As the title character in director Alice Winocour’s debut feature, Augustine, French ingénue Stéphanie Sokolinski—aka Soko—delivers one of the bravest, strangest performances of the year. Based on a true story, the drama chronicles the sexual awakening of a repressed 19th-century Parisian maid who, after becoming partially paralyzed from a mysterious seizure, is sent to an all-female psychiatric hospital specializing in “hysteria,” a then-catchall diagnosis. “It’s once in a lifetime that you get to play someone so badass,” says Soko, who beat out 800 girls for the role, which entailed her going under actual hypnosis, stripping down for medical examination scenes, and feigning fit-induced orgasms. Reenacting the patient’s spastic movements proved quite taxing. “I was pulled in every direction by cables because I was doing things that are totally impossible to do with your body,” she says. Still, as challenging and rewarding as her film work has been (she scored a César Award nomination for Most Promising Actress for 2009’s In the Beginning), Soko, 27, considers acting a detour. “My life is music,” she says, “and sometimes I have to sacrifice my real life to make a movie.” Her debut album, I Thought I Was an Alien, is a set of confessional bedroom pop songs, some of which touch on her struggles as a peripatetic artist. “I still don’t have a home,” says Soko, who’s been couch surfing and crashing at hotels in L.A. for the past six years. “I never settle anywhere, so I’m always out of my comfort zone. I find that very inspiring.”
Harm’s Way: “I think hysteria is a real thing. It once meant having a fit where your body was speaking for you, but it’s evolved over the century. Now hysteria is bulimia and anorexia and self-mutilation. You can’t talk about your pain, so you just hurt yourself.”
Photography by Naj Jamai. Styling by Dana Goldenberg.
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