Art & Culture

Actress Mathilde Ollivier is Comfortable With Both Brie and a Flamethrower

Fresh off the high of starring in J.J. Abrams’s latest historical sci-fi feature 'Overlord,' the breakout French actress contemplates her journey from the small stage to the silver screen.
Reading time 7 minutes

Photography by Danilo Lauria

Styling by Yael Quint

“Let’s catch up over a glass of wine next time, hein?” croons Mathilde Ollivier in her sultry voice and charming French accent. The way she says it makes me imagine chassé-ing over the Atlantic, into a Latin Quarter bistrot for a good glass of red. 

Ollivier is as chicly French as they come: born and bred in Montparnasse, her fetching features—including sharp cheekbones and olive skin—cultured intelligence, European manners… her acting, singing and her dancing chops. I'm swooning just writing about it. 

“It all started at ten years old,” Mathilde explains, her authenticity shining through a terribly boring interview question. “I had just gone to the theatre in Montparnasse for the first time and, turning to my mother, I said ‘I want to do that. This is what I want to do and I don’t want to do anything else.’”

This dream wasn’t so far-fetched, considering that the young mademoiselle was raised by a mother and grandmother who loved music and film and who, at her insistence, would watch as she and her sister re-enacted movie scenes in their salon.

In a glowing example of her natural acting prowess, on set at the NoMad for this shoot, Ollivier, sporting chef-like headgear and a ‘say no more’ attitude, slinked right down to the hotel kitchen to smooth talk her way in–because, why not? Successfully, she convinced one of NYC’s best kitchens that she was a famous French chef visiting from Paris. 

Unsurprisingly, Ollivier’s formal training comes across in each of her projects. From the age of ten, Ollivier spent her childhood and teenage years studying theatre at the conservatoire and the famous Cours Simon and, eventually, professionally dancing classical and contemporary ballet at Paris's International Academy of Dance. Also unsurprisingly, Ollivier takes after her idols who happen to be among the multi-disciplinary greats of European cinema: Romy Schneider (“I used to pretend I was Sisi, L’Impératrice!”), Alain Delon but also Truffaut and Goddard. However, after an injury forced her to stop dancing, a varied but high-quality career had taken off for Mathilde Ollivier with acting at its center.

Now, as a full-fledged actor, Ollivier gravitates towards character-driven narratives—be it towards her festival-nominated short film Walking Home (2015), the art film The Misfortunes of François Jane (2016), or the Casino de Paris’ Mistinguett production (2014). Why? She likes the challenge. Last week, her first American blockbuster hit theaters, J.J. Abrams's World War 2-Zombie-horror-thriller, Overlord. She plays Chloe, a French citizen stranded in a Nazi-occupied village ravaged by war, when American troops arrive with a mission. Hand-picked by Abrams to star in the film, Ollivier does her own stunts, takes names, and wields incredible control over a flamethrower. 

“I like to experiment with each role that I’m given. It’s fascinating to do intense research and I write my own background story for everything, from my character’s favorite color, her favorite music, to her favorite neighborhood haunts. I aim to arrive at a point where I know, inside me, why she behaves the way she does. It’s then that I can really work on the script and with the director,” says the 23-year-old. 

Yet, it seems performing was not Mathilde’s only love-at-first-sight. “The first time I came to New York was four years ago. I looked out the plane window and I saw [the city] coming in front of me and I knew I had to live there. The creativity on every street and in every person…it’s so energizing,” she elaborates.

Thus while the rest of us dream of Paris and la vie francaise, the actress reveals that she's wanted to work in the Anglophone entertainment industry for a while–no, not for the glamour of Hollywood, but for the love of acting in English. Interestingly, she compares it to the unique feeling of child’s play: “It’s very strange and hard to explain. It’s a language that allows for more…instincts. You know how when children act, how they don’t worry about things like ‘how am I going to sound?’ ‘am I using the right words?’ and ‘is this the right meaning’? It’s freedom. That’s how I feel with English."

It’s astonishing to think that the young Parisienne didn’t speak a word of English four years ago. Perhaps the uncanny ease, eloquence and the slightly British twinge with which she now answers questions for an English-language magazine can be credited to her accent coach, with whom she continues to enjoy to work (“it really is a fascinating process – I highly recommend it”) or was it maybe thanks to the years spent living in London? Either way, there is no doubt that Mathilde has worked hard to get to where she is now: one of the young actors to watch in Hollywood.

“I want to make films, I want to do plays, more photo shoots, I want to sing and make documentaries, I want to work with up-and-coming people, with artists,” she lists excitedly. “I want to tell stories.” Oh, and in both languages of course. Variety and range are part of Ollivier’s artistic vocation, and the actress is determined to dismantle whatever expectations exist for a young, pretty and charming French girl in the global entertainment industry.

“I see myself trying different things, being free and not being scared to just do it. I’m still learning about myself and I’m still learning about this work, but I’m still going to go for it. If I'm made for a project, great, and if I'm not, the next thing is coming. Because this is my life and this is what I do.”

It’s been less than a year since her arrival on American soil and this triple-threat already has an exciting roster ahead, with Joe Carnahan's Boss Level (co-starring Mel Gibson, Frank Grillo and Naomi Watts) among her upcoming projects. To top it all off, she’ll be rounding out 2018 with a production of her own: Upright Women, a social documentary on the effects of enslavement and forced marriage in Burkina Faso.

Safe to say that for Mathilde Ollivier le jour de gloire est arrivé!



Makeup: Tatiana Donaldson using Chanel Beauty

Hair: David Colvin

Digital Director: Jane Gayduk

Photography Assistant: Eric Van Nyatten

Styling Assistants: James Vazquez, Tine Ridder-Nielsen

Producers: Yael Quint, Jane Gayduk

Production Assistant: Seungjoo Kim

Special Thanks: The NoMad Hotel NYC

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