I don’t feel like an Angeleno, but I feel like I love L.A., and I was never sure if I was going to. When I’m away for a long time, I start to miss the pace in comparison to New York or Paris. Just knowing I have a house here makes me happy. My first time in Los Angeles, I had to meet with the studio heads to get the job [as Helen] on Troy. I had to audition so many times, and then they finally flew me out here. I thought I was going to read one more time, but then they put me into makeup and made me read in front of a real camera. I had to go and meet the big boss of the studio in full makeup and wig, and he asked me, “So, why do you think someone would launch 1,000 ships for you?” I was like, “I don’t know, you tell me!” It was intimidating, but for a young actress from Europe, it was a dream. Everything felt so important. One of the younger producer’s assistants took me under his wing and showed me the Hollywood sign, and then I walked the Walk of Fame like any tourist. I remember thinking the city was sprawling but surprisingly small.
I haven’t been living in L.A. for that long. I only bought a house six years ago, and that was in Beachwood Canyon. But I rented apartments when I was shooting films here. During National Treasure, they were helping me rent a furnished apartment on Havenhurst, just down the street from the Chateau Marmont. It was an old Spanish-style apartment building, and a lot of actors lived there. It was a bit like Melrose Place. We were all here together to conquer the world—or to try and conquer the world.
Getting a California driver’s license was kind of dramatic. I had a French one, and three years ago I was coming from set at 2:30 in the morning, and the police stopped me because I was going too fast. I had bruise makeup on my face—I was shooting The Bridge at the time—and this officer pulled me over in the middle of the freeway in Long Beach. I said, “Officer, please, I’m trying to get home. I know I’m going too fast,” and he looked at me, and then I realized I had all this makeup on. I was like, “No, no! I’m an actress. See, I can wash it off!” He definitely thought something was wrong. I was trying to charm him, like, “Yeah, I play a police officer, too,” and he wasn’t having it. He asked how long I had been living in the United States, and it came out that I needed a license. He nearly impounded my car. He was kind enough to let me drive home, but he told me I had to show him my new license in a week. So I had to learn all the stuff again and do both the written and the driving test. At the same time, though, I got a Vespa—the European in me does not like spending half my life in the bloody car.