‘Seberg’ Director, Benedict Andrews, Gives an Inside Look at Jean Seberg’s Complex Legacy
Seberg tells the true story of actress Jean Seberg (Kristen Stewart) being at the center of an FBI operation to destroy her reputation. This is after she has publicly supported the civil rights movement and had an affair with Hakim Jamal (Anthony Mackie.)
Jamal was Malcolm X’s cousin and was part of the Black Power Movement. The rumor that he had an affair with Seberg was unconfirmed. Seberg director, Benedict Andrews talked to Showbiz Cheat Sheet about the movie’s take on some of the historical events on the phone on Feb. 19.
Benedict Andrews on showing Jean Seberg’s trauma
The director’s introduction to Seberg is one that many movie lovers could relate to, given it was her most famous performance. “I, like many people, had an image of her kind of fixed in my imagination from seeing her in that incredible performance in [Jean-Luc] Godard’s Breathless,” said Andrews. “I had seen the film when I was 16 years old and it was a revelation but such a life force in that movie. And it’s one of the truly kind of bright, modern, groundbreaking performances in cinema.“
He later learned about Seberg’s activism, such as donating to the Black Panthers and other events in her life. The movie acknowledges these events. One of them was Seberg being burned from filming a scene for Saint John directed by Otto Preminger.
“He had cruel and tyrannical working methods towards her beyond that instance where she got burned,” Andrews said. Stewart portrays Seberg still living with some of the trauma from that event.
“I’m very proud of all of the performances in this movie, and especially how Kristen puts herself stuff on the line and I don’t believe as a director in doing that through bullying like Preminger did,” said Andrews.
There is almost an unexpected love story in the movie
Seberg isn’t just portrayed as a person victim of harassment from the FBI. She also hurts other people with her own privilege. FBI agent, Jack Solomon (Jack O’Connell) is also working on the corrupt mission of ruining her reputation yet has complicated feelings about it.
The FBI character isn’t based on one person but is created after using available documents and drawing from the FBI’s playbook from the ’60s.
“Deliberately, they’re complex characters and deliberately it’s not a simple moral lesson,” said Andrews. He talked about Seberg’s unique position in the story.
“She was very young joining the NAACP from Iowa at age 14. Which was kind of quite unprecedented in for a young white girl in Iowa in the ’50s,” said the director. “But we also deliberately tried to acknowledge and problematize that sense of privilege. That house that she lived in is kind of up in the Hollywood Hills, just like a kind of glass castle that she had, she lived in.”
The director talked about Seberg and Solomon’s journey throughout the movie. “Well, I think the motor of the movie, in a way, is this dance between those two characters. And at times it almost does feel like a love story,” the director said before adding, “Jack’s a bit like us in the cinema. He’s watching her through his zoom lens and kind of peering into her secret and private life and that experience changes him.”
Seberg and Jamal’s affair is a break for both characters
The actual affair shown in the movie is between Seberg and Jamal. The director talked about how Jamal is also taking a break from his life to be with the actress.
“The Hakim Jamal character, has enormous kind of power and presence and swagger and kind of huge responsibility in his community,” explained Andrews. “And he’s kind of on a holiday from that reality up by hanging out by Jean’s pool. And he has a kind of glimpse of her world when they’re messing around and he’s helping her prepare for that audition.”
Stewart has talked about wanting to vindicate the real Seberg, who died in 1979, through this project. Andrews answered whether that was his goal too.
“That’s sort of a consequence of it, I think,” he said. Andrews later said, “But the real motivation for me as a filmmaker is, is to get close to her and to the lives around her and to draw the audience into that deeply vulnerable space.”
Seberg will be available on Amazon on Feb. 21, 2020.