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Wednesday 21 March 2018

'It is still weird, but that's our job -- to fall in love'

Mamma Mia! starlet Amanda Seyfried has got critics hot under the collar with her latest role, says Julia Molony

Julia Molony

AS if to prove that she's properly arrived, Amanda Seyfried has, on the week that I meet her, just been embroiled in the ultimate starlet rite of passage; her very own tabloid body-image controversy.

Last month, she was the subject of a rather breathless profile in Esquire magazine. In it, she complained to the interviewer about the misery of her "awful" raw-food diet, ("Yesterday for lunch? Spinach, just spinach. Spinach and some seeds") and seemed to suggest the pressure to stay slim had pitched her into a purgatory of abstinence. Was this another gobsmacking glimpse into concentration-camp dieting, celebrity style? Like Liz Hurley's fantastic admission about counting out her raisins?

As it happens, no. The journalist in question, Seyfried tells me (in the nicest possible way), slightly misrepresented her. "He's a good guy, he's nice, but he made it seem like I was on a raw-food diet all the time. It was a five-day community cleanse, because I go to this shop every day -- near my house, it's great. But I have to have cheese and chocolate, and I have to have pasta. I have to eat. I don't feel bad that I didn't exercise today. What is realistic? Will I ever have a six-pack and look like a supermodel? No. Never."

But if corporate Hollywood could build starlets in a laboratory, then surely their blueprint would take Seyfried's doll-like form. She's unspeakably adorable -- Rapunzel-style tresses, wide blue eyes, tiny but curvaceous body.

Today, she's dressed in a cute leather dress with pockets. She's doing a nice line in cutesy, cut with raw sex appeal. "It's this new brand that my stylist keeps putting me in," she says carelessly of the dress. "I don't question it."

The daughter of an occupational therapist and a pharmacist from Pennsylvania, she started working professionally at the age of 11, first modelling (which she quit when she was 17), and then acting. Her upbringing was pretty idyllic, and her parents, who she's described as the "coolest parents ever" remain a reassuringly solid fixture in her life.

Now 24, Seyfried has been knocking around on screens big and small for a little while. In her first major breakout role, in the Tina Fey-penned cult classic Mean Girls, she delivered note-perfect satire, proving that unlike her character she was far more than just a ditzy blonde. Following that came a long-standing role as a hot Mormon in the HBO polygamy drama Big Love. But thus far, she's probably best known for holding her own alongside Meryl Streep in the all-singing, all-dancing musical Mamma Mia.

This month, however, she's starring in two major, high-profile films. In the first, the romantic drama Dear John, she plays an angel-faced, romantic lead. But as though making clear her awareness that too much prettiness and romance can be as much a curse as a blessing for a Hollywood ingenue, she follows Dear John immediately with Chloe, which is dramatically different.

In it she takes on the role of a high-class prostitute hired by a married woman (Julianne Moore) as a honey trap to incriminate her cheating husband. The movie is already gathering hype over the inclusion of a lesbian love scene between the two female leads. For Seyfried, the decision to do this film was a rather canny move that simultaneously promotes her as both sex symbol and serious actress.

In person, she's not one for standing on ceremony. When she talks, it's with the casual ease of someone who already knows you quite well.

She and Dear John co-star Channing Tatum have great chemistry on screen. Is it weird, I ask her, having that personal spark, and knowing that keeping it alive is crucial to doing a good job?

"It can be confusing with younger folk," she says. "Or with somebody who has not found somebody and who is in that weird place. I think it can kind of confuse you when you have chemistry with someone and then you are meant to be in love with them in this other world. But if you are able to separate things then it's pretty easy. It is still weird. That's our job -- to fall in love in a way. But it's not real.

"I love him. I think he's amazing and I love being with him, but that's as far as it goes. You can really have good chemistry with someone even if you're not in love with them and you don't want to have sex with them. That's what I learned with this movie. Because, of course, I took my co-star from Mamma Mia! and I'm still with him."

She met actor Dominic Cooper on the set of Mamma Mia!, and they've been together ever since. "I took him" is a funny way to put it, I say. Was it a case of "I'll have you" then?

"I know. Weird that I put it that way," she says. "That must mean something. That must reflect on..." she glances toward the window and trails off.

Does the choice of Chloe, and its rather daring content reflect a desire not to be pigeon-holed now that her star is in the ascendant? Does she choose films that offer good profile and romantic leads, which then allow her the leverage to choose projects that stretch her a little bit more?"Absolutely," she agrees. "I'm very aware of that. It's very much what fuels my interest in certain movies.

"I'm not really worried about it anymore," she says, lightly. "Because Chloe has been on the festival circuit for a while. And because of that people are like, OK, she might be a serious actor. Just because I'm being associated with Julianne Moore, Liam (Neeson) and Vanessa Redgrave."

She admits, though, that the gritty subject matter will contribute to the shaping of her image. "Because it's so different and because it's so challenging and erotic and risque. People are like 'Oh wow, she's really chosen something else'."

For Seyfried, the prospect of being seen in flagrante with Julianne Moore is much less daunting than the demands of her next film, Albert Nobbs.

"I have to have an Irish accent," she says. "And for me that's a risk, because I've never done an accent before, for work, and I don't know if I can." She gives a diffident, daunted little shrug. "It's going to be shot in Ireland. Rodrigo Garcia is directing it. I'd do anything for him. An Irish accent!" she says, incredulous.

Dear John is now showing nationwide

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