Strutting along the wet, shimmering streets of Paris, Sofia Boutella shakes out her edgy, blonde bob. The new look is for her latest role in Fahrenheit 451, a dystopian action film out on HBO this month. She slips her slender frame into glittering bustiers and ostrich-feather dresses, signed Saint Laurent, Louis Vuitton, and Alaïa. The actor’s strong and supple line has been perfected by years of dance.
After her breakout roles in Kingsman: The Secret Service (2015) and The Mummy (2017), the Algerian native has now officially secured her spot as a star of the silver screen. Last year also saw her join forces with Charlize Theron in Atomic Blonde, further entrenching her as an action star playing strong female characters. This year will be no different, with two new films reaching audiences this summer. First up is Fahrenheit 451, based on the seminal 1953 book by Ray Bradbury. Boutella plays Clarisse McClellan, an unorthodox school teacher in a future society where books are outlawed and burned and knowledge is discouraged and destroyed. Her path crosses with Guy Montag (Michael B Jordan), a fireman responsible for burning books, and that of his boss, Captain Beatty (Michael Shannon). Her role was altered from the book’s storyline, she says. “Clarisse has a different purpose; she is portrayed as a different character. She’s more naive and free-spirited. She comes from a dark place and a dark background.” Boutella wasn’t familiar with the novel before receiving the script but was instantly enamored. “It was very much ahead of its time. A visionary book,” she says. “It’s great to see how it has evolved, and the parallels between what is being said in the book and our reality.” She didn’t need to undergo intense physical training like with her previous roles, so director Ramin Bahrani encouraged her to read. “Ramin was a joy to work with. He gave me books to be aware of, like Fyodor Dostoevsky’s Notes From Underground and White Teeth by Zadie Smith. When I read material that I fall in love with, most of the time it has to do with the dynamics between the characters and the depths of their relationships.”
June sees the release of Hotel Artemis, where Boutella stars opposite another talented artist – Jodie Foster. “She’s a monster of an actor,” Boutella says of the Oscar-winning performer and director. “She’s incredible. She’s done such amazing work. I was fascinated to be on set with her.” It’s another dark role for Boutella, this time set in the near future in Los Angeles, a place racked with riots. Foster plays a nurse running a secret members-only hospital for criminals, with Boutella playing an offender called Niece. The all-star cast also includes Jeff Goldblum and Golden Globe-winner Sterling K Brown.
As she transforms into a Hollywood star, Boutella is concentrating on holding her center. “I stay focused because I love my job. I love what it brings to me and I love sharing. I love art in general.” She credits her dancing career and Algerian upbringing with giving her steely discipline and determination. “I’m very proud of being Algerian, and I’m proud of where I come from and how I grew up,” she says. She fled the country’s civil war at age 10 with her family in 1992, settling in Paris, where she was raised in a creative home. Her mother is an architect and her father, Safy Boutella, a jazz pianist and composer. “I remember as a child, I could not stop picking up crayons. I was drawing everywhere, in every place possible. Finally, my mom gave me a space in the corridor where I could draw on the walls. That was my art studio.” Having studied ballet since she was five, it was only a matter of time until she was discovered by choreographer Jamie King, who cast her in a Nike commercial when she was 25. This led to her touring with Madonna. “I had the chance to work with Madonna for many years, and she is still a role model. Seeing her work ethic, I am still very much inspired by her,” Boutella says.
What’s next for the 36-year-old? Whatever she chooses, it’s clear that, like the books in Fahrenheit 451, Boutella is a blazing force.
Originally printed in the May 2018 issue of Vogue Arabia.
Style: Alexis Roche
Hair: Nabil Harlow
Makeup: Gregoris Pyrpylis
Production: Victoria Pavon
Style assistant: Antoine Paoli