Meet award-winning actress Elsa Zylberstein: She may not be a household name in the states (yet), but her starring role in Simone: Woman of the Century, directed by Olivier Dahan, may very well change all that. The film—which explores the life of French politician, women’s rights activist and holocaust survivor Simone Veil—has already seen box office success in France, and with today’s U.S. release, she is sure to get even more buzz.
Zylberstein recently Zoomed with us (while giving us a very detailed tour of her impressive skin-care and fragrance vanity) to discuss what it was like to step into the starring role of “Simone,” an admirable leader who played a key role in doing everything from passing abortion legislation in France to protecting rights of prisoners, immigrants and AIDS victims.
The film has already seen a ton of success in France. What do you hope U.S. filmgoers who might not be as familiar with the story will learn from it?
She is such an amazing example, such a unique woman. I think for anyone nowadays, it’s important to see women like her—women who have created their own destiny. She was an example of resilience. She went through horror, and she made her own destiny…she created her own life.
I think she will be someone fantastic [for U.S. filmgoers] to discover. There are a lot of layers to her. She’s a Holocaust survivor, she fought for the dignity of HIV patients, and she did many things for women’s rights, which is so important nowadays in so many countries.
A lot of what she fought for is still what we’re fighting for! She fought like crazy, and she was very modern, at the time, for being a mother and working.
I’m assuming this probably wasn’t an easy role to play. How did you get ready for it every morning you went on set?
Crazy! It took me 10 years to develop this film. I was preparing for the physical part for about a year. I’m the opposite of her when it comes to how we’re built; I learned how to walk like her, to talk like her, to move like her, to become her. My model was more Churchill or Meryl Streep in the way she gets into a part. I didn’t want to play her—I wanted to become her.
I even went to a place called Tomatis and I said, “I want to learn how to talk like Simone Veil.” They said, “No, we don’t do this.” They called me back an hour after and they said, “Oh my God. Actually, it’s very interesting when you ask us.” They created a whole program for me for seven months.
I learned how to put my tongue here and there and there to change my voice; I totally changed the rhythm of it. I just wanted to become natural, and it ended up becoming second nature. I knew I really needed to become her…especially since I was playing her from ages 37 to 87.
Not to completely change the subject, but we have to ask: What are some of your favorite French beauty products?
I use a lot of Caudalie—they have great things; I use their cream at night before bed. I use a toner from Italy, which I adore. It’s from Santa Maria Novella, and I absolutely adore it. I like Clarins as well; I use Masque de Clarins, and a couple of other things from them. For the hair, it’s Christophe Robin.
What else am I using right now? I love body milks. I love Biotherm for the body. Acqua di Parma for the shower. I love Coco Chanel! I love all the fragrance from Ischia. All the body shower from Ischia. All the Capri fragrance from Italy. What else? Santa Maria Novella Melograno and Lily of the Valley by Penhaligon’s. I’ve worn that for years.
I’m also sort of obsessed with foundations for the skin. I love Laura Mercier foundation; I have them with me all the time. Laura Mercier is just amazing for the skin. And then, of course, Chanel. I love Chanel makeup—the cheek balms and the nails. I just love them. All wonderful things. What can I say, I’m a mixer!