Philippine Leroy-Beaulieu plays chic French boss Sylvie Grateau, the nemesis of Emily Cooper (Lily Collins), in Netflix’s “Emily in Paris.” With sophisticated outfits and a Machiavellian management style, she nearly steals the show. In real life, Leroy-Beaulieu emanates the same strength and determination as Sylvie, but she can usually be found on her scooter zipping around Paris in biker boots (albeit chic ones). While “Emily in Paris” has propelled her to global fame, Leroy-Beaulieu is a veteran of French film and TV, having worked with renowned filmmakers such as Roger Vadim, Coline Serreau and Philippe Le Guay, as well as Andrzej Wajda, James Ivory and Robert Altman. Audiences also know her from another hit Netflix series, “Call My Agent!,” in which she had a recurring role. The actor is turning 60 next year, but she’s never been busier or more popular.
How did you land this part in “Emily in Paris”?
One day, Juliette Ménager, the casting director, called me and said, “I have a role. You’re too old for it because it’s for an actress who is between 35 and 40, but do you want to read it anyway?” I read it and told Juliette, “I know Sylvie Grateau. I know her by heart!” My mother worked in the fashion industry [at Dior] so I got to meet many women like Sylvie. I thought it’d be stupid to not give it a try, even if the story was built around a younger character. I did a first casting call and didn’t hear back for a month and a half. When I got the callback, I almost fell off my chair. I didn’t think I’d make it.
How familiar were you with Darren Star’s work?
I knew of his work, but I think I had only seen one season of “Sex and the City.” What struck me is the way Darren has created such powerful female characters. There are very few people like him who can write female roles with such sharpness. I’m very grateful, not just because he offered me this role but also because working with Darren has taught me many things, including about myself.
Your character can be viciously mean.
She’s more vulnerable than mean! It’s like Darren. When you meet him for the first time, he’s very cold, but in fact he’s like many people who are highly sensitive: He protects himself. In a way, Darren and Sylvie have a lot in common. She’s not a saint either — she has dark sides and I have a blast playing them all the way.
The show was really despised in France — and seen as anti-French when it launched. Did you ever feel like a traitor?
I’m not at all a traitor — on the contrary! I’m like Asterix [of the comic book “Asterix & Obelix”] from the village of indomitable Gallic warriors. I’m telling the Americans that they won’t get me. I’m fighting the invader! What we see in Season 1 seems like a caricature, but it’s the first impression that foreigners have of France and Paris: Rude people who don’t have a sense of humor. Then, when people get to know us, they see our other facets that are prettier and more endearing.
Sylvie’s character arc is one of the show’s most developed.
As soon as I started reading this part I got a sense that she was very rigid and repressed in the way she behaved and moved, as if she was hiding something. And that’s what we find out in Season 2: She came to Paris from the beach town of Saint-Tropez to get a career and had to toughen up to face the Parisian scene. By the start of Season 3, she’s understood that she can work with Emily and has freed herself from her American bosses. I didn’t expect my character to evolve so much and I’m very pleasantly surprised!
Sylvie wears a lot of revealing outfits, especially in Season 3. How does it help you get into character?
It gives me the arrogance of Sylvie. The fact that she’s overexposing her body and wearing very uncomfortable shoes give her that arrogance. It’s all the things she’s had to do to thrive in the Parisian scene.
Did you get inspired by any other actresses for this role?
I mainly looked at actresses from the golden era of Hollywood, like Bette Davis, but also Joan Crawford. And I’ve always been fascinated by Barbra Streisand’s acting, seeing her fierce energy. She’s like a warrior.
You also play Monique Ritz in “The Crown.” Isn’t it a role similar to Sylvie’s?
Monique Ritz is a Sylvie. She’s one of these women who is not afraid of adversity. I was so honored to have this small part in this show. The writing of Peter Morgan is insanely good.
Things you didn’t know about Philippine Leroy-Beaulieu
Director’s delight: Her father, Philippe Leroy, was an actor, and she speaks five languages.
Early days: She earned a César nomination for best female newcomer for the 1985 French comedy blockbuster “Three Men and a Cradle.”