecretService, for instance, are connected to your dancer past in that they’re quite physical. “I think it [helped] to have that mental and physical discipline, but doing action is not necessarily something I’m pursuing. It just happened. I don’t want to be locked into a box or stereotyped.” This summer, you went from playing an undead princess in The Mummy to Charlize Theron’s love interest in the spy movie Atomic Blonde, out July 28. What was it like working with her? “I met her for the first time before we started filming, and she is beautiful, intelligent and funny. She made me feel at ease. [Charlize] is very open, and getting to work with her added another layer because she’s a pretty incredible actress.” Boutella in The Mummy (top) and Atomic Blonde
Did you learn anything from her?
“Yes, just by watching her. She works hard. We had a few quick conversations in which she encouraged me and gave me some perspective on what it’s like to be a woman in this business. She was very reassuring.” And have you struggled as a woman in the movie industry? “I’ve struggled because I decided to switch careers entirely. I feel like I’ve been pretty lucky, if anything. But it’s good to know what’s happening around me in this business, and having conversations with women like Charlize is inspiring.” What’s the best part of where you are in your life right now? “I love the storytelling. I love throwing myself into a character to serve something greater than myself. When I was a child, I loved putting on a costume and pretending. Even as a dancer, I was always telling a story. So doing that in movies—it just makes sense in my heart.” n