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In a private salon at the Hôtel Meurice, 19-year-old Nora Arnezeder sits cross-legged on a giant pink sofa cushion she’s dragged onto the floor, eagerly feasting on a slab of foie gras, salad leaves and toast that she’s spread out on the coffee table. It’s been a busy day and the star of Faubourg 36 is famished. Earlier that morning, she had to rush her Jack Russell, Milou (named after the male lead in the film, played by Clovis Cornillac), to the vet after he’d gobbled an entire bottle of sleeping pills. “They have him on a drip. I think he tried to commit suicide, but I’m having none of it,” she declares.
The fresh-faced newcomer plays an amateur singer named Douce (Sweet) in Faubourg 36, a feelgood fantasy underdog drama set around a struggling music hall in Thirties Paris. Blessed with blue eyes, golden Shirley Temple ringlets and a sweet set of pipes, Douce auditions at the beleaguered theater and goes on to steal the show, all the while keeping the baddie bailiffs from the door. While the Parisian press was invited to a screening last June, it will open Stateside in the spring.
Filming with a seasoned cast that includes Gérard Jugnot and Kad Merad was a daunting task, she admits. “I was terrified of disappointing the director [Christophe Barratier],” says Arnezeder, who had to belt out songs in front of hundreds of extras, while suffering from glandular fever. “I had a cold and a fever all the way through filming,” she shrugs with a feisty grin.
Fresh out of stage school, the actress, born to a “vagabond” Austrian father and an Egyptian mother who met in Bali in the Eighties, appears comfortable with her rocketing success, having dreamed of a career in acting since she was knee high. “An actor’s greatest fear is to be out of work. I could have waited five years to land a film. I have to seize the moment,” she says earnestly, adding that, ultimately, she has her sights set on Hollywood, and more importantly, Broadway.
In December, the actress will be off to London’s Actor’s Studio to work on her English. “I’m mad about musicals like Chicago and Moulin Rouge— anything that’s based during Les Années Folles [the Roaring Twenties],” Arnezeder says, adding that she loves dressing up in Thirties-style outfits to go out. Her favorite after-dark haunts in Paris include Le Soir and the Mathis bar, where “it’s very dandy and they play good jazz.” For dinner, she favors Le Villaret, which serves “scrummy” poached eggs. “I do love to throw on a backless dress, say, and pin my hair up, but I can get a bit carried away in the closet,” giggles Arnezeder, adding that her sister is always there to monitor her, advising her to, perhaps, lose the tiara.
Today, Arnezeder, who grew up in Aix-en- Provence, is dressed in a floral Zadig & Voltaire silk frock, a pair of holey black leggings and flat, boyish Prada boots. A fan of fashion, she often likes to indulge in window shopping. In October, she attended Chanel’s ready-to-wear show at the Grand Palais, facing the flashbulbs in a simple gray knitted dress made by the house. And, while she is bound to a confidentiality agreement, the rising star is said to have shot a perfume and a beauty campaign for two separate major houses for spring.
But it is her shy disposition, she believes, that helped enrich her take on Douce in Faubourg 36, partly inspired by Audrey Hepburn’s portrayal of Eliza Doolittle in My Fair Lady. “Douce is a debutante, as am I, but I also wanted there to be something slightly rough, almost tomboyish, about her,” says the actress. “I like the idea that an actress can make people dream.”
Barratier predicts Arnezeder has a huge future. “Like all true artists, she has this mix of self-confidence and doubt. Between takes she appeared to almost be imprisoned by doubt,” he says, likening her, in terms of her capacity for character, fantasy and emotion, to late legends Hepburn and Grace Kelly. “Any doubts would evaporate the moment we would start filming, without mentioning her remarkable photogenic quality,” he adds. “She’s shy in company, but the camera, microphones and lights are her friends.”